Humanism Now

7. Terri O'Sullivan, Faith to Faithless on Support for Leaving Religion plus Humanistic Approaches to Free Speech

November 12, 2023 Humanise Live Season 1 Episode 7
7. Terri O'Sullivan, Faith to Faithless on Support for Leaving Religion plus Humanistic Approaches to Free Speech
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Humanism Now
7. Terri O'Sullivan, Faith to Faithless on Support for Leaving Religion plus Humanistic Approaches to Free Speech
Nov 12, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7
Humanise Live

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This week on Humanism now, Audrey & Mark join the panel to discuss taking a humanistic approach to issues around Free Speech and free expression, drawing on recent international news items.

Our guest this week is Terri O'Sullivan from Faith to Faithless. Terri shares her deeply personal journey to humanism and her role as Apostate Services Development Officer, at FTF (part of Humanists UK).  She also provides detailed advice for those seeking support when leaving high-control groups or experiencing religious trauma.

Finally our mailbag question this week asks if Humanism aligns with and support other social change movements, such as Feminism and Black Lives Matter.

Episode references:

Contact Terri O'Sullivan:
๐Ÿ”—
Faith to Faithless
๐Ÿฆ @Terri_OSullivan
๐Ÿ“˜ @FaithtoFaithless

Terri's references;

Support Asylum Research:
University of Sheffield are conducting research on how UK asylum claims are handled on the grounds of non-religiosity. If you have faced fear of persecution and have gone through the asylum system, please contact Lucy Potter.  More info.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week on Humanism now, Audrey & Mark join the panel to discuss taking a humanistic approach to issues around Free Speech and free expression, drawing on recent international news items.

Our guest this week is Terri O'Sullivan from Faith to Faithless. Terri shares her deeply personal journey to humanism and her role as Apostate Services Development Officer, at FTF (part of Humanists UK).  She also provides detailed advice for those seeking support when leaving high-control groups or experiencing religious trauma.

Finally our mailbag question this week asks if Humanism aligns with and support other social change movements, such as Feminism and Black Lives Matter.

Episode references:

Contact Terri O'Sullivan:
๐Ÿ”—
Faith to Faithless
๐Ÿฆ @Terri_OSullivan
๐Ÿ“˜ @FaithtoFaithless

Terri's references;

Support Asylum Research:
University of Sheffield are conducting research on how UK asylum claims are handled on the grounds of non-religiosity. If you have faced fear of persecution and have gone through the asylum system, please contact Lucy Potter.  More info.

Upcoming CLH Events:

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James H:

Hello and welcome to episode seven of Humanism, now the podcast from the central London humanists. I'm your host, james, and this week we will be discussing the humanistic approach to freedom of speech. How can we support people leaving high-control religions and is humanism compatible with other movements? Plus, we'll have our interview with Therio Sullivan, from Faith to Faithless, and to discuss all of this and more, I'm delighted to be joined by two of our regular panellists here, mark and Audrey from the central London humanists. Mark, good to see you.

Mark A:

Hi James. Yeah, good to be here. I'm looking forward to it.

James H:

And Audrey, good to have you back again.

Audrey S:

Nice to be back. Thank you for inviting me again.

James H:

Pleasure. So a couple of weeks ago we hosted another one of our very lively discussion groups at the London Humanists. I'm going to say both of our panellists were active and involved there. The event was a deep dive into freedom of speech and tolerance, I think off the back of a couple of cases that have come to light recently. I'd love to go into a few of those issues in a bit more detail. But, mark, I know you organise the discussion group. Could you give a little bit of background as to the cases that inspired us hosting this discussion group?

Mark A:

Yeah, so it was a discussion around freedom of speech, which is something we have covered before, but it's something which I think humanists are particularly interested in, given the history of prohibitions on free speech that have affected us in the past and humanists have campaigned on this issue. So the particular issue was to do with the burning of the Koran in Sweden. There were several instances of this in the summer of this year and beyond and the specific instance you know case people can look up but essentially it was a, I think, an Iraqi Christian who I think claimed to have suffered persecution in Iraq and he was now found himself in Sweden as a refugee and had carried out a number of quite high profile burnings of the Koran as a protest, and one of those was in front of a mosque. And there were several other instances and this was then taken up by some more far-right Swedish politicians who also engaged in Koran burning and that was very much more linked to anti-immigrant, anti-islamic, islamophobic political activism. So that was the sort of hook for our discussion about free speech and it's quite an emotive one.

Mark A:

Whether you know the Koran in particular and books in general, whether that's you know, it's appropriate to burn them and it was a really interesting discussion that we had, but I'll come on to that. But that was the sort of overall backdrop. Yeah, to the discussion.

James H:

Thanks, mark and Audrey. I know you were active and involved there. I was wondering what are your views on how humanism and humanistic values plays into your views on freedom of speech.

Audrey S:

As a humanist, freedom of speech is paramount. We've got to be able to say what needs to be said and what we want to say. And I always find that it's religious groups that put restrictions on that and political groups that use it in a way to be provocative. So we're always juggling these two ideas. But as humanists we're just like say what you've got to say so that we can challenge. Say what you, what you know, what's on your mind, so that we could then have that discussion, or you know I mean I make it sound quite playful, but you know what I mean If it's not out in the open, then where do we go? So I think, as humanists, we kind of say freedom of speech is paramount, we need to be saying and challenging, and that's how we deal with things. And I think it's other groups that have a problem with that.

Mark A:

Yeah. So I think I tend to agree with Audrey which is something that happened in the discussion itself and my approach was in some ways slightly more technical, which was that freedom of speech is paramount. It's very important, for all the reasons that Audrey has just specified, that we have these open debates and we are able to discuss things and, as a general principle, in a free society you should be able to express yourself unless there's a really good reason why you shouldn't. But the other issue, so the more narrow, technical issue that I was trying to get up to, was that if speech is to be censored or is to be limited and of course it is all the time, but there has to be a good reason for that and there has to be a proper process.

Mark A:

Under the rule of law you can't be arbitrary, and of course in many cases around the world it is arbitrary and people are prevented from expressing themselves freely of all sorts of invented, spurious reasons by authoritarian regimes. So in this particular case well, in the general case, I mean there's a. So it's it's article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that basically grants this freedom of speech and it really says it should only be limited where there is incitement to violence or hatred and things like that. So it's a very limited set of circumstances. So that was the lens in which I was applying to this particular case as well.

Mark A:

Yes, this is an instance of a gentleman burning a book, and for a lot of people that's quite an emotive and triggering issue Burning books for all sorts of historical and cultural reasons but in the end it's another symbolic act, whether it's speech or burning a flag, or you know, as recently happened, burning Rishi Sunaki in effigy and at a bonfire night celebration. Danny Lewis, where I'm from, they always burn somebody on bonfire night. So yeah, I don't. I see it in the same way as anything like that, so it has to be evaluated in those terms.

Audrey S:

But I also then, you know, I mean we talk about inciting hate.

Audrey S:

I think when we look at, especially in the sort of times that we're in now, whether it be about Islam or, in this case, judaism, sort of thinking about all the events in it, again, this is arbitrary, this inciting hate, because what we're saying is it's about hurt, feelings, and that's, you know, what I mean.

Audrey S:

My feelings are hurt, and then we can label that as insight. We've got Suella, cruella, brotherman, sorry, sort of saying that the marches are, you know, inciting hate and I hate speech and all of these things. So we use these words and we think we understand what they mean, but then we use them up, you know, when it best suits us, and so again it becomes difficult, because marches are marches and we you know this government has been trying to ban marches for political reasons, because it doesn't suit their. You know they're trying to do all kinds of things. So when we say, you know, insights, hate, you know that needs to be defined as well, because what we're seeing now is people using these phrases to then limit free speech, when actually this phrase doesn't actually mean, doesn't actually relate to the actions that are taking place.

Mark A:

Yeah, so I completely agree. But I think that the one could see I think illegally a distinction would be made between language which is clearly demonizing, inflammatory and effectively inciting violence potentially towards a group, and fair criticism and obviously all of these things. There's an element of judgment and subjectivity about it, but the law tries to be as objective as possible about those sorts of things all the time, doesn't it? So it's something where judgment has to be made and that judgment will probably change over time.

Mark A:

I think one of the things that was, you know, if we sort of steer away from the codes of consensus that we have, maybe I can bring up some of the counter arguments that were made by people in the discussion which sort of, you know, opposed the sort of pro-free speech position or what people who had concerns about that. So one of them was around, I suppose the argument that by attacking a cultural artifact like a book, it's tantamount to trying to destroy an idea and that it's a form of sort of intellectual genocide, to put it in a very inflammatory way. So the comparison was made between burning books and the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhist sculptures in Afghanistan, for example. So therefore there was yeah, and I think this maybe speaks to the idea I mentioned before about some people finding the whole idea of burning books as being very triggering and maybe associations with fascism and things like that. So I don't see that comparison myself. I don't know what you think about that, Audrey, whether you find that to be in any way a valid point.

Audrey S:

No, again, this is all of this idea of you know the ancient artifacts or ancient artifacts, and again it's about hurt feelings. And I think, for me, all of these things are about how emotional we get about these things. And so someone burns a book, a book on LGBT, a book on slavery, a book on you know something, and it's usually I'm hurt about this personally and therefore I think that you should be limited in seeing it, or I am going to burn it so that you, I, can hurt your feelings. And we need to find different ways, better ways of dealing with our hurt feelings, because what we have at the moment is action and reaction without any kind of middle ground, so that we constantly are in this spiral.

Audrey S:

Someone does something, we will get upset, and there's a burn, some fire, whatever, and we just go into this spiral and I think, as a society, we haven't worked out. You know how we deal with our emotions in this way, and what is it that people are trying to say? And if it's a political act, then deal with it as a political act. And if you're trying to hurt my feelings, and show that you are stronger than that, because you should be able to be stronger than a book of Koran, stronger than a Bible, stronger than a book about LGBT. You know what I mean. And we still don't have that debating bit. What we have is fire and boomstone and all of the you know the sort of bubble of. You know, I'm trying to think of my birthday and it's gone.

James H:

So I guess it. I think broadly we're in agreement, but I think a lot of the discussion hinged on was where do we draw those boundaries and what role does context play in this? I mean, the case in point was intended to be a provocative act. I think it wasn't a private expression, it was. It was purposely done in public to get a reaction, and I guess the discussion is really what is an appropriate reaction to being offended.

Mark A:

I think I would tend to agree with Audrey. You don't have a in general, you don't have a right not to be offended. And if we were to say that you know any, any particular group or groups in general, have a right not to be offended, then it would be very difficult to say anything really remotely meaningful in the political sphere, because you know anybody can say, well, that offends me. So therefore it's out of bounds. And I remember when I was at university, sort of you know, I actually campaigned against sort of no platform policies that some people would favor, because I mean, I remember what somebody saying why should I have to listen to views that I don't agree with? And that really that's the whole point of a democracy.

Mark A:

So, whichever, whoever's doing it, there has to be that middle ground. I think one of the interesting things that occurs to me and James and I know this from reading the Jonathan Hate book, or height, maybe a nicer way to say it is that one of the claims he makes is that sort of liberals, atheists, we don't tend to put as much emphasis on the virtue of. I think he calls it sanctity. Well, let's use that word for a second.

James H:

Yes, it's one of his virtues that he highlights, yeah.

Mark A:

Because we're not traditionalists and because we don't identify it with sort of objects and rituals to quite the same extent. Or for us, if somebody wants to burn 100 copies of the little book of humanism, then I really don't care, frankly. But or we do have some rituals et cetera, but we don't really make a huge deal of those things. It's not just part of our more sort of worldview in particular. So, whereas people who are probably made more traditional, conservative, both culturally and politically, maybe do place more emphasis on those things to some extent not all of them and so for them, therefore, these things are more important, and so that might, but you know, so in that sense the context plays into it. There was also another aspect, which was the sort of the, the, the real politic of it, if you like, whether or not it was sensible to do this. That was another thing that people talked about. That, yes, all very well, you can burn the Quran, but what then happens when you know Sweden's entry to NATO is then potentially blocked because one of the far right people burnt the copy of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy and or, sadly, it looks as if there was a, it may even be that two Swedish football fans were were murdered in a terrorist incident in Belgium, potentially because of this, that Sweden was identified as a sort of anti Islamic country because of these incidents.

Mark A:

And the Swedish authorities are obviously say, well, we're not condoning this, this doesn't reflect our view of on religion or on culture, but it's simply. We have freedom of speech, we have freedom of expression and, according to the courts, this gentleman is is within that. So what can we do? But but he obviously you might say, well, in terms of drawing a line of context, it could be. If you are, if it leads to people being killed, if it leads to Sweden's national interest being jeopardized as you know, they want to join NATO to protect themselves against Russia then you know, at that point you have to say, well, what is what is more important?

Audrey S:

I think from, I suppose you know, saying that we don't believe in, as humanists, we don't have those, those kinds of rituals, is quite true, because I think when you're it becomes, then the rituals are the things that are then controlling how we, how we interact. Those rituals then becomes more important than human life, and I think those are the. That's the barrier that we need to be breaking down A book of human life. And if you're going to equate the two, then where is? Where are we in humanity, where are we in society? If we can say that if you burn a book, the equivalent is I killed two football fans and somehow equate that as being, you know, the same thing or an equal punishment, then for me we're saying that there is, for me I'm saying that there's something wrong with those rituals, because human life must always be paramount.

Audrey S:

And I think the problem we have with various religions is that human life, while we don't have rituals, we value human life, whereas religious organizations and religious institutions devalue human life and put other things above it. And I think that's the question that we should be. You know the conversation that we should be having, because we're always talking about you know, god is love, god is all of those things. Yet every action that religious people do shows that they are not full of love and that they put all of these rituals, all of these you know things, above human life. And as humanists a very name says humans should come first and be paramount in all things.

Mark A:

Yeah, obviously it's not all all religious people as it is, it's a, it's a well, I'm saying institutions, this whole idea, that the notion of that, not individuals.

Audrey S:

you know there are some who would be upwalled by it, but in any of it, yeah, I think you've landed on why we probably all broadly ended up in agreement.

James H:

Audrey, I think you summarized it quite nicely there. I think that is one thing that distinguishes the humanistic view is that human rights are reserved for humans. I think I think it's Ricky Gervais that talks about how people like to give their opinions human human rights or their beliefs human rights, or, in this case, an object, human rights, and so they feel they can respond in kind by attacking humans. And I think, yeah, that we were. There was a little bit of debate, I think, on the at the event, but broadly everyone was pretty open for freedom of speech. It did get dicey, I think, on occasions where perhaps it brushed up against their own personal views or values. You know, if it's, if the, the target was flipped to something people supported, obviously that always gets more challenging. But broadly I think that humanists have an attitude of tolerance which trumps all else.

Mark A:

I think also there's. There's also I mean, it was talked about empathy being another cardinal virtue of humanists and I think that was an area of some tension, some people in particular, that they felt that, yes, it may well be that one can do these things, and this is maybe where the arguments spun away from you know whether it should be allowed or whether it's actually a good thing to do. And for me the focus was whether it's allowed. But I think for some, as you say, they had quite an emotional reaction to this and they felt that it was, it was an unkind thing to do, it was, it was just gratuitous be hurting other people's feelings for no particular valid reason other than some sort of sense of, you know, capricious sort of malice.

Mark A:

I'm not sure whether that's necessarily the case here or in the cases we've talked about, but certainly there was a sense. You know, just don't do it because you know you're hurting people's feelings and just let them get on with their religion. I know I can have some sympathy with that, but I mean, in the end, freedom of speech means tolerating things you don't want to hear. If we all, you know it's not. It's not difficult to tolerate speech when people agree with you and tell you how wonderful you are.

James H:

Well, that's it, and, as the danger, you might learn something new and potentially change your opinion. Yeah, I had a similar initial reaction on the topic of thinking well, yes, there is a right to offend and there's no right to not be offended, but should we be discouraging people from causing offense if they know something is going to be provocative? But I think being reminded during the session of the cases of Salman Rushdie or Ayyan Hashi Ali as a reminder of the importance of, even if these things are likely to be provocative or have been shown to be in the past, there's huge importance in still allowing people to express themselves, their opinions or even just their experiences, and speak freely.

Audrey S:

I'm a 70s, not quite a 70s, but I remember the 70s vaguely as a child. But I remember I lived in New Cross when the National Front passed my house and did a march and there wasn't a question of whether they should march, it was what was the reaction? What was our reaction? To be held which? So they were anti. You know, they were anti National Front marches to give that counter message and things like that.

Audrey S:

And I think what we worry about now is well, they'll fight and there'll be an argument and all of those kinds of things, and sometimes a good argument is where we get to that point. We've got this idea that we shouldn't be offended. We shouldn't. We don't have the right not to be offended, but we shouldn't get into any kind of heated debate about anything and let our emotions out. Yes, I hate black people. Yes, I think there's gum, right, this is my answer to that. We should be able to express those feelings. Do you know what I mean? And you know, as a black person, we've been, you know, faced with all kinds of things and it's.

Audrey S:

It comes to a point where we need to sort of say we need to find better ways of responding instead of shying away and we talk about tolerance, and tolerance is it's all well and good, but we never talk about tolerance and challenge and debate and discussion and actually taking on those, those, those ideas as well.

Audrey S:

And we need to be doing more of that.

Audrey S:

We need to be able to not just shy away from, not just accept, not just say, well, I'm tolerating you, because I don't even think anybody wants to be tolerated in that way, but we need to be able to be more active in the, in the, in our response to those actions and to actions in terms of just, instead of just using words like tolerate and be you know, and being tolerant and being respectful and all of those nice things that come with humanism.

Audrey S:

And I think the thing about humanism is that it doesn't, it doesn't bite, it doesn't do those kinds of things, it's kind and it can be signed kind of placid or just. It comes across as being that way because we use all of these kinds of platitudes, because we use this kinds of phrase in, and actually, what we could be is more robust in our responses to these things, and I think this is something that we as, as humanists, should be doing more of and showing our teeth and saying, actually we are tolerant but we will not tolerate, and this is our response to it. I think those are the kinds of things that we, that we as humanists, could be doing more to kind of counterbalance these things.

James H:

Very well put, audrey Engage.

Audrey S:

Yeah, engage, Engage absolutely.

James H:

Now hold that thought because I think that ties in nicely with our mailbag question this week. But, mark and Audrey, thank you very much for that lively discussion.

Lucy Potter:

Hi, my name is Lucy Potter and I'm a researcher based at the University of Sheffield. I am currently conducting research on how asylum claims on the grounds of non-religiosity, which can include apostasy and blasphemy, are handled by the UK government. I am looking for refugees or people who are still seeking asylum on these grounds to take part in an interview with me on their experiences of the asylum system. This research is really important because there is no research on how non-religious asylum claims are dealt with currently and not much is known about non-religious persecution more widely. If you take part in this research, you will remain anonymous and unidentifiable, and I hope this research will make the asylum system inclusive of all belief systems, and I encourage anyone with experience to please contact me. My email is lpotter2 at sheffieldacuk. Thank you.

James H:

Mark and Audrey will be back shortly, but in the meantime, here is our interview this week with Terry O'Sullivan from Faith to Faithless. Terry O'Sullivan is the Apostate Services Development Officer with Faith to Faithless, a service of Humanist UK which supports people who have left high-control religious groups and raises awareness for issues around apostasy. Terry, thank you very much for joining Humanism now.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Yeah, thank you for having me.

James H:

Pleasure and looking forward to hearing all about the great work of Faith to Faithless. Before that, I think it'd be fascinating to hear about your personal background and your journey both to Humanism and to your role at Faith to Faithless.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Sure, yeah, okay. So I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, so not as a Humanist. For those that don't know about the Jehovah's Witness, it's quite a controlling religious group. You're three meetings a week, lots of preparation for each meeting, personal Bible study each week, family Bible study each week, then you have the ministry, which is knocking doors several times a week, and there's just a lot. And then there's all the literature that you need to read. There's a lot to do.

Terri O'Sullivan:

It's a very, very busy life, but in addition to it being very busy and all-consuming, taking over all areas of your life, it's very controlling as well. As a young child, I was hit for asking questions about the dinosaurs and how that connected with creationism, and stories like that, and also the morality of the Bible was always an issue for me, like how could God be described as loving if he's going to kill all the Egyptian babies? Things like that really used to bother me when I was a young child. But because it's so controlling, because you're going to be punished, I had a lot of nightmares about Armageddon, the end of the world coming, which the Jehovah's Witnesses say is next week. They've been saying it's next week since 1879. It can be really stressful because they show a lot of images of like even in the Bible, what's called the my Book of Bible Stories book. It's a yellow book that they give to children and they'll give this to newborn babies. So there's not an age limit on this book and in that book it's all stories written in a way that's supposed to appeal to children and each page has got a picture of the Bible story. But on nearly every page there's a story of somebody being killed and some of the images are quite gory as well. So, for example, the story of the flood. So most Christian groups will show an image of the Ark and all these lovely animals two by two. That's kind of cute For the Jehovah's Witnesses. What they show is lots of people drowning and dying. So there's the main images that was quite frightening of a woman holding her baby, trying to hold the baby but the water, but clearly they're both drowning. And then there's another woman of a giant strangling a woman to death and there's a baby about to be chopped in half. You know, these are the kind of images in the children's book and then so the adult literature is equally as hor-horror-horror-ing. There we go.

Terri O'Sullivan:

I can't even say that word. I always say to people, when people sort of ask for a quick snippet, what's it like being a Jehovah's Witness? I always say it's too worse to describe it as fear and isolation. So I've described the fear the isolation is.

Terri O'Sullivan:

The Jehovah's Witnesses are very active in excommunicating anybody who does or says something that they don't agree with. And when somebody is excommunicated or disfellowshipped, no one in that congregation, including their own family members, are allowed to talk to them anymore. So if you bump into somebody in the street, they can't even like say hello even so. That's pretty harsh. The same goes for people who just decide to leave. They didn't even do anything that Jehovah's Witnesses feel is wrong. They will be isolated. They will be shunned as the word, but even within the religion itself. So there are always people talking about other members of the congregation who aren't seen as spiritual enough. The word spiritual really means a rule follower in the Jehovah's Witnesses, so it doesn't mean what people tend to think the word spiritual means. It just means somebody who follows all the rules exactly. So, yeah, fear and isolation, so it's great.

Terri O'Sullivan:

So obviously, at age 21, I was like I'm not sure anymore, and there's a lot more detail to that story of how and why I left, but suffice to say I left and that didn't end well. So my mom kicked me out of home with just a couple of bin liners with some clothes in, and I was homeless for a while and obviously that's pretty hard. And I wasn't a regular 21 year old either. I'd had a very you know, controlled life that was very different to the rest of the world. So I think, emotionally and mentally, I was much younger than 21, if I'm honest. But yeah, so that that was. That lasted a while.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Eventually, obviously, I got on my feet and and settled in my life and in 2007, I actually set up a support group for former Jehovah's Witnesses and that was for social events and just chatting about experiences really, and that quickly grew to over 1000 members and people contacted me from all over the world in fact, and there's actually a very good and supportive community for extra hope as witnesses internationally.

Terri O'Sullivan:

If anybody wants to know about that, I can tell them about that.

Terri O'Sullivan:

After that, I came into contact with faith to faithless and it was very much at the beginning of faith to faithless that I contacted them and said, hey, I really like what you're doing, and then I joined the leadership team which, so faith to faith was back in the early days, was run primarily by volunteers.

Terri O'Sullivan:

I became part of that leadership team with another friend of mine, steve, who's also an extra hovers witness, and obviously we had two ex Muslims, a few ex-ceo evangelical Christians and other groups as well represented and and then in more recent times we've been able to get more funding and we're now staff led and but also we run under the advice of a group, an advisory board. That was a mouthful. The advisory board is a group of apostates, shall I say. People have left high control religious groups and they just tell us whether we're doing a good thing or not and give us their opinion. So it's important to us at faith to faithless that we are led by our service users and volunteers who have lived experience so that we are, you know, offering a service and what, running in the direction that is relevant for people today who in the UK, who have left controlling religious groups, because it is certainly not an easy experience.

James H:

I can imagine, and thank you very much for sharing your lived experience as well. So can you tell us a little bit more about the work that you do at faith to faithless and perhaps why we need a charity and a support or a support group for people really leaving faith in the UK?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Yeah, so I have the rather grand job title of apostate services development officer, so what I do is I run all the services, which is like peer support sessions, both online and in person. Online social events. In person social events we do online speaker events as well, and these are really useful for people who have left groups where they've been totally isolated from their communities. So, obviously, when it's a very controlling religious group, usually everyone you know in your social network your friends, your family are all part of that religion. So when you leave and if they all stop talking to you, you can be in a position where you actually have no one because you didn't have any friends like I did. You didn't have any friends outside of the religion. So having peer support sessions, which we do weekly, can make a massive difference. It just enables people to talk about their experiences in a safe space where it's other people who get it, who've been in those situations, and to feel that kind of a sense of community, like the other is a space for me. So, yeah, that's really nice and a lot of people end up making friends through that community.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Some people it takes a while to get settled in because they've been through what is actually quite a traumatic event, and religious trauma is a very real thing. So if any of your listeners want to learn more about religious trauma, I do strongly recommend googling it. You'll see the work by Marlene Wynnell, who coined the phrase first, and I believe you've got another event coming up where you'll most likely be talking about religious trauma there as well. The reason that we need this like for people that aren't really sure why we would need a specific charity for this issue because obviously there are charitable groups for all types of trauma and then there's some maritans that you can call about any issue the reason that it makes a difference is because you've been in such a closed community and that it's really hard to explain that to someone who hasn't been through it. So say, if you've left the Jehovah's Witnesses or the exclusive brethren or you've left Islam, now lots of people can kind of recognise the difficulties that that might leave you with, but they don't really understand how detailed all the issues are and how deep it runs.

Terri O'Sullivan:

So if your family don't talk to you anymore, it's not like a regular family falling out like over a political issue. Perhaps your family fell out of a Brexit, you know, like a lot of families did, or you're falling out. Families fall out all the time, but families usually come together for what we call hatchmatch dispatch. You know, they'll come together for a christening or some sort of naming ceremony or a wedding or a funeral and things like that, and there'll be other events where they'll come together and they'll just sort of like hide the differences at those times.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Well, if you've been raised in a controlling religious group, not only will you not be told of a parent's death or a grandparent's death or some other relative, you may not be invited at all to any kind of funeral or wedding services, because some of these religious groups teach that the dead person will not go to heaven if there's an apostate there, or the marriage couple will not have a lasting or happy marriage if there's an apostate there.

Terri O'Sullivan:

So these are the kind of issues like it's a lot deeper than just having a disagreement with your family members. Like for the family members that are no longer talking to you, it really is a life or death matter, and that might be if you're ex evangelical Christian or ex-Johobist witness or one of the other Christian controlling groups. That might be that they're waiting for the day that God brings his vengeance right. Or you may come from a very controlling Islamic background where your family are very, very religious and actually maybe they wish harm on you. Or there's other people in the group. You might come from a liberal Muslim background. Your parents might be okay. They don't feel great about it. They're okay with you leaving Islam and being non-religious, but there are other people out there who are not okay with it and they don't even know who you are. So to have a safe space where you can talk about those things, it makes a massive difference.

James H:

So yeah, I can't go on about that for hours. Sure. So I wonder as well might be interesting just to pull out what should be considered a high control religion. What do these communities have in common and how common is this form of religion in the UK?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Okay, yeah, so I'll give two answers that. The first answer is I don't define it for our service users. So people that want to use faith to faithless services. We are people led. So somebody contacts us and says I was in a very controlling religion, x happened, y happened, this is what's happened to me and it's caused me a lot of distress. Then we will welcome them into using our services. So we don't say can you tick these boxes to see whether you're allowed to access any of our services? We don't do that.

Terri O'Sullivan:

However, if people are sitting there because religious trauma is like other forms of trauma, like, especially, family based trauma A lot of people who were raised in dysfunctional families or any kind of family background where there's been abuse it can take people into, well into their adulthood until they recognize that that was abuse. And it is the same with religious trauma. So people just think, yeah, my parents were a bit religious and yeah, they kicked me out of home and yeah, this awful thing happened and that awful thing happened. And it takes like several years of therapy or really like reading other people's story to try and get like a grasp on your own story to recognize that wait, that wasn't OK, that was actually abusive and I think what I've experienced is actually a form of trauma. So what's useful then is, as you've asked, is to know what would then describe the kinds of things that we see in people that have left controlling religious groups. So that would be you're not allowed to question the religion at all, like, so maybe you can ask small little questions, but if you're asking a question like I'm not really sure if I believe this, then that's not OK. I mean, that goes against one of your basic human rights, the freedom of religion or belief.

Terri O'Sullivan:

So if your group also separates you from the outside world, if you're not allowed friends outside of, outside of your religion, or it's really restricted on how you can connect with them, that's very controlling. If you're told how to dress, and dressing a different way is seen as really bad and you could get punished for it or shamed for it, that's controlling. If there's certain foods you can't eat and you are really strongly punished for not abiding by those laws, then that is controlling. If you have to deal with so many rituals, down to how you sit down on the toilet and how you tie your shoes, that is controlling.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Now, looking at control there's also for some people, they actually want that level of control. We have to accept that there is freedom to worship and freedom to practice your faith in the way that you want to, and that is totally OK, of course. But, however, if you're the punishment for saying I don't want that level of control, I want to make these decisions for myself, I don't want to live by those rules anymore, If you're saying that cuts you off from your family or your community or has you be shamed or punished in some other way, then that is too much control and that's not OK. And that's who we support people that have been through those experiences.

James H:

Thank you very much for sharing. My next question was what are the signs that someone needs support? But I'm sensing from what you said so far that A lot of people who potentially need your services are perhaps not around those who would be able to spot it. So is it more a case of self-referral that you get with faith to faithless?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Oh, like it's very rare that we have anything other than self-referral so generally, and I still feel like there's more work we could be doing on that. I mean, we do have an apostasy awareness course that we're trying to educate service providers so that they can refer to us, and that is having some fruitful results in that people are starting to do that. But I mean this is a big. You know, there's a lot of people in this country and a lot of services in this country, so it's a big job. But, yeah, no, the vast majority of our service users just googled or saw a YouTube video, because the faith to faithless has a YouTube channel.

Terri O'Sullivan:

We were on social media. They saw posts there or somebody else told them about it. I mean, I will say a lot of people get their support through social media these days, so Facebook or Reddit and other social media groups, etc. So they'll be looking for. Are there any other people like me? Because a lot of people leave these groups and they think they're the only one. In fact, it's almost everyone. That's a really common thing that people say to me. I thought it was just me. I thought, no, it's not just you. This affects a lot of people, and so they'd start looking for other people that have been through similar. And then they discover well, there's hundreds, there's thousands of people in this group, and then they discover groups like ours that offer support.

James H:

Those that you help. How supported do they feel? I'm sure you can't share too much personal stories, but generally, what is the feedback like?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Well, the feedback is always very positive. People do say to us I mean, in one of our last sessions we have a topic for discussion and peer support and one of the topics we had recently was on ritual, like religious rituals. How was that for you when you were in your religious community? How has that affected you today and does that impact your day-to-day life in that you still feel the need to sort of like pray when you eat your food because you're so used to doing that all your life or whatever.

Terri O'Sullivan:

There's loads of different rituals that people might have engaged in, but one of the interesting things that came out of that session was that at the end of people talking about these really controlling rituals, people said there's some benefit in ritual and actually they found that one of their new rituals coming to peer support sessions has actually really made a difference because it's giving them that sense of community. So that, for me, was quite high praise and really highlights how this makes it, because I mean, it might seem like it's not that big a deal, like having basically a YouTube session once a week, not YouTube Zoom session once a week. It might seem like that big a deal, but actually that makes a massive deal to someone who just needs to really talk about what they've been through and meet other people who've been through the same.

James H:

That's space for community ritual support. That's great. And how about the humanist movement in general? How do you feel we're doing in providing a soft landing for those leaving high control faiths?

Terri O'Sullivan:

I think groups such as your own, such as Central London Humus, are doing a great job.

Terri O'Sullivan:

Actually. You're putting on events that might be relevant to apostates and you're like running social events and things like that and creating that sense of community. I know you have like a WhatsApp community, which is really lovely for people to connect with others if they feel safe to do so. So I really think there's a lot of groups humanist groups out there doing some really great things. There are lots of other humanist groups who would like to be doing more but don't really quite know what else they could do, or just like it hasn't appeared on their radar as yet. So I think there's still quite a lot of work to do, and that's part of my work actually to just raise that awareness and teach people. So if there's any humanist groups watching this and you want to know more about these kind of issues, I could do a talk or find somebody else to do a talk at one of your meetings to sort of like talk about these issues and how you might help apostates more in your own communities.

James H:

That's great, and let's wrap up to quickly make sure everybody knows how to get in contact with you. If somebody would like looking for support or would like to reach out to you to arrange a talk or find out more about the work of Faith to Faithless, how can they find you?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Yeah, they can just contact us via email is the best way. So that's info at faith2faithlesscom. And that's always one word faith to faithless. The word to, not the number. Info at faith2faithlesscom.

James H:

Great, and you mentioned, of course, the event that we will be running together faith to faithless, and Central London Humanists will be hosting an online talk on the 29th of November. Would you like to share a little bit more information about what we can expect from that event?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Yeah, so I've been chairing the event. We have two speakers there Dr Sabin Bapyath Tadi, who is a psychotherapist and a senior lecturer in psychology, and she specializes in supporting apostates, and she also specializes in support for traumatic experiences based on honour based violence, fgm and forced marriage as well. And then we have Wendy Grendale, who is a senior lecturer at Regent College London. She's a former Jehovah's Witness and she has published several articles on shunning and isolation that former Jehovah's Witnesses face, and she will talk about the social dynamics and coercive power construct, which is a model that she's helped to develop. So we'll hear from them and then I'm sure I'll be fielding some questions to get more from their expertise and open it up to the audience as well.

James H:

Thank you. We'll be discussing the social challenges and how people can exercise self-care when dealing with apostasy issues. I think these are really important issues and fantastic panel, so really looking forward to that event. That's great and, terri O'Sullivan, thank you so much for your time. Just before we go, I'd like to ask all of our guests if there's something which they've changed their mind on, either through their work or just generally recently. So, terri, what have you changed your mind on lately?

Terri O'Sullivan:

Yes, the word apostate. Okay, why not to use it? So if we've been using the word throughout the whole of this meeting and I'm sure the event will probably be advertised with the word somewhere as well the word apostate to me and if you're looking up in the dictionary it just means someone who's left a religious group or no longer believes. There's no aspect of controlling in the definition actually. So to me that's quite an ordinary word and it's useful, and for the people that we're talking about, it's a does what it says on the tin word. However, these religious groups that we're talking about use it as a word of oppression and they use it to shame, to punish, to really demonise people. So it's such a degree that for me personally, it took me six years before I could use the word and I had already decided I was an atheist and a non-believer and I didn't believe in anything that the religious groups preach.

Terri O'Sullivan:

But the word apostate was still how to empower, because when you're deconstructing your beliefs, the way the brain works I have a psychology degree but I'm not going to explain it in any great detail because I'm not very good at explaining it, but the way your brain works, is that the older part of your brain is where the emotions are. So that's a more fundamental part to what's going on in the way you process information. And then you have the cognition, the logic, reason. So when you deconstruct your faith, you lose all the beliefs and the doctrines and you give up on all of that and you create some new sense of meaning and purpose for yourself. But what's left can still be the emotions tied to those doctrines. So if you were taught that apostates are evil it's the worst sin, worse than murder and rape, which is what I was taught it's the only unforgivable sin the emotions of behind that definition can stay with you.

Terri O'Sullivan:

So it's really painful to be labelled an apostate for a lot of people who've left very controlling religious groups. So more liberal religious people won't use the word apostate and a lot of our service users won't use that word to identify. And some people do take it on as a badge of honour, which I have done. I've been through a lot to go through it. But yeah, there's a lot of work to be done on that word. We've used it for a long time but I've changed my mind on us using it.

James H:

Is there a better term?

Terri O'Sullivan:

There isn't, so this is a work in progress. So if any of your listeners have got a better term, let us know. I think we're just saying ex-religious people at the moment, which kind of fits.

James H:

Very inclusive. Yes, thank you for issuing the challenge. If anybody has a replacement term for the word apostate to write in and we will include all the information for how to get in contact with Terry and the fantastic team at Faith to Faithless. Terry O'Sullivan, thank you for all the great work that you do and thank you for being on Humanism Now. Welcome back to Humanism Now and thank you very much to Terry O'Sullivan for joining us this week. Mark and Audrey, I'd love to get your thoughts on the interview before we move on. Audrey, I was just wondering your opinion, listening to Terry there. What role do you see humanist groups playing for those like yourself who come to Humanism having been raised in a more committed religious background?

Audrey S:

I think it's the start of community. I mean, most people who are leaving religion start with social media, as Terry was saying. And that's your way in. A lot of people who turn up on their first meetings know Sam Harris, they know Dawkins, they've seen all the videos on YouTube and then the next step for them is trying to find someone else to talk to and, as Terry was saying, you feel that you're the only one. So when you find a space and you come into that space and you see 10 people, 20 people, 50 people, whatever, you suddenly think, oh, I'm not the only one. And that's a big step, that coming to the first meeting.

Audrey S:

I remember coming to the first Central London Humanist meeting and just turning up and thinking, oh my gosh, there were all these people here, we're having these discussions and it was just quite overwhelming. I think I just sat there staring at people like I was crazy. They must have thought who's this strange woman just sitting in the corner? But it is overwhelming, but it's also a sense of comfort. So you're going into a space and you already know that these people, these people in this room, already are thinking in the same way that you do and you learn so much. You know, you mentioned one particular video and someone might mention something else, and you start this whole ball rolling and it's the start of a journey.

Audrey S:

But people are on a spectrum and so when people come into the spaces it's about trying to find out where they're at within themselves with emotionally, because they, you know, I mean it takes years. I think some research says it takes 10 years for people to really come to the point where they accept themselves as being non believers and all of that, so where they are. In that 10 years is really important. So the groups are important to kind of give people a firm footing or a base to move on from and continue that journey. Or, if they come at the end, you know they're there and they're good to go. So it's just about being able to be in a space that recognizes this aspect of yourself that you haven't maybe not shared with other people, or shared with limited people, or just come into terms with yourself.

James H:

Yeah, I think it's again speaks to the empathy point that you mentioned before. I think having people in the groups who've been through on a similar journey themselves makes a big difference and I know that's something that they're really cultivating, that they to faithless and through humanists UK and also providing those more invitational, conversational surroundings rather than just the combative nature of those videos that people are likely have seen online. You know, it's not not always heated arguments, but actually more of a supportive community. Mark, how about yourself? What did you take away from that? So I'll do that again, mark. What are your thoughts as someone who wasn't raised religious? What did you learn from Terry's interview?

Mark A:

Yeah, I found it really interesting because it's an insight into something I haven't experienced, and I was. It was quite shocking, particularly when she talked about being so sort of ostracized and abandoned that she was actually forced to become homeless. I mean, that is really shocking. That's awful to think that people who presumably love you and care for you are prepared to go to those extremes in order to expel you and your influence from their group. And it's hard to imagine, I think. But it suggests all to me the indirectly.

Mark A:

What that tells me is that this is there's a very high level of indoctrination and extremely dogmatic approach amongst some groups and of course that can happen in non-religious settings as well, and you know cults and that sort of thing.

Mark A:

So yeah, I think just to hear that voice and to hear somebody, I think it's quite easy when you're not in something like that or, in my case, not being religious to sort of other, it a bit. You know that's something that happens to other people and they're not really like me, but then you actually hear somebody speaking who is, you know, just like us, a perfectly nice, reasonable person and who's actually gone through that, and it brings it home. I think it personalizes. Hearing that story makes it much more impactful. So, yeah, I found it really moving and she's so articulate and the fact that she's channeled her own problems and issues into helping other people is very inspiring. And you know, the whole thing was, yeah, it was a very easy listen in the sense it was so engaging, but at the same time it was a hard listen because it was such a such a tough message.

Audrey S:

Can I just add to that the whole shunning thing. If you're from another country, if you've come in as a refugee, or even if you haven't, even if your parents moved over, got jobs, do you know what I mean? But if your community, you know, if you're based in the community, that's shunning and that removal from that is a lot more. I think not a lot more, but there's more to it, there's other layers to it, because you're not, you're in a strange place, you're not in your home, you're still, you know, maybe still learning the ropes of this country and how to get around, how to navigate. And if you came over as a child and then you become not quite an adult, that teenager, you're still dependent, you're still. All of those things still play a part.

Audrey S:

And sometimes, when we talk about she was talking about religious trauma the religious trauma is also being that when you're 17, 16, 17, not old enough, or even 18, 19, and still dependent on your family, the trauma can also be that you have to stay in that unit when you and be and carry on the rituals and be a part of something that you don't have that engagement with emotionally and that is also just as traumatic and trying to extricate yourself from that when you know you're not financially, you don't have the finances, you don't have any of those kinds of things. And you may be in a small community you know what I mean that's all you've got. And even those people outside of that, even if you move to a different area, if you're meeting the same community from, you know same. And we had one person who was from Ethiopia and her name gave away where she came from in Ethiopia. So she could never tell people her full name because then they could go back to her family and they could harm her family.

Audrey S:

So you know, there's a lot of baggage and trauma that goes with this idea of I'm, you know no longer a part of this religion because it's cultural and it's you know it's a whole. There's a whole lot of other baggage that go with it, a whole lot of trauma. I want you to talk about trauma. Those are the things that were running through my mind.

James H:

Yeah, I, the whole part about shunning was really stuck with me and it's almost it's one of those terms that I think is perhaps too light a word. It doesn't quite get across to severity of what it actually means to someone. I guess it's difficult to understand if you have a diverse friendship group and no other people outside of your immediate family or immediate circle. Okay, if someone's shunning you it's not seen as that big a deal. But if that what Terry was explaining is that is everyone you know and everyone you have known that they are then not allowed to acknowledge your existence, I mean that is dehumanizing. To return to our theme, and that takes a lot and I think, similarly, I think the psychological abuse and trauma really stuck with me. I mean I've heard of people who have left religion for decades but can't shake the fear of hell that's been put into them, for example. These are difficult things, I think, for anybody to overcome. Sorry, mark, yeah.

Mark A:

I was going to say. It reminds me also of several accounts I've heard recently from people I won't name about the experience of being within what we might regard as being any mainstream religion at Christianity, where being gay effectively puts you in this sort of particularly unique situation where people often feel very attached to the religion they live in, their community, which is based around a church, but at the same time, they feel that the religion is saying there's something wrong with them, that they have to sort of hide what they do. They're not accepted, they may feel ostracized. So I think it's interesting how and I've heard people talk about how incredibly traumatic that can be so it's not really something which is just limited to these very particular niche, more high-control religions. I think it's something analogous things can happen within mainstream religious communities as well.

Audrey S:

And I think when you talk about the LGBT community, I usually find that people who are in this dilemma, in this conflicted state, become more religious because they feel that they are defective for one of a better word, that there's something wrong with them and that if they pray harder, if they get more involved in whichever religion there is, if they do, they're the ones that become elders and go far into the church and work in Sunday to Sunday, because they feel that if they do that, then obviously this will all go away and then they'll be able to carry on their life. This is just a glitch in their makeup and obviously they just need to do these things harder. And that's when the trauma comes, when actually those feelings don't go away. That isn't what happens.

Audrey S:

And said, they're so deep and where do you go from that? You've made your way up to pastor or whatever these high ranks, because you've been dedicated and everyone looks up to you, and yet inside you're still feeling exactly the same way you did when you were just an ordinary church member. And again, all of that trauma, all of that angst. What do you do with that? You just carry it because there isn't anywhere else to take it. We don't recognise those kinds of traumas that people are walking around with on a daily basis.

James H:

Yeah, and I think the key thing, as Terry highlights, is to talk, to find someone to talk to, and I know that they've launched the Helpline. They're doing a lot of great initiatives around the country and one of the nice things she said is that these humanist groups do help provide a soft landing for a lot of people. So if anyone is listening to this and they're not sure if they have a group near to them or would like to start, one will, as ever, include links to set up a local group, and if you'd like to send in any announcements or voice notes or invitations to anyone to join you, we're happy to share details of new groups that are spatsing up around the country. Sorry, matt, did you want to say one more thing? Otherwise we can go to the mailbag.

Mark A:

Yeah, so I just wanted to add that I think that the value of the humanist groups is they can provide that sense of community for people who have left those types of situations for others as well. But I think that is a particular thing that we can do is to provide a safe space and a sense of a new community, a different community that people can join, because if you are escaping that, I suspect that community is something you're really looking after. And the other aspect I think which we can do to some extent is around a life stance and identity. I think if you I mean even if you don't come from a religious background sometimes people can feel quite lost and looking for something positive to actually identify with, and that is something that a weird humanist do. It's not dogmatic, it's not rigid, but it is something it's not completely nebulous. So we do have a position, we have an outlook and a certain cultural disposition, and that's something that people who are looking for something can join.

James H:

Now our mailbag question this week has been sent in by regular listener, anita, and she asks do you feel humanism is compatible with other movements? And she gives the examples of feminism, black Lives Matter, pride, other equality movements. Audrey, what would you say to that?

Audrey S:

I think the philosophy is compatible. I think the actions are less so. We don't seem to be part of those kinds of, we don't add our voices to those movements. When Black Lives Matter was taking place, I think humanism was silent on those things, feminism I don't see the humanist voice added to those things. And I think as individuals we have our own. We are, we're all of those things, we are for equality.

Audrey S:

But I think as a movement, I think as a group in, we label ourselves humanist, but I do think we could do more. I do think there could be a louder voice. I do think that we could be more involved in those kinds of movements or in just those social aspects of ordinary people's lives. I think at the moment we are a little bit quiet and I think I don't know if I sound like a placard waving humanist Maybe I am but I do think we can add our voices. We are compatible with those things. Our philosophy, our ethos is right up there with all of those things, but I don't think we are loud enough in the omenis.

James H:

Rosette Mark.

Mark A:

Yeah, I think, as we all know all three of us that whenever humanists get together, they certainly don't shy away from talking about all of those issues and plenty more besides. So it's not something that humanists we don't just simply sit around discussing sort of abstractions and philosophy on some elevated level without coming down and talking about the real things that matter. So, yeah, I think it will probably where I would agree with Audrey that this is potentially something more about official humanism and the positions it takes. If we can gather to some extent the argument that's used is well, we've only got so much resources and time to spend, so we're going to focus on these things. We're not going to have a view on everything. It's not a political party after all, so it doesn't quite have to take that type of stance of having a policy on everything. But nevertheless, I take what Audrey says and I would tend to agree.

Mark A:

So there was a discussion I had with somebody at the recent Humanist UK Groups Annual Meeting about Graham the acronym, and the discussion really was there around whether or not humanists should be dedicating themselves to specific activities and whether it's charity or campaigning, or whether or not it's valid in itself for humanists to be trying to promote the base underlying values and creating a sense of community around those values, whether that's a worthy thing in itself. So that's an interesting debate we had. I think that it is important to establish the principles, because that then relates to these various activities. So if you believe that everybody should be treated fairly and equally and that democracy is important, then it seems to me that it follows that you should treat everybody, that everybody should be properly treated on the base, irrespective of ethnicity or orientation, gender, etc. So it seems to me that is compatible with and in some sense almost underlies the principles of these other things such as feminism or Black Lives Matter.

Audrey S:

I think my issue would be that sort of at the height of any particular thing, there isn't even a comment. Do you know what I mean? Everything happens on Twitter. You can make a comment about something and move on. It doesn't have to be a campaign.

Audrey S:

I think it's about people recognizing that when something important is happening and we can choose what's important, but when something important is happening, there doesn't seem to be that extra humanist voice there and I think a few groups might say something and you've said stuff, but sometimes I always find that there's that gap. So if there's something happening at a particular event or particular, there isn't this kind of tweet that says yes, this is right, we should be supporting equal pay or humanist values, blah, blah, blah. There is never that kind of tweet that says this is what the news is saying and then move on. It doesn't have to be a campaign, it can. It's just adding a voice to issues that are important, that kind of line up with humanist values, and I don't see that happening very often. Occasionally something will come up, but again, it feels very light and it doesn't feel very consistent.

Mark A:

Is there an element of we're just not being taken any notice of? I sometimes wonder whether it's not that somebody isn't saying something. It's just that nobody's listening. That humanism is seems surprising, how marginalized and marginal it is. I mean, most people I meet don't know what humanism is. They may have heard of it and I don't think you know how often do you see the BBC also. Well, now let's hear somebody from H UK or give a humanist perspective. It's seek.

Mark A:

I feel, as if we humanism is quite marginalized. In that respect. You may well be right that they could be saying more. But I also think that plays into the fact that there are different schools of thought about how the best to develop the movement, and one is to say well, actually what we need to do is we need to be very much engaging with people with authority and power and talking to the official and not in any way not trying to rock the boat too much, because if we do that then we'll be excluded from.

Mark A:

You know that these hard fought gains we've made, like being allowed to attend the Senator, for you know, appear at the coronation or whatever. I mean I don't. You know there's a different schools of thought. I'm probably more on your side than this one. But there are those who say well, actually, if we want to be in the picture so that we can be heard, then we have to some extent to become to be a little bit more cautious and safer and not to say anything which is going to be too contentious because we're not a political party. The other aspect, of course, is the charity. There's an element of caution there as well.

James H:

So being a political is obviously marked as we should be. Sorry, Audrey is the person to come in.

Audrey S:

No, I'm not person to come in. I was just thinking to myself that being, I think we're marginalised because we're not relevant, we don't make ourselves relevant to any topic. Why are they going to call in a humanist? Why, what is it? Because we don't, we haven't given an opinion or a voice to any subject. So what would be the point in calling in a humanist? Why, when you know what I mean? We've got clerics and we've got bishops and we've got all of these people who can rant and rave and it's not to say that that's what I'm thinking about but we have to be relevant and we have to make ourselves relevant.

Audrey S:

And I know I hear what you're saying about the political, but you know it's good that we're at the senator, but there are pressing issues, everyday issues. We're not even talking about the cost of living crisis, which affects everybody. We're not talking about any of those things. We're not talking about even just even from a political perspective, but just as an ordinary bit, recognising that people are going through it. You know what I mean. What does humanism have to say that you can't pay your bills? What does humanism have to say about the plight of ordinary people that are going through? Those voices are the voices of ordinary people. We are humanists, we're ordinary people. We live in council estates, we live in, you know, temporary accommodation, we live in all kinds of spheres and we don't say anything about ordinary, everyday things that are not political. The cost of living crisis is cost of living crisis is what everybody's going through. But what's a humanist view on the cost of living crisis? What's our view on ordinary people's struggles? And you know filling their baskets every week. So we have signage.

Mark A:

Mark, do you want to? Yeah, so I mean, I think that I actually am slightly more cynical about one of the reasons why our voice isn't heard, and that is, I do think that actually the religious lobby is very powerful in this country and they're pretty powerful within some media organisations. The BBC has had a quite specific remit of promoting religion and not that long ago a chair of the BBC or whatever the director general actually said it is the job of the BBC to promote religion because it's good for society. And that's not that long ago, and the strong resistance to having a humanist voice on say things like Thought for the Day, you just don't hear. You know, we know that there is a very substantial force of population and non-religious, out of just natural fairness, you would think that there would be more humanist voices. But I mean, as Adam Rutherford has said, it's a real struggle and he works with the BBC. It's a real struggle to get anything humanist on the BBC. They don't want it. There's a lot of resistance. So that doesn't invalidate what you just said, but it's another reason why we don't get heard. So yeah, I think that's quite an issue.

Mark A:

I mean, looking at the history of humanism, I think we've got, which I have done recently.

Mark A:

It's interesting just how prominent humanists were in the movements for all sorts of issues, particularly around women's issues, around fertility issues, around the fight for abortion, for gay rights.

Mark A:

So there's quite a strong, you know, when we think what really is humanism. One of the things it has been is a movement for equality, social justice and personal freedoms and human rights. So I think there's a pretty good track record on those things and maybe it's something which needs to be revisited. But I think there's also a legacy of that. So, for example, at the last humanist convention there was a sort of a motion around taking more activist stance on the environment and indeed also animal rights and, you know, to prevent loss of species, and somebody from the floor sort of stood up and said, well, I thought we were supposed to be humanists, not animalists which showed that there are some people within humanism who don't like the idea of, you know, talking about these wider issues and there's maybe some tension between some people out in the wider community, in the groups, and people in the leadership who possibly have more progressive worldview.

James H:

So I think we're straying into essentially a way from our remit on this question. As ever, I think it could fit a whole new episode. So I think we've landed on broadly. Yes, humanism is not only compatible but perhaps a unifying belief structure for anything which aligns with universal human rights and using science and evidence to back up your views. But we could all be doing more to promote these individual issues, particularly when they are topical and timely. With that, mark, audrey, thank you both for your time Just before we go, is there anything you would like to announce or promote? Audrey, what is what's happening this month with the Association of Black Humanists?

Audrey S:

We have our every two weeks. We have our study group, we have a philosophy study group. The next one's on the 21st of November. We are looking at various topics. I'm just trying to give them. Hold on, give me a second. I'm trying to remember. Is that online?

James H:

Is that in person?

Audrey S:

It's online. You can find it on our Meetup group. There is a little bit of homework, so there are some videos and things that are announced on this. If you go onto our Meetup, it lists out. It's a three minute video, just something that becomes the basis of the whole discussion about philosophy and about where humanism stands, on these ideas, and it's a really good debate and you don't have to. It isn't a kind of high brow kind of, because I mean I know. Next, I don't know the philosophers and it isn't about that. It's about having that discussion. You learn something and I always bring everything down to the basic levels. So, while everyone's talking about philosophy, I'm talking about philosophy. I'm talking about married at first sight, but there is a comparison in terms of how things, and I do make the comparison. So it's for everybody to come along and have that discussion. And so look on Meetup Association of Black Humanists.

Audrey S:

it's on the 21st Said it again.

James H:

We'll post the link, no problem.

Audrey S:

You'll post the link. Thank you very much. And so, yeah, it's a great debating discussion group and a good time for us to just offload and have a conversation and just chill.

James H:

Wonderful. Thank you, Mark. What do you have?

Mark A:

planned, yeah, so again, go to Meetup and you'll see our full slate of numerous activities and events, many of them social in character, but, I think, probably looking ahead to something sort of quite substantive. So on Wednesday 29th, we've obviously got the online talk which is entitled Social Challenges in South Care, following Apostasy, quite relevant to what we've been discussing earlier on in this edition of the podcast. So that's something which pretty much anybody can join online and it should be a really fascinating discussion. Well, you know more all about that because you've actually organized it, james, but for me, that's the standout event that we have coming up.

James H:

Absolutely yeah, and Terry will be the host and moderator for that event, which we're organizing in partnership with Faith to Faithless. Mark, audrey, thank you both for your time. Thank you very much, listener, for joining us on this week's edition of Humanism Now.