the little book of humanism, by Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts: #BookReview.

254 pages

Science and Religion/Ethics and Morality/Practical and Motivational Self Help

This book, subtitled, ‘Universal lessons on finding purpose, meaning and joy’ encapsulates ideas I’d already formed from life experience, wide reading, and a deep love of the natural world.

Every religion has its individual text, presented as a guide for how to live your life. In the case of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, these texts overlap, of course. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and done the same with a translated Qur’an. The other world religions have their own texts, and I’ve made myself familiar with many of them over years of seeking guidance in a world so full of questions.

None of them inspired me in the way this little book of wisdom has. I’d already rejected them long before I came to this guide, which is ‘dedicated to all those who think for themselves and act for others.’.

The book is divided into ten chapters, plus a short explanatory appendix that deals with the practicalities of humanism and gives details of the authors of the book and those many thinkers quoted throughout: 108 individuals spanning many centuries from 623BC to the modern day.

After the short welcome, the chapters flow as follows: Children of earth, The unique you, Diversity and equality, Being good, Thinking clearly, Science and progress, Religion and faith, Thinking about death, and Living well.

Throughout, the book is illustrated with subtle photographs and drawings, as background to the text.

The opening sentence in the welcome explains the reason for the book. ‘Here’s a secret that more and more people are discovering: you don’t need religion to live a good life.’ It goes on, without preaching, to explain the fundamentals of humanism, revealing ideas very many will recognise as chiming with their own. It’s quite likely that most people are humanists at heart; they just don’t know it, yet.

The chapters that follow comprise a selection of quotes from people you will have heard of, and others who may be new to you. All are wise and, perhaps more importantly, kind. For kindness is a fundamental quality of humanism. The authors provide short passages in each chapter to describe the humanist attitude to the subject under discussion.

You’ll find no dictators here, no blustering preachers, no condemnation, no demands, no threats of dire consequences should you fail to obey. Instead, you’ll find reasonable statements, truth, explanations, tolerance, love, and a sense of real purpose.

Here, I’d like to reveal a pertinent quote to you, but that would be to select from hundreds written by people far wiser than me. How does one select a gem from such a treasure trove?

If you’ve ever wondered about the purpose of life, about how we can be good people, about how to best live your life, about what to believe in a world full of contradictory advice, about the how and why of life itself, you’ll find answers here. It’s a small book, beautifully presented, and will take little of your precious time to explore. But imagine the joy and relief you’ll experience when you find you really aren’t alone in those thoughts, those ideas, those dreams.

I ask you to look around you at this wonderful, extraordinary world we’ve inherited, to look at what we’ve done with it, done to it, and to ask yourself, ‘Could we have done better? Can we do better?’. The answers are, we could have, and we can.

Finally, I wrote this review as a humanist. An organisation I voluntarily joined after being raised as a Christian, a religion I was introduced to as an infant by my parents without choice on my part: the fate of billions of humans over many centuries. If I’d been introduced to this book earlier in life, as a teenager, it would have prevented the many years of mental and spiritual torture I endured whilst trying to find my way in the world. I would love to see this book gifted to every child, as each reaches the questing age of the teenager. It is possible to see the world, to see life, to live, without belief in any supernatural power. I invite you to explore that road with this wonderful little book as your guide. You’ll find the freedom, creativity, imagination and sense of purpose it gives you worth the effort of transition.

[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

19 thoughts on “the little book of humanism, by Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts: #BookReview.

  1. leetrichell

    After I turned twenty, my Mother passed. I started questioning religion in my twenties. I tried to believe but none of it really made sense to me. The way I was treated by Christians caused me to shut the door on any religion. I tell people that I am spiritual without religion. I am almost fifty now and the older I get, the less I relate to Christianity. There are good and bad people in all beliefs. The pushy ones scare me because they can be dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had the same experience at the age of 16, Lee, when my mother was killed in a road accident and the local church, of which the whole family were members, failed to provide any support. It led me to start asking questions, and, as you know, questions are the death of religion, as none of them can stand up to scrutiny.
      Yes, the danger of violence from extremists is real, but perhaps not quite as apocalyptic as the media and certain governments would have us believe.


  2. Just got back. Organized religion and I parted company almost 40 years ago. I have no patience for it. I believe in things I can see, touch, hold, taste, and smell. I don’t believe in god as most earthly conflicts have been created by one religion or another. When it comes to ethics I find what might be alight in one religion forbidden in another religion either confusing or laughable. Blood transfusion leaps to the front of the line. It’s fine in most religions yet forbidden in others. At times I’d like to know why. But I would like to a scientific reason, not one mired in religious dogma. I find some things in the Qur’an a mystery or a headache. Does the Qur’an state specifically not to teach girls? If so does it give a realistic, rational reason or does it fall back on reasoning hundreds of years old? I understand women recently got the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Was written in the Qur’an women should not drive, or was that an interpretation of a passage written hundreds of years ago?

    I think any religion that holds its followers back and doesn’t change with the times should be abolished.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree, Tom.
      Re the Qur’an, I bought and read a translation (1800 pages of 6pt text, the surahs and their later added commentaries). I found it banal, repetitive and self-contradictory. I bought the book as research for a novel I was writing. Regarding the view of women, as I recall, the only comment about women also applied to men and suggested they dress modestly, with no explanation of what that meant. Since the book was written by men (Mohammed was illiterate, so it was compiled by his uncles and others, with other Islamic scholars adding commentary over time) in a period when women were largely viewed as chattels in the then obscure Arabic land where it originated, it can hardly be seen to convey a world view. Most of the restrictions placed on women, who the Qur’an says should be treated with respect, by the way, are later additions made by men who nowadays would be seen as deeply misogynistic.


  3. Stuart a very well written and thoughtful review of this book. It sounds very interesting. It certainly sounds like we could all learn about kindness, love and caring about our world. As you know I am a devout believer in God and in Jesus. It never hurts to read books that add value to our lives and certainly our planet.

    Hope you two are having a wonderful day my friend. Sending love to you both. ❤️💕Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Joni, I know you are a believer. And, I expect you know I’m agnostic. That we are able to converse rationally and without bitterness means a great deal to me. I don’t know how open you are to the idea of change, but if you read this book, you may find a different and very satisfying way of looking at the world, life, and spirituality. I have been where you are now. Why that changed is a long story. But I wouldn’t return; I find my solace in nature and reason, science and knowledge. It’s worth a try, and you have nothing to lose.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello my dear friend. I have come to love you and Valerie as friends. You are a delight Stuart and you are right I would never feel any bitterness towards you. The book does sound very interesting and I too find comfort in nature. Our planet, trees, and critters are all special. Also it sounds like love and kindness is also an important part of the book’s teaching. Goodness we could use a lot more of that in the US. Thank you for sharing the book. It never hurts to read books and obtain knowledge. You and Valerie have a wonderful evening under the stars tonight. Sending lots of love ❤️ and hugs to you both my friend. 💕❤️🤗

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Our previous correspondence, Joni, has shown you as tolerant, kind and thoughtful.An unusual combination of positive qualities in a person of deep faith. Unfortunately, my personal experience of many Christians has been poor. Most I’ve encountered have been hypocritical, intolerant, and resistant to change, so my opinion is obviously slanted by that experience. In fact, my initial questioning of religion itself began with the death of my mother 2 days after my 16th birthday. It wasn’t the event itself, deeply saddening as that was, but the total lack of support from our local church. We were a church-going family, but none of the congregation or clerics visited us during the time of our grief, yet the streets of the small town we lived in were lined with people who knew and loved my mother. That lack of care from the church community started me thinking about the reality of faith. From there, I read great amounts, explored other religions, suffered serious depression, and eventually came out of that painful process with a serious distrust of religion. It became clear that religious organisations are authority platforms designed and created to control their populations. Probably initially instituted by the then leaders as a means of making people conform to certain patterns of behaviour. My attitude to the idea of god is that it’s impossible for us to know whether such a being or force exists, since any power capable of designing and building the extraordinary universe we inhabit must be so far advanced as to be totally incomprehensible and unrecognisable to us.
          I hope the foregoing doesn’t upset you, but I feel it’s important for you to understand where I stand on these issues, Joni.
          Keep safe and stay well in these uncertain times.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I have been a witness to what you are talking about as well. Many who call themselves Christians are very hypocritical and even down right mean. I understand what you are saying as it is all true. I am so sorry that you lost your mother when you were so young Stuart . No one should lose their mother so young. You must have been terribly hurt by the lack of love and support from your church. I am so sorry. Your belief system and feelings about God doesn’t affect our friendship for me Stuart. You are someone I consider a dear friend. I don’t think our beliefs should enter into our appreciation and love for one another. I have had some interesting experiences in my life including being legally dead for several minutes. Although I would never change my strong faith in God, I would never let that stop me from being friends with anyone. You have been so kind to me and you and your wife are a blessing in my life. I like to imagine the two of you walking hand and hand in the beautiful land you live in. It makes me smile. We don’t have to discuss this again. I hope you have an amazing day with your sweetheart Stuart. Sending you two lots of love, and a cart full of flowers for your wife. All her favorites.
            Your friend, Joni

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you so much, Joni. You are a truly remarkable woman. We’re just back from today’s walk; a dull, grey day, but we still enjoyed our saunter through the trees. Enjoy your day, too!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yes, I saw your beautiful photograph. I hope the sun comes out soon for you and Valerie. I am with you two in thinking that a walk without the sun is still better than no walk. Walking keeps us young and limber. Love to you two. 💕❤️Joni

                Liked by 1 person

                1. It’s shining again this morning, Joni. In time for Valerie’s lawn bowls match in a couple of hours. We’ve never been ‘fair weather’ walkers, it’s not a real option in this little island with its variable weather patterns! Sometimes we get wet, but we can dry off at home when we return. And the experience of serenity and oneness with nature among the trees is always worth it. Have a great day.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. What is a lawn bowl match? Is that like large decorative bowls with flowers, and lots of lush green? I know what you mean about getting wet. When I worked downtown Seattle it constantly drizzled and I always took an umbrella. After about a month of that I took my high heels of replaced them with tennis shoes and just got damp waiting for the bus. It was great exercise because there ate some tough hills in Seattle, but the walk relaxed me at the end of the day. Love you guys. 🤗💕❤️ Tell Valerie good luck with her lawn bowls. I am sure they will be lovely. I have to mention one more thing as I know you will both appreciate it. We planted milkweed from seed two years ago and this year about three weeks ago it was covered in monarch caterpillars. We were like kids at the beach for the first time. The first ones are gone but we have a crop of new monarch caterpillars this morning. Yea!! Have an amazing day my dear friends. Hugs 🤗 Joni

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. I love your description of lawn bowls, Joni. The reality is a little more prosaic. Lawn bowls is an outdoor sport played on a flat green. It’s lawn bowls as opposed to the indoor bowling done in an alley. Valerie won, by the way.
                      That’s great news re the monarch butterflies. They’re the ones that fly thousands of miles each year to gather, if I recall. Very beautiful, too. You’ll have to post a picture and a poem now.
                      Just back from a short walk that grew into a longer one. So I’m going to do my post now.

                      Liked by 1 person

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