Jul 23, 2011
'I've no God - and am proud of it'
Humanist Society grows as more who don't believe in a God seek like-minded people
Common belief in a human-centred life
HUMANISM can be a tricky idea to pin down because there are many types of humanists whose life philosophies may seem at odds with one another.
Most are atheists or agnostics, and are known as secular humanists. Others have a faith, and are called religious humanists.
What they have in common is that they believe in a 'human-centred' life.
This is a philosophy that humanists say affirms human beings as having the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape their own lives - without turning to the supernatural.
It promotes an ethical life based on reason, tolerance and compassion. It also says that all knowledge must be derived from evidence and reason.
This is why they have no single fixed opinion of religious people, said Mr Paul Tobin, president of the Humanist Society.
'People are complex and not defined by their religion alone,' he said. 'And also, religious people are not a monolithic group - we understand that.'
ANSWERS IN SCIENCE
'The questions I had about the world, about life and death - I found my answers in science, not religion.'
Land surveyor Loh Kwek Leong, 58
'I've been waiting for this, to find like-minded people.'
Winston Chong, 36
FAITH, NOT A FAITH
'I suppose if I had a religion, it would be the 'religion of humanity', based on confidence in the indomitability of the human spirit. I would rather have faith, than a faith.'
Author Catherine Lim
Humanist Society president Paul Tobin (left, seated) with his children Elizabeth, three, and William, four, and wife Jacqueline, at a gathering of humanists on Thursday evening at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
A GROWING number of people here who do not believe in a God have banded together, determined to be unapologetic about being non-religious.
Registered as the Humanist Society (Singapore) last October, their ranks have since expanded from 10 to 100 registered, fee-paying members.
Their backgrounds are as diverse as their reasons for not professing a faith, but they are united by their belief that morality comes from humanity itself.
Calling themselves 'secular humanists', they are also united in their rejection of a theistic or supernatural explanation of reality, and their embracing of scientific inquiry.
Today is a red-letter day: The society presents its inaugural Humanist of the Year award to author Catherine Lim.
Another recent milestone was the society's application to join the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a European body of humanist societies around the world.
The humanists here include artists, government officials, students and entrepreneurs. The youngest member is 19 and the oldest, 65.
Most describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, though some eschew labels. Others are adamantly definitive. Take Nanyang Technological University student Eugene Tay, 24, who declares: 'I'm an atheist-agnostic secular humanist.'
Statistically, the proportion of people here with no religion has climbed steadily in the last 30 years - from 13 per cent in 1980 to 17 per cent last year.
Since non-believers have no church, temple or mosque to go to, they have carved out their space online.
The founding members of the Humanist Society came together in 2008, through www.meetup.com, a social networking website.
The online group they formed has more than 500 members.
Since it was set up, the society has cast itself as the voice for the non-religious here. Its president Paul Tobin, 46, wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page last December, in response to a report that suggested that non-religious young people were prone to violence and cynicism. In his letter, he rejected the claim and concluded: 'One does not need to have a religion to lead a good, happy and meaningful life.'
He told The Straits Times: 'That was a watershed moment. After that letter, our numbers shot up. I feel now that we have a say in what goes on in Singapore.'
Land surveyor Loh Kwek Leong, 58, who learnt of the society through this newspaper last year, said he grew up in a typical Chinese household - one that was 'a bit Taoist, a bit Buddhist, a lot superstitious'.
As an adult, he found putting his faith in science better. He said: 'The questions I had about the world, about life and death - I found my answers in science, not religion.'
The group pulls together because of a shared sense of being alone in a society where four in five people profess to believe in a Supreme Being.
Communications manager Winston Chong, 36, who said he has philosophical debates with his parents, who are religious, said: 'It's about time we had a group for ourselves. I've been waiting for this, to find like-minded people.'
As a recipient of the society's award, Dr Lim joins a list of internationally honoured humanists, including astronomer Carl Sagan and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Asked for her take on religion, she replied via e-mail: 'I suppose if I had a religion, it would be the 'religion of humanity', based on confidence in the indomitability of the human spirit. I would rather have faith, than a faith.'
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