Does organised humanism have a demographic problem?

The BHA's Voltaire Lecture

I have always been a humanist, really. But it’s only recently that I've made the effort to ‘get involved’ with humanism more actively.

At my secondary school I now run an ‘Asking Questions Club’ – “a space to discuss, with rationality, empiricism, and all-round critical thinking in mind”, reads the poster, “absolutely everyone welcome” – which has been going well.

More and more, I am also making the effort to attend lectures, talks, and conferences centred around Humanism and Science, my pet subjects. One of my recent outings was to the Voltaire lecture given by experimental psychologist Steven Pinker and hosted by the British Humanist Association (the audio for which can be found here, if you missed it). It was a great talk, and the topic – ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity’ – certainly left my Mother and me with a lot to think about on the way home.

The only problem was that our travel discussion at this time seemed to constantly revert back to a different theme to the one Pinker presented. We kept asking: “why are the audiences at these things always so white, and middle-class?”

I think, frankly, that this is unrepresentative of humanists as a whole. My Mother and I are both proudly working-class, and live in what I believe to be one of the most culturally diverse boroughs in London – Haringey. So, each time we attend these events, we feel that there is a very stark contrast between the people in the audience and the people surrounding us in our day-to-day lives, many of whom we know to be humanists themselves.

(Continue reading this post at the Rationalist Association website)

Views: 212

Tags: Atheism, Class, Equality, Humanism, Pinker, Race, Rationality, Shaha, Voltaire

Comment by Strega on March 29, 2013 at 10:31pm

Hi Carnun - that's a great question -  how to expand to include all diversities...

You say you run a secondary school club that is going well.  Why don't you invite them all?  Get them a cut price, or better still get the organisers to let under-18's in free.  Tell them to each bring a friend.  Maybe they will enjoy it and spread the word.

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on March 30, 2013 at 12:44pm

Strega: I run a secondary school club, yes. It all happens during lunchtimes, for students at the school (of which I am one myself). It's all free, and has been growing in popularity purely out of 'invite a friend, spread the word' tactics. All are welcome, and it's in fact attended by a fair amount of Muslims and Christians - the very point of it was to create an inclusive atmosphere, a space to talk critically regardless of background or belief... Things get interesting.

Glad you commented :)

Angela: Very good point. I hope, as time goes by, that the trend will shift (as generation certainly has a lot to do with it). 'Ethnic Atheists' definitely do face some particularly difficult barriers when it comes to, well, 'coming out' too - factors to consider such as losing a community, for example. White, British (in this case) Atheists can face these problems also, but it's not unreasonable to suggest that it's a lot harder for those who's Atheism would be seen as some sort of loss of culture to identify as one.

As a Nigerian friend at school once wrongly asserted:"Atheism is for white people."

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 12:48pm

For the same reasons, I suppose, that one doesn't see many white backpackers or hockey players. Minorities have their own problems to deal with, such as discrimination (real or imagined), lower economic rewards, and a society that seems often to work against them. 

It's similar to the observation some people make that freedom or pro-democracy movements often falter in third-world countries. Freedom and democracy is something you obsess about AFTER you are putting food on your table for yourself and your children.

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on March 30, 2013 at 12:55pm

Well said.

I was at a talk recently given by Leo Igwe (a Nigerian human rights activist) where he said something like 'This assumption that Atheism, that Humanism is an idea solely of the white West needs to be challenged. It is black people who are suffering most harm from religion - we are the last people who should be religious.'

He was an amazing speaker. Sincere, good sense of humour.

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 2:51pm

the first line of my post above should have read "For the same reasons, I suppose, that one doesn't see many BLACK backpackers or hockey players."

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 5:25pm

Consider the irony that American descendants of slaves adopted the God worshipped by their oppressors. Maybe they felt the slaveholders got their power from Yahweh.

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 30, 2013 at 5:55pm

I always find other ethnicities fascinating, and they often seem to find me fascinating too.  Probably because I'm some kind of pure-bred Swedish, with dreadlocks (actually my family comes from a town in Somerset where half the population looks like me - hmm, that explains a lot).  I find the endless mixtures in London very interesting.  Mixed-race people have the best genes, are the best looking, and the nicest people, in my experience. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 30, 2013 at 6:07pm

that horrible song - very 20th century. 

Comment by Unseen on March 30, 2013 at 6:08pm

@Simon  One reason I could never be a racist is that I think some of the most gorgeous women I've ever seen are mixed race. Here in Ohio there are plenty of beautiful women who are obviously an African-Caucasian mix. When I lived in Oregon, where there are plenty of Asians, I'd see Eurasian women that were just stunning. One particular one comes to mind. She was tall and slender and a mix of Caucasian and Vietnamese.

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 30, 2013 at 6:14pm

I might have married a Chinese lady, that would have been interesting.  I had a Caribbean landlady who wanted to have a baby with me just for the genes... I didn't think that was a good reason. 


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