I was introduced to Humanism in 1986. Until then I had not considered Humanism. One of my colleagues at work had attended a meeting of the Wellington Branch and gave me their brown booklet to read. I liked what I saw. Although at that time I still believed there was some sort of god out there. I felt that the statement that the Humanists denied the existence of the supernatural was one I could live with. At that time the existence or non-existence of god was not that important to me.
So how did I get to the stage of considering Humanism? It was a long process. I was brought up in a religious household, although by no means mainstream. Until I was 10 my parents were members of the Plymouth Brethren. They were people who were always questioning and seeking new information, a trait they passed on to me. During their searching for new “truths” they came into contact with the World Wide Church Of God, which they joined.
This church had a profound influence on me, which continued until I was 27. The church kept the Jewish kosher food laws and the various Old Testament festivals, the keeping of which were compulsory. This included a festival that coincided with the end of year exams that determined who would be accredited University Entrance. That is why I had to sit the U.E. exam. Saturday was the Sabbath and no work of any kind was permitted, also no social activity, sport, movies or parties.
Tithing was compulsory. Not just 10% which went to the church, but a second 10% which was put aside for attending festival and every third and sixth year in seven a third 10% for the church welfare fund. All this came off one’s gross income. Mum must have performed feats of magic with her budgeting. As a family we never lacked for anything we needed. The church was basically strongly right-wing fundamentalist, with a strong anti-evolution stance. It published many articles attacking evolution, and during that time I firmly believed in creation. I still cringe when I think about a talk I gave in a sixth form chemistry class, criticising evolution and favouring creation. It was met with silence.
So how did I change from that state of mind to my present free-thinking Humanism? My saving was my love of reading, and my parents’ habit of examining and questioning everything, an attitude they passed on to me. Unfortunately their questioning did not extend to questioning the truth of the Bible or the existence of God. Mine did.
The break came when I read a booklet from a dissident ex-member of the church, proving that the Old Testament tithing laws did not apply today. This proved to be an eye opener. If the church was wrong with its tithing laws, which were a fundamental part of church doctrine, maybe it was wrong elswhere.
My general unease at the church’s teachings hanged to scepticism. Gradually the errors and illogicalities I found increased to a point where I stopped believing in any of the church’s teachings. I was still attending services at that time, as most of the people I knew were members. That ended in 1981 after a particularly long and rambling sermon by the Head of the church in New Zealand. I decided that anything I do has to be better than this and never attended again.
Unlike most people who leave a church, I had no desire to join any other- I had proved to my satisfaction that the World Wide Church Of God was wrong- I could not see how it could be wrong and any other church could be right. I dabbled briefly with astrology and numerology, but they did not attract me. For several years I drifted, still reading widely but not attached to any system of belief. This ended when I was introduced to Humanism.
For the time being I have found my niche here. Looking back at what I believed 20 years ago and comparing that with what I believe now, and seeing the substantial change in my beliefs, I sometimes wonder what I will believe even 10 years from now. I can’t foresee any likelihood of receiving any evidence that would convince me of the existence of the supernatural, or change my belief in humanity’s ability to solve the problems facing it. I am rather uncomfortable with the strong socialist philosophy prevalent among many Humanists. My personal philosophy inclines toward the Libertarian. But I can live with that. Life is variety and change, which Humanists embrace. That is what I value the most.
Mark Vendelbosch was President of the Wellington Branch and a member of the Council of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. He has since moved on to a more Libertarian lifestyle as his article suggests he might.