Each time that we have brought up the issue of actively working to increase membership (at the AGM and at our local November meeting) the response from some Humanist Association of Ireland members has been (to paraphrase) that the organisation would be happy to accept new members but humanism is not a religion and we do not proselytise. I understand this point of view but I can’t agree with it.
Humanism is a life stance and if we take this stance we must believe that it has value. I for one believe that if people take personal responsibility for their own lives and collective responsibility for the species, and base this responsibility on reason and ethics, the sum of human happiness will increase and the sum of suffering be reduced. So for three reasons we should actively seek new members:
1. Humanism has something to offer to the individual and to society.
2. People cannot choose humanism if they don’t know it exists so some form of active communication is necessary.
3. In practical terms a larger membership gives the organisation resources to draw on to get things done. It also demonstrates to society (and politicians) that there is a constituency of freethinkers that must be listened to.
For me the big issue is around knowledge of humanism and the sense community and shared experience it provides. I have been an agnostic since I was 16. However, I didn’t meet an acknowledged humanist/atheist until I was 50. In the intervening years I worried about my strange views, wondered how I would teach my children to be moral and dealt with a hundred other dilemmas on my own. I wasn’t able to acknowledge my atheism until I was in my 40’s. Finding out about humanism/freethinking and becoming involved with it lifted an enormous burden from me. I now believe that there are literally hundreds of thousands of others with the same dilemmas out there and we should be reaching out to them because humanism has something to offer.