How to be Good?

A Chat with a Humanist Celebrant

August 16, 2021 Season 1 Episode 14
A Chat with a Humanist Celebrant
How to be Good?
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How to be Good?
A Chat with a Humanist Celebrant
Aug 16, 2021 Season 1 Episode 14

What does it mean to be a good person according to a Humanist?

We ask Humanist Jane Blackman to share her opinion on being good according to her non-religious beliefs.

Jane is an award-winning Humanist Celebrant, performing non-religious weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies and other non-religious rituals. Last year, Jane was voted best celebrant in the country – she’s based in the UK - at the 2020 Wedding Industry Awards.

As a former head teacher, Jane is passionate about education and freedom of choice. She strives to treat others and all living things with care and compassion, and believes in us making the very most of every precious day that we have. In this conversation, Jane explains how humanism is all about people, relationships and human interactions.

This episode teaches us more about non-religious beliefs and what it means to be a humanist in today's world. 

If, after listening, you'd like to learn more about humanism, you can visit humanists.uk. And if you want to find out more about Jane Blackman, please visit janeblackmanweddings.co.uk.

Show Notes Transcript

What does it mean to be a good person according to a Humanist?

We ask Humanist Jane Blackman to share her opinion on being good according to her non-religious beliefs.

Jane is an award-winning Humanist Celebrant, performing non-religious weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies and other non-religious rituals. Last year, Jane was voted best celebrant in the country – she’s based in the UK - at the 2020 Wedding Industry Awards.

As a former head teacher, Jane is passionate about education and freedom of choice. She strives to treat others and all living things with care and compassion, and believes in us making the very most of every precious day that we have. In this conversation, Jane explains how humanism is all about people, relationships and human interactions.

This episode teaches us more about non-religious beliefs and what it means to be a humanist in today's world. 

If, after listening, you'd like to learn more about humanism, you can visit humanists.uk. And if you want to find out more about Jane Blackman, please visit janeblackmanweddings.co.uk.

[Podcast Theme Music: upbeat electro/beats]

Sarah Buckmaster  0:03 
Hi everyone, I'm Sarah and this is 'How to be Good?' - the podcast that explores what it means to be a good person in today's world.

Today I'm talking with Humanist Jane Blackman.

Jane Blackman  0:17 
It's a mistake to think that religion and morality are synonymous and that those without religious beliefs can't be good, morally strong people.

Sarah Buckmaster  0:33 
Jane is a humanist celebrant, which means she performs non-religious weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies, as well as other non-religious rituals. And she's not just any celebrant. In 2020, Jane was voted best celebrant in the country. She's based in the UK and this was part of the 2020 wedding industry awards. And what's amazing about this honour is that winners are chosen based on couple's votes and feedback. And honestly after spending an hour talking with Jane, I can see why the couples that she's worked with would put her forward for such an award.

Jane Blackman  1:05 
Celebrating is the most joyful thing in the world.

Sarah Buckmaster  1:10 
As a former head teacher, Jane is passionate about education and freedom of choice. And in this conversation, she explains how humanism is all about people, relationships, and human interactions.

Jane Blackman  1:20 
Humanists are all about people, relationships, the good and the joy that can be found in our human interactions, communities - and humanists celebrate the joy and the good in all of that.

Sarah Buckmaster  1:38 
Jane strives to treat others and all living things with care and compassion and believes in us making the very most of every precious day that we have. I was really interested in learning more about humanism from Jane and I asked her to start our conversation by explaining what it means to be a humanist in relation to other non-religious belief systems.

It is my absolute honour to introduce you all to humanist Jane Blackman.

[Podcast Theme Music enters... then fades out]

Jane Blackman  2:04 
A lot of people ask me to explain exactly what a humanist is, particularly when I'm invited to create a funeral ceremony and then conduct it for a family. They've been introduced to me often by a funeral director who says that this lady takes non-religious ceremonies because that's what they've requested. But they don't necessarily link non-religious with humanist. So the way in which I do is by saying that humanists are atheists, but with a strong moral compass. Humanists are all about people, relationships, the good and the joy that can be found in our human interactions, communities, and humanists celebrate the joy and the good in all of that.

A humanist is someone that treats others as they would wish to be treated. You might call that having Christian values. But I think they should be called human values. And it's a mistake to think that religion and morality are synonymous and that those without religious beliefs can't be good, morally strong people. You're trying to be a good human without a religious belief, so leading a good life but without worshipping a god or believing in a supernatural power.

Sarah Buckmaster  3:33 
And when you say living the good life, what does it mean specifically to be a good person? What kind of values or moral principles would you say are pulled out?

Jane Blackman  3:42 
Respect and responsibility are really key values in the humanist belief system, being kind to people, but also the environment and animals. Humanists are very much concerned with not damaging the planet, and the impact that humans are having on the planet. Yeah, responsibility for ourselves, but also for the environment, the world and other people. Respect, kindness, honesty, and empathy; really trying to walk a mile in another person's shoes as much as possible. So whilst we don't have religious beliefs, it's understanding that some people do and respecting that. So, personally, as a humanist, I think if you have a religious belief and it brings you comfort, and it doesn't damage anybody else or indoctrinate anybody else, if it brings you comfort and helps you to live a good life, then that's a good thing. I respect that.

Sarah Buckmaster  4:54 
Is there anything specific that humanism would call out as making someone a bad person - or is the concept of good versus bad used a lot?

Jane Blackman  5:03  
No, not really, I think tolerance and acceptance are a big part of humanism. And I think the worst thing for humanists to hear about or see happening is when religion damages children, for example, if there's indoctrination in perhaps a religious school, and the child has no choice but to follow a particular belief, then we feel as humanists that's quite damaging that children don't have the bigger picture. And so therefore, they can't make choices, they are just pushed down a certain route with no knowledge of other belief systems, or the fact that you can actually live a good fulfilled and happy life without religion.

We feel it should be a choice for everyone to make up their own mind. So we are respectful about religious belief, but we want indoctrination to never be a part of life for anybody. I think that's probably the bad - rather than being a certain way making you a bad person. We don't really think about that too much. Obviously, we think about the obvious things like lying and cheating and stealing and, you know, treating other people very badly. But one of the big campaigns that Humanists UK have launched over the years - and are still working very hard on - is this idea of children not being pushed down a particular religious route with their schooling or their education. We believe that education and religion should be separate. And that education should be secular.

Sarah Buckmaster  6:51 
And you have a background, your career, you started as a teacher, and you've been a head teacher and an education consultant, did that influence you becoming a humanist or did you always kind of feel you were a humanist? Because it seems that education is so core within humanism and so I'm just interested to hear how that kind of combination of experience - for you - led to your philosophy.

Jane Blackman  7:14 
Yeah, absolutely, you've hit the nail on the head. It did really affect my beliefs. I was fortunate to work in two community schools, so we had no religious affiliation. And so we could have visitors in for the children to hear from from all manner of religious groups. So our assemblies, one week it could be a Quaker comes in to talk to the children about their beliefs and how they live their lives. The next week, it could be a Buddhist monk. We had visits from people from the Hindu faith, from the Muslim faith... it was all about giving children depth and breadth in their religious education, and also talking to them about the fact that there are some people who choose to live their life without religion. And that's okay. And those people might call themselves humanists, but also, some people call themselves atheists or agnostics. So it was really key to me, from the outset, as a teacher, even though I would say I was probably bought up loosely as a Christian - I was baptised and confirmed. As I grew older, I realised that I didn't have those beliefs anymore. And then going into teaching really confirmed that I was an atheist, and then eventually, that I am humanist. And Humanists UK that I belong to - the organisation that I belong to - it used to be the British Humanist Association when I was still in school, they do provide volunteers that go into schools and will talk to children about humanism, in the same way that you might have a priest or a vicar come into a school to talk about their religious beliefs.

Sarah Buckmaster  9:07 
And how did that experience in education and this thread of education really connect to humanist morals and values?

Jane Blackman  9:15 
Ultimately, in school, particularly as the head teacher, you are the ultimate role model for that, for those pupils for those children. So in terms of living a good life or being seen to be a good person, it's so key that you teach children about choice. You know, you can be a good person, but still have all these choices in life. And I think, you know, that really affected me as I grew into my teaching career. I just came to realise that that was probably the most important thing that I was doing in my every day. And then I guess that led me into humanism, and that's how I still want to be... not only a role model for children, you know, obviously children in my family, but also people who I come into contact with my ceremonies... I want to be a role model for them as well.

Sarah Buckmaster  10:15 
Now, most religions have Bibles or scriptures that offer people guidance in how to live and a sense of what they should or shouldn't do. How does that work within humanism? Where do you get your guidance from?

Jane Blackman  10:28 
Probably from other humanists. You're right, there is no rulebook. We belong to Humanists UK. You don't have to. You can still call yourself humanist. But belonging to Humanists UK is a really good opportunity to talk with like minded people, people that share your beliefs. I mean, we're not all identical in our beliefs. Some humanists are more respectful and tolerant of those with religious beliefs than others. And that's just human nature, I think, isn't it - and personality and character, and there are various degrees. And after all, religious belief is a very complicated subject. I mean, you can, you can be agnostic, and you know, you can have quite a strong faith, but be agnostic, because you're not quite sure what you're believing in. But you know that you have a faith in terms of some sort of supernatural power.

Contact with people who are like minded, or who label themselves in the same way as you, kind of helps you to find your way and to be the kind of humanist that you think you should be. But I think that's the beauty in humanism, there's nobody breathing down your neck telling you, you should do this, or you should do that or that there's going to be some sort of reward in the afterlife for the way that you are, or punishment if you've done wrong. Obviously, we don't believe in an afterlife. So that helps in terms of making the most of the time that we have to live a fulfilled and happy existence, making every day count, making sure that what we do in our lives brings us satisfaction, and a sense of making a difference to other people. But yeah, there's so much freedom in it. And ultimately, it's about, you know, your individuality and what you can bring to others to your community into the world.

Sarah Buckmaster  12:29 
With all that individuality, would there be some core factors or an underlying way of thinking that unites humanists?

Jane Blackman  12:38 
Humanism bases its beliefs on reason, and evidence and science. Humanists want to know about the world through experimentation, through actually doing and finding out and being curious and asking questions and finding answers. I think humanists are, by nature, very inclusive people, because they understand that there's huge diversity in our communities and in the world. And that, actually, you know, we need to get along with each other to survive, to experience happiness and joy, and to ensure the survival of humanity on this planet, hence the concern with climate change and environment.

Sarah Buckmaster  13:34 
There's been an increase in the number of - or the demand for non-religious ceremonies over the past few years, and you're an award winning celebrant and do it full-time. A lot of people link ceremonies and rituals to religion, but actually, rituals have been with us throughout time as a way of connecting community and connecting us with those around us. What do you think's behind the recent rise in demand for non-religious ceremonies and rituals?

Jane Blackman  14:04 
People love ceremony. People love the sort of tradition of ceremony... even though our ceremonies can be very creative. They can be very quirky, you know, at that end of the spectrum, but they can be very traditional. The only thing we can't include in our humanists ceremonies is an act of worship because that would not be respectful. We wouldn't feel comfortable doing that because we don't believe in a god or a supernatural power so to to lead an act of worship would not be correct. But other than that, changes in our lives are marked with ritual and ceremony. And we love it as humans. It's familiarity. And it's a chance to celebrate, to get together in our communities and have a wonderful time. And even with the death of a loved one. There can still be good things that come from that coming together as a community to mark that precious person, you know, that their life and the impact that they've had on those that they've had an influence on. So good things come from ritual from ceremony from being together as a group, and acknowledging, you know, the good and the joy in our world and in each other in, in our relationships. And a humanist ceremony can offer all sorts of ways of doing it. There's no set script.

Sarah Buckmaster  15:34  
And if you could give the listeners one piece of advice of how they could go out and do good in the world, or something positive that they can contribute, what would you recommend if it was just one piece of advice?

Jane Blackman  15:46 
I just think it's so simple, just be kind. Just be kind, particularly with social media, and communication. Just think before you speak. You know, if what you're about to say could really upset someone, don't say it. Think. Put yourself in other people's shoes. Be kind, be respectful, and just show some empathy. And just because somebody doesn't believe the same as you or doesn't agree with what you feel or believe. You know, try to accept that... try to explore that. Ask questions about it, have a conversation, agree to disagree, but be kind.

[Podcast Theme Music comes in, and then gently fades so it's quietly playing in background as Sarah begins talking...]

Sarah Buckmaster  16:42 
My hugest thanks to Jane for taking the time to talk with me and sharing so much about what it means to be a humanist with us. If you'd like to learn more about humanism Jane recommends checking out humanist.uk

Jane Blackman  16:53 
The website can be explored. There's a quiz on there, "how humanist are you?" So that's quite a bit of fun.

Sarah Buckmaster  17:01 
And if you'd like to learn more about Jane specifically, you can visit her website at JaneBlackmanweddings.co.uk

Jane Blackman  17:07 
You can just google me: I'm Jane Blackman, humanist celebrant, Jane Blackman weddings for weddings, and I'm on the humanists.uk ceremonies pages.

Sarah Buckmaster  17:16 
I'll include all the links in the show notes, as usual.

And before I go this time, I want to send out a massive thanks to each of you as my listeners because this week I received the news that this podcast has made it to the finals of the International People's Choice podcast awards.

I have loved setting up this podcast and I feel really lucky to have interviewed the people I have so far - and I'm excited about the people that I've got lined up for the next few months. I couldn't have done it without those of you who listen, those of you who have shared with your friends, and those of you who get in touch and provide feedback and just generally support me and the podcast and the incredible guests I get to speak with as part of this.

Thank you a million times. Please continue listening, continue sharing where you can. And if you have any questions or suggestions, email me at any time, it's Sarah@howtobegood.co.uk. And as always, I love hearing from you. Fingers crossed for the podcast award ceremony at the end of September.

Thank you and goodbye for now.

[Podcast Theme Music, fades out]

Transcribed by https://otter.ai and Sarah Buckmaster