The return of Wanstead Festival to Christchurch Green was a huge success. Cancelled in 2020 due to Covid, more people than ever flocked to this uplifting and fun community event in September.
The East London Humanist stall was one of over 100 stalls, along with a beer tent and performance stage. Features on the stall included the ‘Are you a Humanist?’ quiz, completed by several dozen visitors, many of whom discovered that it is a term which best fits their world view.
Picture below is the Mayor of Redbridge, a member of the East London Humanist group, along with the humanist ‘chaplain’ he appointed earlier this year.
Religious zealots everywhere are intent on rolling back hard won rights of women and others whether it be Afghanistan, Texas, or here. All the more reason we, who are free to do so here, should engage in the struggle to defend and extend them. Opinion piece Newham Recorder 8.9.21
East London Humanists were delighted to be in invited to take part in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the independence of Bangladesh organised by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets on 29 July 2021.
The celebrations were in accordance with the secular principles and ideals on which the state was founded when independence from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was achieved in 1971 following a long struggle.
Approximately a third of the population of Tower Hamlets is of Bangladeshi heritage, the largest concentration of Bangladeshis in the UK.
Our group was pleased to accept an invitation to speak at this important virtual event in London Borough of Tower Hamlets on 25.2.21 alongside many community and faith leaders.
Other speakers included the local MP, Rushanara Ali, the High Commissioner for Bangladesh, the Mayor and several councillors, and representatives of local faith communities.
The stated aim was to provide support and comfort to the community which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. It was also used to encourage the community to participate in the vaccination programme.
Speakers paid tribute to the work carried out by faith communities during what has been a very difficult year. A number of faith leaders described Covid as a divine test for humanity, and expressed thanks for what they believe was divine inspiration behind creation of vaccines. The contribution, by our group’s chair Paul Kaufman, provided a humanist perspective:
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. Humanists don’t have any religious belief or belief in an afterlife. But I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with faith leaders in giving this message. We are all united in our belief in the importance of compassion, mutual respect and hope.
The 2021 census takes place next month. The last census in 2011 showed that those of us with no religious belief make up the third largest belief group in the Borough. The non-religious don’t get comfort or hope from prayer or from belief in an afterlife. However, many of us as Humanists do get comfort and hope from other things which, for us, are more meaningful and real.
Pandemics are not new. Disease is one of many horrible natural phenomena that humans have always had to contend with. The earliest recorded pandemic in this country caused devastation at Barking Abbey in 664 AD. The plague of 1665 took the lives of a quarter of London’s population, and 100 years ago a flu pandemic killed around 50 million world-wide.
Covid has been dreadful and our hearts go out to every single victim. But at least we now understand what causes pandemics and how they can be dealt with. We don’t have to endure the blind panic, quack remedies and superstition of the past.
So hope for us lies in all the things we know can be done and which have helped to reduce the devastation caused by Covid. While the toll has been dreadful we know from past pandemics that without the measures taken the outcome would have been many times worse. We should celebrate the advances in human knowledge which make this possible.
We can take much comfort from the way the response to Covid has brought out the best in people – the importance of fellowship, and what we can achieve when we all work together. We of course pay tribute to all those working on the front line – the NHS and shop staff, delivery drivers and cleaners, police officers, care workers and so many others.
We should also recognise the sacrifice of the majority who have followed the guidelines as part of the collective effort to avoid spreading the disease, and everyone who has reached out to those less fortunate, in food-banks and elsewhere. I should add that the non-religious have, as well as those of faith, played an important part in this.
Finally, we can take both hope and comfort from the fact that science and massive collective effort has led to the vaccination programme which casts a bright light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. We owe it to each other, and to those who have made so much sacrifice, to all take part in the programme.
Humans have survived many pandemics and have gone on to thrive. Let us emerge from this suffering with greater appreciation of each other, of our natural world, of science, and of the importance of making the most of this life. Last but not least, let us all vow to do more to address the inequalities which have caused some communities to suffer so much more than others.
Holocaust Memorial Day in Waltham Forest included a contribution from local humanist member Ruth Kaufman who provided a non-religious perspective on this solemn occasion. Ruth spoke as follows:
“I am speaking as a non-religious person, because people with no belief in God also were murdered in the Holocaust, also mourn, and also must do all we can to prevent more of man’s inhumanity to man, during this one life we believe we have.
I will read excerpts from the writings of Primo Levi. Primo Levi was Italian, ethnically Jewish, and a non-believer. He was captured while fighting with the Italian Resistance, and spent 11 months in Auschwitz.
His book If this is a Man, beginswith this poem
“You who live safe In your warm houses, You who find warm food And friendly faces when you return home. Consider if this is a man Who works in mud, Who knows no peace, Who fights for a crust of bread, Who dies by a yes or no. Consider if this is a woman Without hair, without name, Without the strength to remember, Empty are her eyes, cold her womb, Like a frog in winter. Never forget that this has happened. Remember these words. Engrave them in your hearts, When at home or in the street, When lying down, when getting up. Repeat them to your children. Or may your houses be destroyed, May illness strike you down, May your offspring turn their faces from you.” ― Primo Levi, If this is a man
He also wrote
“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.” ― Primo Levi, If This Is a Man • The Truce
“We must be listened to: … It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”