AHS+ space in the UK

‘AHS+ space’ is a way of thinking about the loose collection of atheist, humanist, secularist, skeptic, freethought, rationalist etc groups that make up our movement. In my experience, a lot of these groups have a crossover of members or followers. But the different groups reflect different approaches, priorities, and styles.

I have compiled a list of such groups in the UK, to serve as a quick introduction and help anyone looking for a group to fit in with.

Atheism

Atheism UK seems to be a smaller group with an offline as well as online presence. I am not aware of any other national groups specifically focussing on atheism. Their website describes them as being formed in 2009 to “challenge religious faith in the United Kingdom. Our ultimate goals are the end of religious faith – the false and irrational belief that God or gods exist – and of religion, the social manifestation of faith.”

Humanism

Probably the largest such group in our AHS+ space is Humanists UK (HUK). They promote humanism as a positive alternative to religion. They are very active on a range of important campaigning issues, provide education about humanism, have regular interesting events and do a lot of services such as ceremonies and pastoral support for nonreligious people. Some people think they are too accommodationist or shy away from controversial issues. On the other hand, they also take on a lot of liberal social and political issues which are less directly related to religion. If that’s not your sort of thing, or you worry about mission drift, then they may not be your organisation of choice. Many local and special interest groups within the AHS+ space are affiliated to HUK and primarily identify as Humanist.

Secularism

The National Secular Society (NSS) campaigns for the separation of religion and government, freedom of and from religion. If you’re primarily concerned about religious privilege issues such as faith schools, religious exemptions to equality law and protecting secular public services, but you’re less interested in (or put off by) atheism or alternatives to religion, then they may be the place for you, given their religious neutrality. The NSS seem to share a lot of local groups with Humanists UK, and similar high-profile supporters. They are more interested in systemic change, than getting a seat at the table for the non-religious.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy was founded in 2006. They are a campaigning and advisory organisation which challenges Islamist fundamentalism and anti-Muslim bigotry.

The Centre for Secular Space was set up to “strengthen secular voices, oppose fundamentalism, and promote universality in human rights.” They were doing interesting work and events a few years ago. But they currently seem to only have an online presence.

Plus

Online skepticism has seen a lot of toxicity in recent years. But the UK skeptic movement is extremely inclusive and focused on using sceptical inquiry to address social problems. Not just unmasking fortune tellers. The Merseyside Skeptics Society are a leading group and run the largest skeptic conference in the world (QED). You can find a Skeptics in the pub group in cities across the country, and they run online events.

Sunday Assembly was started by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans in 2013. They’re a type of secular congregation, or ‘atheist church’. There are over 40 Sunday Assemblies around the world of various sizes, including many UK cities. They typically meet once or twice a month to provide community, talks on interesting topics and some fun songs. Their motto is “Live better. Help often. Wonder more.” Not everyone’s cup of tea. They steer well clear of campaigning, but if you’re looking for community then they may be for you. Similar organisations include The Sunday Alternative, a secular community in Reading, and New Unity, an explicitly non-religious church in London similar to Unitarian Universalist congregations in the US.

Camp Quest UK runs nonreligious residential summer camps for kids inspired by the movement in the US, where religious camps are ubiquitous. They aim to 1. provide mental and physical challenge. 2. create a culture of curiosity. 3. build a community of freethinkers. The movement started in the US, where there is a larger summer camp culture but many parents struggle to find a secular option. This may be less of a problem in the UK. However, though they have become more inclusive, Girl Guides and Scouts can still be quite religious.

FiliA, meaning daughter, they put on a large feminist conference that has supported secularist principles and been open about the role of religious fundamentalism in violence against women. But a lot of the people involved have been openly transphobic and are very anti sex worker.

Southall Black Sisters is a secular charity providing support primarily to black, Asian and African-Caribbean women, experiencing violence or other inequalities. Their work has led them to actively challenge religious fundamentalists and highlight the role of religious fundamentalism in perpetuating gender-based violence.

Politics

Most of the major political parties have some sort of AHS+ group: Labour Humanists, Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats, Conservative Humanists. Being a member of a political party is a great way to get involved in social change, make connections and access training. If you are a member of a political party, I would really recommend joining whatever AHS+s group they have.

Ex-religious

Within the AHS+ movement, groups catering to the specific needs and experiences of former members of religious groups play an important role.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, produce a lot of research and media on the lives of, and challenges facing, ex-Muslims. They provide a community for many who have lost that support after coming out as non-believers or who are still in the closet.

Ex-JW Support provides a community for ex Jehovah Witness, and expose some of the harm caused by this organisation.

The Faith to faithless project, now managed by Humanists UK, was founded in 2015 to improve public and public service understanding of apostasy, and to support those who have left religion.

Others

The online AHS+ space is a whole other kettle of fish. I may write something in the future looking at the major blogs, podcasts and social media personalities which have a following.

Thanks for reading

Let me know what you thought of this article and if you want to hear more. What you think these organisations do better or worse? Are there any I missed? Would you be interested in a series looking at some of these in more depth? Should I keep this updated? Should I do something on the international groups that operate in the UK?

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