A humanist views religion from the outside but holds beliefs that fulfil somewhat the same function as a religion – that is, they frame his or her fundamental attitudes to life: the word ‘lifestance’, coined within the British Humanist Association in the 1970s, covers the whole spectrum of religious and non-religious ‘philosophies’ or answers to so-called ultimate questions of origins, meaning and morality. (Human rights treaties, European and British law now make no distinction between religious and non-religous beliefs of this kind.)
The principal concern of papers in this section is, however, the place of religion and other beliefs in society. The humanist answer is in terms of an ‘open’ society that takes a neutral or secular attitude towards accommodating conflicting beliefs, as dealt with in the section on Secularism.
There are two major papers on the subject. The first is the evidence I submitted in November 2014 to the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, which examines the nature of religion or belief, the social changes of recent decades, and questions concerning the law on religion and belief in the public square, in employment and in education.
The second is a lengthy paper on the place of Religion in Society that deals with the issues of public space, the workplace, the family and state subsidy to religion in some detail. It was written for the European Humanist Federation, on whose website it can also be found, but here appears with references updated. Also here is my response to the report produced by the Religare project, to which the paper was submitted as evidence.
Also included here is a paper written for the conference of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies, held at Oxford in September 2016, on the question Is there a Right to Freedom from Religion?
Three other papers are more detailed and specific in their subjects. One deals with the multiplying demands, under the flag of ‘conscientious objection’, for exemptions from general arrangements or laws.
The second is a paper on the rather esoteric subject of the way the law on charities defines religion and related subjects. It was written for the British Humanist Association who submitted it to the Charity Commission when it was considering how to implement the Charities Act 2006.
The third is a paper on the vexed topic of religion and science. As a matter of fact, there are many scientists who are religious – though far fewer at the top of their profession. This tells us more about the ability of people to reconcile conflicting attitudes – or ignore the conflicts – than about religion or science themselves. This paper provides in the main a historical treatment of the subject.
Finally there is an article I wrote at the request of the Church of England Newspaper as long ago as 1963 on Why I am not a Christian.