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A Humanist perspective on Church

Andrew Copson's picture

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Human beings are social animals. Like our closest relative the chimpanzee, we tend to live together in groups, and we have ways of behaving that have evolved over time. This tendency towards community life was hypothesised by Darwin in the nineteenth century:


As man advances in civilisation and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.   This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.


Humanists observe that the ‘golden rule' - the general principle of treating others as you would wish to be treated in their position - is to be found in most cultures all over the world and throughout time. It shows that people generally have it in them to feel for others as for themselves and to live together with a sense of shared belonging. Together, people can achieve much more than individually, and co-operation - which itself relies on empathy and an understanding for others - has great value for humanists, because they believe that, for the world to become a better place, it is people who must make it happen, with no help from supernatural beings.


If humanists have concerns about community it is the fear that the concept can be used to tyrannise over the individual - that they may serve to oppress people's individuality. If people are trapped in one community and so lose their freedom, they may be unable to live the sort of life that would make them fulfilled, and be forced to live by the rules of a majority with which they disagree. Humanists may also be concerned that communities can be very exclusive things, hostile to outsiders, and so make for a more divided society rather than a more united one.

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