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The humanist need not arrest his life until the total humanist view of the world is expressed… It is the humanist’s strongpoint that he needs no especial revelation. What actually is exemplifies the better and the worse. He can live wisely by showing interest in the nature of the world itself, endeavouring to find out what is there, what he can enjoy of it, what he can change, make use of, and create out of the given, and gain lasting satisfaction by doing so.

Ursula Edgcumbe, ‘Wanting to Live on Earth’ in Living as a Humanist (1950)

A collection of essays on humanism by some of the leading figures of the humanist movement from the 1950s onwards, this small book represents a key moment in the development of Humanists UK – then still the Ethical Union but self-consciously embracing the word ‘humanist’ in describing its values, outlook, and aims. That year, the Council of the Ethical Union (now Humanists UK) had produced a ‘Memorandum on Future Policy,’ in which they had written that in moving the Union forward ‘our point of view in this work and our inspiration in doing it are found in humanism’. ‘In religion, we can no longer stand on the neutral ground of autonomous agnostic ethics,’ they wrote. ‘It is necessary to declare what kind of world it is we live in, what kind of being man is, what kind of destiny confronts him, in order to give sense and validity to our ideals. On these questions we must commit ourselves to firm answers’.

The four contributors to Living as a Humanist, sought to explore what lived humanism was and could be. H.J. Blackham would come to be known as the architect of the modern humanist movement, and the sculptor Ursula Edgcumbe would later become his wife. Virginia Flemming was the daughter of Stanton Coit, another pioneering figure in the organised movement from a generation earlier, and Virginia continued to be actively involved as the humanist movement progressed, particularly in issues of education. M.L. Burnet was a driving force in the Humanist Housing Association. Between them, these writers represent a cross-section of professions and contributions to the humanist movement and the wider world. In offering these essays (some of which had featured previously in humanist magazine The Plain View), the writers hoped their readers would:

…try to divine what it means to them to live as near as may be without illusions but not without ideals, without revelation but not without resources… a life of reason and therefore of joy, lived in the finality of the present and therefore taking hold of the past and of the future.

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