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Humanism and chaplaincy

Humanism and chaplaincy

The British Humanist Association work on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote Humanism, a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief. Our celebrants provide non-religious funeral, wedding, and naming ceremonies.

Humanists tend to:

Think for themselves about what is right and wrong, based on reason and respect for others.

Find meaning, beauty, and joy in the one life we have, without the need for an afterlife.

Look to science instead of religion as the best way to discover and understand the world.

Believe people can use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone.

Pastoral & spiritual care

There are times when people may want to talk confidentially to someone who is caring, neutral, non-judgemental, and compassionate and has time to listen. Such listening is at the heart of good pastoral care. It sometimes helps if that person shares similar beliefs and approaches to life.

We think that people who are not religious should have the same opportunities to access appropriate pastoral care as people who are religious. This does not happen. Audits at a major London hospital show that despite nearly a quarter to half of all patients not being religious, only four percent of visits were to these patients. This indicates that the pastoral and spiritual needs of many patients who are not religious are not being met. This should be a serious cause for concern.

In order to address this issue it is essential that people who are not religious should have the same opportunities to provide that care. Sadly this is not the case. Currently all or virtually all recruitment, be this of paid staff or volunteers, is of chaplains, that is to say religious people. Provision should broadly reflect the religion or belief of our community and it does not. This needs to be corrected.

For our part, the British Humanist Association, are starting to build a non-religious pastoral care network of volunteers. We are running induction/training sessions around the country so that we build the capability of delivering good pastoral care. This follows the pattern of out Humanist Ceremonies activities. About 20 years ago people who were not religious could not get a funeral that was consistent with their own beliefs and values. Now we have hundreds of Humanist accredited celebrants offering very high quality and very meaningful funerals, namings and weddings. We need to get to that situation with pastoral care.

To do this NHS management at all levels need to recognize and properly appreciate the pastoral care needs of non-religious people. We are engaging in constructive discussions with the NHS. I am very hopeful that NHS management will put patients first and fully support moves to ensure equality of pastoral care outcomes for all patients irrespective of their religion or belief, including those who are not religious.

David Savage is head of Pastoral Support at the British Humanist Association

Image from, available in the public domain.


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