Since Humanists West is in a sense of a community of unbelievers it makes sense to make a brief case for why Humanist communities are important. Particularly as not all non-theists agree that such spaces are of much benefit and many religious people don’t really get the point either.
So let’s put aside the question of what these communities should look like, for now and focus on the question of 'why do we need them?'
1. There is a real need.
There is a real scarcity of values-based community spaces for non-theists. Those who wish to explore their religious lifestance are likely to have multiple spaces where they can do so with others who share their values. If you are a committed Humanist, however, you often have nowhere to go. And yet, as Roisin Ingle of the the Irish Times noted on the latest Census results, with 256,000 and counting the non-religious (also referred to as 'Nones') now make up the largest group in the state after Catholics. According to the 2011 census, 269,811 throughout the State view themselves as non-religious, just over five per cent of the population, with a growth of 44.8% on the level recorded in the previous census in 2006.
2. The Non-Religious Need a Space to Breathe.
Many human beings find inherent value in congregating with others who share their values. This becomes clear if you attend any atheist or Humanist conference: the sense of relief that people can speak their mind and be their true selves for a short window of time is palpable. In a highly religious culture, community spaces with a non-theistic outlook provide atheists a chance to breathe deeply and discuss freely.
3. The Non-Religious Need a Space to Celebrate and Mourn.
Another area of life which religions have come to monopolize is life-cycle ceremonies – ways to recognize and mark the significance of some of the most important moments of our lives. Many non-theists want the opportunity to recognize their marriage, mourn the loss of loved ones, and name children in a ceremony which reflects their deepest values. Humanist communities can offer that - see our ceremonies page.
4. The Non-Religious Have Existential Questions Too.
It’s often wrongly assumed that people who are not religious are uninterested in the big questions of life: who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Not so. Non-theists often have deep existential questions which animate and perturb them, and yet they have few places in which to explore these questions without pretending to believe something they do not.
5. Also Have Kids. One of the main drivers behind the founding of the Ethical Culture movement – one of the most successful networks of Humanist communities ever created – was the need to find a place where non-theistic parents could raise and educate their children. Many religious organizations focus huge efforts on education, knowing that providing childcare and Sunday School is a big draw for busy parents. Just try to find free Humanist-oriented childcare or ethical education for kids… there is none. One day Humanists West hope to offer this service to our members.
6. We need to close the participation gap. Values-based communities seem to be important fro the development of social capital. Putman and Campbell, in American Grace, stress how many measures of civic engagement – from volunteering to voting, to running for office – are linked with participation in a values-based community. They suggest that “morally-intense, but nonreligious social networks could have a similarly powerful effect [on civic engagement]“, and we think they’re right. Hence, Humanist communities.
Humanists West are proud to be be involved in pioneering the most effective model for a Humanist community in Ireland and to advancing Humanism to stand alongside Ireland's religions as a secular alternative, which is universally recognized, and organised part of the spectrum of options for a life of purpose, achievement and community. Working with non-theistic communities and other organisations all around the world we work towards developing a form of non-religious community which aids its members to lead personally fulfilling and rich lives, through providing opportunities to reflect on, to explore and to experience all that is best things in life.