Updated: Jul 31
I've always had curiosity for what makes people tick, how the universe came to be, how the world works. But since using the word 'humanist' to describe myself, there have been a few times when I've realised that someone has assumed that I focus just on rational thought and don't hold awe at the world.
This assumption confused me at first, possibly because my beliefs hadn't changed in any major way for years and years. Then I began to realise that what had changed was that my new job title of 'humanist celebrant' immediately and unequivocally via communicates my beliefs and worldview… and by becoming a member of the local committee that maps out what RE gets taught locally, I was beginning to spend much more time in 'interfaith dialogue'.
One of the starkest examples of this came about on a visit to a local secondary school, where I took part in a whole day of presentations on 'Origins and Values'. During the lunch break I chatted with the three Buddhists - one of them was really interested in finding out more about Humanism. When I happened to mention that on all school visits I like to make sure that pupils know I feel awe and wonder at the world, her response was so full of warmth and compassion for me… her body language relaxed, she put her hand on her chest and said, 'Oh, I'm SO glad you said that… I'm relieved to hear that you feel this'. Her obvious concern for me and my connection with the world touched me - but it was also a complete surprise that she would have imagined anything other than my feeling that connection!
So yes, I feel awe. And wonder! For some people, this feeling will be linked to a religious belief; for me, it's connected to being dumbfounded at the origins of life and its amazing ability to evolve and adapt to circumstance and environment.
I am left buzzing when listening to Brian Cox or David Attenborough talk about these subjects on television. On a Powerpoint slide I use in schools when talking about Humanism, there are four images to get my sense of awe across to students: evidence of the Higgs Boson particle; vine weevil larvae (as a gardener, I can't get over how those creepy little grubs develop into alien-like creatures); the Arctic Woolly Bear Caterpillar (which spends most of its FOURTEEN years of life frozen or dormant, thawing for the very brief Arctic summers to eat and fatten up, freezing each winter, then turning into a moth for a short period of time in its final summer); and the Periodic Table.
I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't enjoy Chemistry at all in school - I found all the equations so dull. While listening to the aforementioned Brian Cox, the penny dropped and I finally understood that EVERYTHING in the entire universe is made from just a limited number of elements, I felt cheated! Why hadn't Mr Cook spent his energy on getting THIS across with the awe that it deserves rather than on honing his particularly dry sarcasm? (To be fair to him… I'm sure he did, I just wasn't listening!)
I love being in nature. I appreciate it. I am filled by it. And human creativity… how incredible and seemingly boundless is that?! I saw the 'Royal de Luxe' giants walk along Liverpool streets this weekend: I was nearly a blubbering wreck at seeing how the school kids were responding with such glee to Xolo, the man-made dog puppet as he lolled around with the puppeteers working his body, his eyes, ears, tail, even his drool (yes, really).
Why wouldn't I feel all of this? I'm human! Why wouldn't I feel awe at life, at humanity and the universe? It's amazing… at other times, it's heartbreaking… and when humans choose to cause harm, it can test faith in humanity.
I genuinely empathise that if someone's belief is that there is a creator behind all of this, then that will obviously fill them with a huge sense of awe. My belief, as a humanist, is that life and the universe wasn't created with a purpose, it just IS. But this IN NO WAY leaves me without a sense of awe, wonder, gratitude or meaning. I'm not left with an urge to answer the question 'Why?' as I don't believe that there is an answer to this: the question of 'How?' is what fascinates me more.