East London Humanists Chair Paul Kaufman on suprises thrown up at the group’s monthly meetings


- Credit: Archant

The monthly meetings of our humanist group often surprise.

Our last meeting, on the seemingly dry subject of “why we are humanists”, was no exception.

Once again a number of our preconceptions and stereotypes were challenged in a welcome and delightful way.

Two elderly Pakistani men turned up out of the blue. They had seen the meeting advertised on the internet. A few minutes into the discussion one of them asked to speak.

He described how as a young man growing up in Pakistan he and his friends had decided they were atheists.

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He subsequently emigrated. As his picture of life grew he questioned this. How could he, as an insignificant speck, have the audacity to reach such a conclusion? He therefore decided to describe himself as an agnostic.

What was he going to say next? We waited with baited breath.

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He went on to describe how, as his thoughts matured, he eventually decided that the best way to describe his world view was as a rationalist. He explained that for several years he has travelled backwards and forwards to Pakistan to assist with teaching in a school.

He cannot be too explicit about what he teaches and the expression he therefore uses to describe his lessons is ‘‘critical thinking’’.

We asked the obvious question as to whether this was dangerous and wasn’t he afraid?

He readily acknowledged that of course this work is dangerous.

But at his age he reckons even if he is killed then he has a lot less to lose than a younger man, and in any event its well worth the risk.

All of this brought home how grateful we should be that we live in a country where it is possible to talk openly about our beliefs, whatever they may be, without fear for our personal safety, and that we should never take this for granted.

It also helps to illustrate why, as humanists, we feel it is so important for the sake of those less able to do so that we ‘‘nail our colours to the mast”.

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