QUESTIONNAIRE FEEDBACK REACTIONS.
In 1998 Manchester Humanists took part in a detailed questionnaire concerned to find out what members want from contact with a group of other Humanists and whether we are really meeting their needs.
Response to this survey was high, with about 20% of the forms returned to date. I can’t include all comments here, but I’ve picked up on points raised often, and quoted directly, or in paraphrasing, the more telling observations. Many of you added letters with further comments which have been most helpful. Please keep telling us what you think. Don’t wait for the next questionnaire. Tell us anyway. Here is the response, question by question.
1/. Tell us how you came to Humanism and about your current beliefs.
Many members come from backgrounds of religious belief. C of E., Salvation Army, Catholicism, Christadelphians, Quakerism, and a religious cult. One member states a lifelong sympathy with Goddess religions, on the grounds that he was raised throughout childhood by ‘women who more or less resembled Nora Batty in "The Last Of The Summer Wine." There’s a general Gradual conversion and developing realisation with rational maturity rather than discovering God is dead by sudden revelation. Two members, the only couple to fill in their answers together, give a moving account of how they decided together to leave the Fundamentalist Church they were raised in, and how they questioned the whole nature of their belief stance together before joining the Manchester group. Atheist, Agnostic, ‘militant agnostic’ Freethinking, ‘iconoclastic’, (More or less stated in that descending order of usage), (No Secularists yet). ‘Positive Humanist, not a negative Atheist’. are how members describe their stance on spiritual matters. One member says these terms are difficult to define separately, suggesting that some see these words as synonymous with one another). Many clearly prefer the word ‘Humanism’ in general social usage. Agreement with questionnaire assertion that ‘Human difficulties should be resolved by reasoned argument, not by appeal to supernatural authority. From another member -"I was brought up as an atheist in a household where non-belief in deities was taken for granted. Although Jewish, my parents had been atheists for many years." One member was mistaken for a Humanist by a lecturer before discovering a book on the subject and realising the lecturer was a good judge of character. Desire to be with like minded people, writes another member, while another still says he came to Humanism simply "By Thinking". Many have heard of Humanism through word of mouth contacts, always the best way of informing people about us. "Helped in the decision to become a Humanist by seeing a Humanist funeral".
2/. Of what other freethinking groups are you or have you been a member. Like myself, many of us would love to join all of them. Many groups are represented, but mostly the British Humanist Association, IHEU & NSS, with a few members in the Rationalist Press Association. Some choose to belong to no other group than our own, probably due to costs of membership and subscriptions. One member includes the Socialist Party of Great Britain among his secular affiliations. We also have members linked to other groups in the region such as The Stockport Secular Society and The Sheffield Humanists. Low wage earners are particularly disadvantaged here. We should widen the scope of our talks. More socials, poetry, play reading, hobbies, local history, natural history etc. One member even helped start a regional group in the North but left it when it became ‘Too political’.
3/. What do I think of the group and its present activities?
The Constitution’s O.K. (Only one member refers to this document.) A more ‘secular’ venue appeals to some who are unhappy with a church venue for our non-church meetings. Good meetings, but to few in number. We are often finding it hard to get new, especially younger members, and our response time to issues arising at short notice is poor. Our slow, steady growth rate in membership disappoints many members. We should aim more to get Humanism established on Manchester’s polyversity campuses. Some members prefer speaker lead events to discussions & socials. Possible introduction of workshop style meetings as an alternative to discussions. One member prefers discussions to lecture like events. Parking problems and family commitments often hinder people in their efforts to get to our meetings. Current venue better than its predecessors for some members. A point seldom raised is that pointed out in one response, that too few of our meetings invite any kind of ‘follow up’ activity or discussion at a later date. One member was more critical; "1/. Meetings painfully formal. 2/. Venue uninspiring - I think a cemetery would be preferable. 3/. Newsletter is an important link. (Could we have fewer book reviews?)." Adding to this last point, I should hope that reviewed books are easily and cheaply accessible for members wanting to read then? Do members buy or borrow books we’ve ever reviewed? Let us know, please. More ‘Philosophical debates’. More ‘localised daytime events (In Withington?) More news of national events too. Suggested meal venues, i.e., Vegetarian restaurants, though I should add for newcomers that not all Humanists are vegetarians).
4/. Is there scope for more meetings or activities? Yes absolutely; house meetings, theatre, visits, walks, dialogue/meetings with other groups, regular meals out, social activity. More the merrier. Some members have difficulty travelling too far for more than occasional meetings. Letter writing campaign work gets some positive reaction from members. More social activities called for. We should set up-pen pal services with Humanists abroad. We should take advertising for the newsletter at modest costs. Other causes often higher in priorities outside of the needs of Humanism. We can have meals & theatre visits independently of the group, one member suggests. House meetings criticised as an imposition on a members’ family's hospitality. Public demonstrations criticised as a ‘waste of police time’ and an inconvenience to the public and to traffic.
5/. Have you any suggestions or remarks about hospital visits? Many members left this section blank. This has also split into two separate wide ranging questions. 1/. Do members want fellow humanists to visit them when they are ill? 2/. Should we be better able to approach hospital patients who are ill, but who seek an alternative to Christian (and other pro-religious) ministerial visitors. (this applies to the general public who are ill, not just to Humanists in a group) Reactions to 1/. vary from ‘Yes; I’d love to have visitors coming to see me, and also to look after other humanists and atheists in hospitals’, to a strong desire to have only close family & friends visiting at any time. A few members say no, others are undecided. Some members are very keen to stay in touch with members who are ill or otherwise indisposed. ‘Pleased that this is getting off the ground’, says one member on our hospital visiting scheme with the MRI hospital (Still in negotiation). "I think it’s fabulous that the group has got this started. I would want to be visited, yes.". "Depends how ill I am and who wants to visit me." How about prison visiting too?
6/. The Churches seem to have cornered most charitable and much community work, while Humanists as a group seem to hold aloof. Any comments or suggestions? We should be seen to be charitable, but it can be seen as tacky and exploitative. Doing good and being seen to be doing good for publicity are two different things. We must show that we care and that we don’t need to be Christian to do that. One member is critical of Humanist publications that focus explicitly on ‘Christian-Bashing’. He expects and hopes for more articles on drug issues, poverty, ‘Third World poverty and First World waste. ’He believes our failure to do so leaves us ‘stuck in a 150 year old time warp, still standing shoulder to shoulder with Darwin & Huxley’. Someone should tell them the war is over. We won." Other views expressed; We need to get on TV & radio more, compared to religious groups, etc. We should look at less popular charities, one member suggests. (Examples please). We are in danger of sounding ‘quasi-religious’ in such activity, "We would be better joining these directly (even those with some religious links) and taking our Humanism out into the community in lots of different directions.’ (NB - We may be too small to achieve this yet, as we can only spread ourselves out so far without being diluted away.). Sense that choices of charities to support should be an individual choice, rather than a group policy. ‘There are many charities with no religious connections,’ we are reminded. We need to set up ‘political Humanist groups’ in the major political parties. How about setting up our own charity, befriending, educational, sport, care of the elderly support team, etc. "We are a collection of people with similar values, which we can practice through existing organisations/activities. We can explain our values as opportunities arise. We don’t need structures. We don’t need to convert people." The churches achieve much her for being so rich compared to us poor Humanists. Common to the response is the view that charity is a personal issue, not a group one. "We can respect a Church’s charity work without necessarily believing its creeds." There are plenty of active Humanists involved in charity work, one member reminds us.
7/. Tell us what you think about the newsletter, (ignoring its temporary difficulties). These shouldn’t be ignored, or they’ll not be temporary. It’s excellent, but we need more new contributions, and fresh writers, to stop it seeming like an editor’s indulgence by the ed. & co ed.. The Editor & co-editor are both full of unconditional praise for the newsletter. (But I would say that wouldn’t I? adds the Editor.) It tends to be a magazine now rather than a newsletter. Generally well received. ‘Keep up the good work’ is a kind comment expressed frequently. One member would prefer a basic A5 fact sheet about six times per annum to what we do produce. Meeting reports should be more concise. ‘Range of opinions too narrow’, ‘meeting reports too long’. Too hung up on religion. We need more on what Humanism has to offer. "More è jokes, challenges, rudeness, eroticism, & self criticism." "I’d like to see a greater variety of authors but I’m not volunteering." "Not very professional. Articles don’t tie together." We could have more personal stories and points of view than at present. "Brilliant', says one member.
8/. It may be useful to some members to have an addresses list of the group. Would you be willing for your name and address to be circulated? YES. No objection, but strictly members only.
9/. Your own contribution. - We have committee members, writers, people willing to do TV media work, odds & ends, contacting other Humanist groups, especially the BHA.. Some members are willing to talk to schools (children and adults in Education). Time is a problem for many members. Ceremonies officiants are also highly active in their work too. Willingness by some to help on stalls & at fetes, etc. Several members happy too lead talks & discussions, and a few wish to host occasional local meetings." Some members admit a lack of confidence in their ability to take on responsible roles within the group’s activity range. One member could serve as an ‘expert’ for us on ‘nursing’ matters.
Currently BHA member? 11 out of 17 Questionnaire completers are BHA members.
Things to be done as a result of all this material.
Members expressing willingness to have their addresses circulated to the group will be listed shortly.
We do have a meeting on drug related issues on August 12th 98, lead by Steve Roman.
Organisation of at least one social meal outing.
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