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A Humanist Perspective on Judgement and Salvation

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A feature on his 2007 novel, On Chesil Beach, in The Independent in April 2007, entitled ‘Ian McEwan: I hang on to hope in a tide of fear’, described the connections and contrasts he makes between science and the arts: ‘In our perilously changing world, where should we seek salvation? In science,’ declared Ian McEwan ... ‘Artists may not refine the theory or advance the technology that will grapple with climate change, but they can deepen the self-knowledge of the selfish but potentially co-operative beasts who have crossed a fateful, collective shadow-line.’ ‘How do you talk about the state we’ve got ourselves into,’ he asks, ‘as a very successful, fossil-fuel-burning civilisation? How do we stop? That really does become a matter of human nature. There’s all the science to consider, but finally there is a massive issue of politics and ethics.’

You make your own destiny

Humanists, since they do not believe in any gods or gods, believe that we must make our own destinies. This means that they do not believe in ideas of ‘salvation’ as, for example, Christians may do, but in the ability and power of ordinary people to take control of their own lives.

Fenner Brockway (1888-1988) was a humanist socialist politician who devoted his life to two causes, world peace and racial equality. He was imprisoned for his opposition to the 1914-18 war, and helped to found the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the World Disarmament Campaign. He played a leading role in bringing about the change from the old imperialist British Empire to the present situation where independent nations belong to the Commonwealth. He knew most of the leaders of the colonies seeking independence from Britain, including Gandhi and Nehru, the Indian leaders, and in his old age was a popular and inspiring figure amongst Indian communities in Britain. He wrote of how an experience of the beauty of nature influenced his life:

    This spiritual experience came one evening as I stood looking over the green ocean towards the red sunset. A great calm came over me. I became lost in the beauty of the scene. My spirit reached out and became one with the spirit of the sea and sky. I was one with the universe beyond. I seemed to become one with all life. This experience had a profound effect on me. It came to me often when I was alone with Nature. It swept over me as I looked out to the stars at night. It was a continuous inspiration. I felt that I was more than an individual. The life of all time was within me and about me. I must serve it … I have said that this experience is my religion, yet it leaves me an agnostic … I have no sense of a personal God. My philosophy is founded on the experience I described. I cannot be other than a world citizen, identifying with all peoples.

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