Readers of this blog will probably have realized that my personal beliefs (philosophy), as well as those associations of which I am a member/supporter because of actions emanating from these beliefs (ethics), are very much in line with the ideas and campaigning strategies of the National Secular Society (NSS).
I joined the National Secular Society (NSS) in April, 2017, following my reception of an NSS campaigning brochure. I view my membership of this movement as an aspect of my general and ongoing thinking and action related to the comprehensive title for this blog, “A site for the examination of and commenting on life and time”.
When I signed-up with the NSS I received a follow-up letter from the then President of the society, Terry Sanderson, requesting that I say something as to why I joined the society. In what follows I have reproduced the contents of the letter sent to the NSS as a response explaining why I joined the society in 2017.
This in turn gave me an opportunity to say something specific not only about the motivation for me joining the NSS but also a chance to clarify my thinking about my general attitude towards secularism.
Prior to 1996 I was an Accredited Minister of Religion with both the Victorian Baptist Union (Australia) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. My last full-time appointment within the orbit of the Christian Church was as the Manager for Domestic Programmes with World Vision UK. This appointment concluded in 1993.
In 1996 I became a teacher of Humanities at a Northampton Comprehensive school. This included being the Head of Religious Studies (RS). However, my approach to RS in secular schools was that the subject should be taught along the lines of religious philosophy and ethics – as, more or less, a major subject within a course on the “Theory of Knowledge” (studied as “Epistemology” at university level), or as a part of the study of “The History of Ideas”.
In this I felt that my function as a teacher representing any Christian or religious institution was inappropriate. As a consequence of this, as well as recognizing the direction at the time of my general thinking and “spiritual” practice, I “de-frocked” myself, relinquished the title of “Reverend” and, to all intents and purposes, became a secular teacher. I have not worshipped at a Christian church since.
In line with developments from the above-mentioned, that is, as a teacher of humanities – including religious studies, I am firmly against government funding of any form of religious faith or practice. Therefore, government funding for any and all “faith” schools, including those with a Christian basis – especially those with a CofE heritage and/or those historic public schools with a “charitable” status – should be discontinued.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am also of the belief that, for a variety of “secular” reasons, religious studies – as an aspect of philosophy and ethics in general – is, nevertheless, a legitimate subject for teaching in a secular educational system. However, the specific arguments for me adopting this position on this question, is the subject matter for another article (but see previous and related articles in this blog).
Consistent with the foregoing perspectives, I believe that Church and State should be separate, including the disestablishment of the Church of England and the separation of the British Head of State from any religious office.
It follows that all discussion about religious faith and belief should be unrestricted by religious considerations, as all such discussion is not “divinely” based but is simply an aspect of human cultural and social discourse. This, of course, would seriously imply that all public services and service delivery should be free of religious bias and discrimination of any kind.
The above would also hold that there should be equality for all under one secular law and that the operation of any system of law that seeks to undermine or countermand this with a religious basis is illegal. I feel that this is consistent with both my belief in a strong democracy and a desire to see and protect a stable and meaningful social cohesion, based on secular values, within our national life.
Of course, as the reader will further realize, there are, in addition to the foregoing, further background reasons as to why the principles and actions of the NSS appeal to me. These may be gleaned from a reading of over 100 articles I have written in contributing to this blog and others (e.g. Republic, Sea of Faith, Amazon) in such areas as religion, politics, history, human rights, philosophy, economics, republicanism and general culture.
My membership of the NSS, a well as with other organizations and societies mentioned in this article, links me with those persons of similar persuasion.
They are people and movements that take account of the full array of persons who believe that life is a process in which the question, “Ask me why?” is always relevant; where answers are sought but are never, and can never be, fully satisfying; and where actions are continuous and solutions constantly applied.