A new humanist textbook tackling the morality of atheism, which some are claiming is the first of its kind, is to be available to all schools in the country.
What is Humanism? addresses questions such as whether it is possible to live without God, whether it is possible to be good without believing in the divine, and whether a finite life is meaningless.
Written by children’s authors Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, the book features contributions from high-profile humanists such as author Philip Pullman, writer and actor Stephen Fry and comedian Shappi Khorsandi.
It aims to explore humanist views of life and its origins, morality and ethics, and the relationship between religion and the state. The British Humanist Association says it is "the first of its kind: a non-fiction book for upper primary and lower secondary pupils...to help children from all backgrounds better understand the mainstream non-religious values shared by record numbers of people in the UK today".
'More important than ever'
The book follows a 2015 court judgment, which ruled that all UK schools had a duty to teach about humanism as part of the RE syllabus.
The Catholic Education Service says that it would welcome the book in its schools. "Humanism is taught as a critique of religion in Catholic schools, anyway," a spokesperson said. "Our schools aren't anti-book. They rather like them."
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanism Association, which is distributing the book to schools, said: “These days, it’s more important than ever that children are able to learn about the different beliefs and perspectives they will encounter in modern Britain.
“It’s important that children have access to information about all the different religions and non-religious perspectives out there, so they can make up their own minds about what they believe.”
Recent surveys suggest that half of the British population has no religion. This proportion rises to two in three for those under the age of 35.
How to live
In a joint statement, Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young said: “Millions of people in this country and all over the world work out their philosophy of life, and how to live, without referring to religion.
“Schools quite rightly spend a good deal of time and effort exploring the ideas and philosophies of the world’s great religions, but the ideas of humanism, secularism and atheism are largely ignored.
“Our book aims at opening up a discussion about what humanism is, and how people live as humanists. Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to ask questions, in order to help them think for themselves, and thus to counter prejudice.”
What is Humanism? is available to order for free here. There are also complementary teaching resources for children of all ages, available here.
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