‘Prayers’ before the Full Meeting of Stockport Council

July 15th, 2015

submitted by Guy Otten – Vice Chair of Greater Manchester Humanists

‘My name is Guy Otten and I am a Humanist Celebrant. I thank the Mayor for his invitation to speak to you in the form of prayers today. As a humanist I do not interpret the word ‘prayer’ in any transcendental sense; humanists, whether agnostics or atheists, do not run their lives on the basis that there is a God to whom prayer might be directed, but happily the word ‘prayer’ is broad enough to include secular meanings.

In recognition of those here who do believe in God however I will ask for thirty seconds of silence before the end of my remarks so that those with a religious belief can use the time in their own private way while non-believers can attune themselves for the meeting ahead.

If you do not believe in God or feel uncomfortable with religious language the question is what do you believe, and on what basis do you run your life? At least 25% of the UK population (and in some surveys nearer 50%) do not have a religion.

Humanists believe that we humans must make our own decisions about how we live the one life we have, and also what purpose and meaning we give to our lives. The number of people coming to this humanist life stance has been steadily increasing since the 1960s. Humanists do not derive moral views from revelation, obviously. Indeed, moral rules predate religious claims to have revealed them. We look for moral guidance in universally shared human values, as found and agreed by rational and democratic debate, something we celebrate in this election period. Sadly we face in today’s world the denial of the validity of democratic and human decision-making in the form of extremist religious expression. There are some who say: only God‘s law is valid – and they are the ones to tell us what it is and to enforce it.

Therefore you, members of Stockport’s Council, by meeting here tonight and making decisions on behalf of the people of Stockport you are making an important statement: human democratic decision-making is valid when it comes to making the arrangements by which we live. In this way we can live in a free society where lawmakers and government are accountable to the citizens who are affected. It is through a rational and scientific approach to the problems we face that we can solve our problems and improve the lot of humankind. We see a good example of this now in the Ebola outbreak. It is an international rational and medical scientific effort that is containing the epidemic. Before I make my final remarks I ask you now to observe a period of thirty seconds silence for you to use either as an opportunity to attune or to say a private prayer if you wish. Thirty seconds silence.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I now wish you every success in your deliberations this evening; may you choose friendly and cooperative discussion to find the decisions that best contribute to the welfare and progress of the people of Stockport.’