Join Donate

Discussing 61 years of humanist activism: interview with David Pollock

David Pollock is our former trustee and a former President of the European Humanist Federation. In 2011, Humanists International gave David the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award. We caught up with David recently to discuss his journey into humanism, our campaigns, and his long and accomplished career.

Hi David! How did you first discover the humanist movement?

I joined the Oxford University Humanist Group in 1961. That gave me a label for my poorly articulated beliefs and it introduced me to the national humanist movement. In 1967, when the Ethical Union changed its name to British Humanist Association (now Humanists UK), my main field was parliament and law reform. I organised our then Humanist Parliamentary Group and ran the humanist lobby to get our members to write to their MPs. We helped win reforms on abortion, homosexuality, theatre censorship, and much else.

Could you share any highlights from your career in humanism?

One would be back in Oxford in 1963 when we ran a high profile campaign against a Church mission to evangelise the university: such resistance was scandalous but gained us national publicity – and was great fun. More recently, speaking at influential conferences and meetings during my six years as president of the European Humanist Federation and four representing Humanists International at the Council of Europe required a lot of thought about the clash between the rights of the religious to freedom of belief and the rights of others to equality and non-discrimination.

Which Humanists UK campaigns are closest to your heart?

There are two.  One is legal recognition of humanist marriages, which we all but won in 2013 when our intense campaigning gained Parliamentary approval in principle, since sabotaged by an unprincipled government refusal to implement it. Look out for further delays – and maybe wholesale commercialisation of weddings – when the Law Commission report comes out this summer. The second is for radical reform of religion in schools, not just to abolish faith schools (which the Church of England sees as guaranteeing its future) and collective worship (still legally compulsory even for non-faith schools) but to change religious education into an ‘objective, fair and balanced’ introduction to making sense of life and the world where religion is not the central focus but historical, cultural, psychological and other perspectives are offered so as to help pupils confirm, critique or change their own incipient worldviews.

What do you imagine the future will be like for Humanists UK?

I would hope that through our work humanism will gain general acknowledgement as the default belief of most people. But, as Jeremy Rodell, our Dialogue Officer, has pointed out, though Britain in future will have fewer and fewer religious believers, they will be more deeply religious – for example, the Pentecostalists and some Muslims. So my hope is that Humanists UK will be able to give a lead on the problems I referred to of negotiating principled working relationships in a society that otherwise risks serious division.

What has changed most for the humanist movement?

Undoubtedly that the default assumption then was that people were religious whereas today, the truly religious are recognised as minorities. This is owing partly to the decline of the Church of England, but partly also to the thoughtful and assiduous work of Humanists UK since the late 1990s. Remember though that after the 1960s we became complacent and nearly collapsed ourselves. We must never be complacent again!

Search Humanists UK