While we’re all wringing our hands over the demographic decline in many denominations, spare a thought for Humanism Australia.
When it comes to decline, the humanists are outstripping the churches, only unfortunately for them, quite literally, they haven’t a prayer.
A friend posted this excerpt of a report from late last year on their website:
…membership in Humanist Societies has declined. The Humanist Society of New South Wales membership, for instance, is down from a high of around 900 to about 125 members today. The combined membership of all Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) affiliated societies at the end of last year was down to less than 500!
As well as declining, the membership is also ageing. This is occurring at different rates in different states, but the overall trend is unmistakable. If this does not change the survival of the Australian Humanist movement will be threatened.
Declining? Ageing? Where have I heard that before?
Have a look at that front page photo that I posted above. It’s a lovely statement: Humanism provides a foundation for values and meaning in our world.
Just need to back that one up. What is that foundation? Will it bear the weight it is supposed to bear? Does it provide a compelling enough vision for people to sign up, hand over a cheque, live their lives in light of it and attend the occasional (never weekly) meeting? Clearly not.
And take one of the primary fields of endeavour the Humanists are going to focus on in order to stave off terminal decline: Community.
Sound familiar? Here’s what they say:
We need to develop a regular community gathering option so that people can join a Humanist Society just for the sake of joining a community of like-minded people if they want to. Such a community can offer opportunities for friendship, social activities, and also social support in times of trouble. Different State Humanist Societies may wish to experiment with different approaches to this as we explore the best way to do it.
The weak link, of course, is that the church, by contrast, does not gather “like-minded people”.
It gathers people who are very different to each other, sometimes at odds with each other, and it does so because the Holy Spirit grants a unity that the church is to maintain, not attain.
So good luck trying to keep people on the same page who are not supernaturally pre-disposed towards it in the first place.
Of course their dramatic decline in numbers may simply be because they’ve done their job too successfully. After all when everyone is a humanist, and no longer believes in God, (or at least a growing number in Australia) then why would you join a society exclusively for humanists.
It’d be a bit like joining the Human Society, wouldn’t it. Why turn up for the benefits you already get without having to turn up? (Liberal denominations take note: The reason people aren’t flocking to hear your non-transcendent messages is that the advertising agencies do that stuff better than you do).
But back to the humanists. To add insult to injury, one of the Australian poster boys of their movement, former ALP leader and Governor General, Bill Hayden, has recanted! You can read The Courier Mail report here. as well as watch a video of the now 85 year old telling his story.
In 1996 Hayden was voted Humanist of the Year, but now, 22 years later, he has shocked the movement by not only returning to the Catholic Church from which he absconded, but getting baptised.
And do you know what the key ingredient was? Was it a brilliant apologetics course? Was it an experience of signs and wonders? Was it a Franklin Graham crusade?
It was not. It was forty years of loving friendship with a godly Catholic nun, who assisted Hayden as he pushed much needed social changes in Australia. A friendship that has lasted through thick and thin, and which made him reassess his position. As The Courier Mail reports:
One of Hayden’s allies in getting Medibank going as a policy and as the biggest social reform of the Whitlam era was Sister Angela Mary Doyle, a founder of the Mater Hospital in South Brisbane and a fervent supporter of universal health care.
The friendship between Hayden and Sister Angela Mary has endured for the past 40-plus years and both have looked out for each other in good health and poor.
The dedicated Sister was at Hayden’s side after his recent serious stroke and he was with Angela Mary following a heart attack earlier this year.
It was the visit to the Mater with his wife Dallas and daughter Ingrid that made up Hayden’s mind.
Just think, the enemy was within the gates, so to speak.
But it gets better. Here is Hayden in his own words in inviting his friends to his baptism:
“I suddenly realised something I had not considered in this way before, ironically by reading a book on Shia Islam by academic Malise Ruthven which pointed out that Christianity was a religion not of rules but of love.”
The Humanist Society offers an alternate vision of the foundations of love:
The Humanist answer, that love and compassion come from the human heart, is of course also a better answer than the religious answer to the question of meaning: that love and compassion depend on surrender to (an imaginary) God.
The problem of course is that the human heart is also a fountain of a whole lot of other dark stuff that no human has demonstrated the capacity to overcome. Oh, no other human except one, the King of love. The true capital “h” Human.
Pray for Bill Hayden in his declining years. He was a great Australian, and it’s heart-warming to hear of his late-in-life re-discovery.
Settle in: This secular roller-coaster has a few more dips and turns and bumps before it’s over folks.