A Classic Introduction to Humanism

A Classic Introduction to Humanism

BARBARA Smoker first wrote this 80-page booklet 40 years ago as a primer for secondary schools so that adolescents could be introduced to Humanism during religious education lessons. The first edition was published by a mainstream publisher, Ward Lock Educational, and circulated to schools. It has since been re-published by freethinker publishers up to this current 6th edition, published by Conway Hall Ethical Society.


There are sound practical points for teenagers: don’t conceive a child unless they are prepared to look after him/her till adulthood. However I think she should have included masturbation here. Unlike Christianity and many other religions most freethinkers do not regard masturbation as evil, but as a harmless means of fulfilling our sexual needs for those who are not able to have sexual relationships. Teenagers should not be made to feel guilty for masturbating in private.

There are 6 chapters:

1. The humanist tradition – its beginnings in ancient Greece.

2. The humanist tradition – its continuation from the Renaissance through to evolution.

3. Reality – true and false. This questions religious belief.

4. Values – good and bad.

5. Morals  – right and wrong. One of these is the population explosion and the consequent obligation on all adults of childbearing age not to have too many children.

6. Living as a humanist. This includes joining organisations such as the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association. Her coverage is international rather than just British, including for instance India. However she fails to mention the Humanist Society of Scotland. So I cannot recommend this book for Scottish schools. She also fails to mention the local Humanist groups which are so important to those of us who need personal contact with other Humanists.

The booklet is concise, well organised, well written and has an index. There also many pictures and cartoons of famous freethinkers such as Einstein, Dawkins and George Bernard Shaw as an unwilling, bad-tempered Father Christmas! So it is entertaining as well as informative. However at the end she includes her own anti-vivisectionist poem which I found controversial. She claims that it is a metaphor for the human condition.

There are a few recommendations for further reading, but neither The God Delusion nor anything by A C Grayling are included.

The original function was the correct one, but it can also be an introduction to Humanism for the many adults who want to find out about Humanism as they lose their faith in Christianity. Readers of The Freethinker, of course, do not fall under either category!

However I hope that you will encourage schools in your area and any adults you know who are interested in our movement to read and use her booklet.

 Humanism for inquiring minds by Barbara Smoker. London: Conway Hall Ethical Society. ISBN 978 0 902368 28 6. 80 pp. £6.50 pb.

• The top picture shows Barbara Smoker with author Michael Holroyd at her 90th birthday bash at the Conway Hall in London in June 2013

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