The UK Armed Forces Humanist Association (UKAFHA) is a growing network of non-religious service personnel, MOD civil servants, veterans and their families within the British Humanist Association who seek to represent the interests of all those who subscribe to humanist ideals.
Roughly speaking, a humanist has come to mean someone who:
- Trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic).
- Makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals.
- Believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.
If this describes you, then join us on our journey towards acceptance and consideration within Defence while helping others and having some fun along the way.
Professor Anthony Grayling is proud to be patron of the United Kingdom Armed Forces Humanists Association:
Humanism is an ethics of fellowship. Among those who work and serve together it is about loyalty, service, self-sacrifice and commitment. It is about the mutual trust that forges the strong and enduring bonds of comradeship that underlie our duty to one another and our community.
Humanism crosses all barriers that other outlooks put up between people. It is an ethics premised on our shared humanity, and therefore with generosity and comradeliness brings us closer together. Without dogmas but with a profound belief in our duty to our fellows, it unites rather than divides, and strengthens us all.
Lt Col Henry Cummins – Founder and Chair of UKAFHA
Henry joined the Army in 1986 and The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 1987. His operational service includes multiple tours in the Balkans and Middle East. He has been an instructor at The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and at the Defence Academy’s Army Division. He is a passionate ‘trainer’, and currently runs the Army’s Live Fire Group. Henry is married and has three young children. He became an atheist as a result of his experience of sectarian and inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001, and discovered Humanism shortly thereafter. He enjoys House Music and fast dogs and horses.
Henry can be contacted on UKAFHA’s website email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Brittain – General Secretary
Humanism came late in life for David, although he has been a non-believer since he was a teenager. As a young adult, he found the privileged position of religious authority in society disagreeable, and the constant Thought for the Daypropaganda on Radio 4 sometimes quite offensive. However, he only felt the need to be active in the 1980s, when the Muslim authorities in Iran decided to act like common criminals by putting out a £2m contract out on Salman Rushdie – because he wrote a book they found offensive.
Even so, he was unaware of the British Humanist Association until his late 50s, when his son joined. Discovering Humanism changed his life, and he suddenly realised that there were tens of thousands of people around who were just like him! It was a revelation which led to his founding the Bedfordshire Humanists, before taking training to become a Humanist celebrant – which in turn led, eventually, to his getting involved with UKAFHA in May 2009. He says, “It’s been a wonderful privilege for me to have been so involved in the rebuilding of UKAFHA and I’ve worked alongside some amazing people. Although my time as UKAFHA’s General Secretary will end shortly, I will always have an active interest in the organisation”.
David can be contacted on UKAFHA’s website email address:email@example.com.
Carol Armstrong – UKAFHA Administration
I joined the Army as a Private in the WRAC 1965 and left as Acting Major for Army Recruiting in 2005. In between I have been an Army wife and Mum in Germany followed by UK service in the TA.
Those are my military credentials; my Humanist credentials are a little vaguer. I was born and brought up in Belfast where the church was a normal part of society and many social activities were organised around the church. So when I joined the Army as a teenager I didn’t question the role of the church in Army life: it was habit rather than belief. Some years later I questioned my own habit: did I believe what I was saying when chanting the creed every Sunday? The answer was ‘no’, and eventually I stopped going to church.
Following my husband’s funeral, which was Christian, I asked the funeral director how to go about having a non-religious funeral because I didn’t want the same ritual at my own funeral, and he put me onto the Humanist book ‘Funerals Without God’. Sometime after that I joined the BHA and received their newsletter where, a few years ago, I read a note from Henry Cummins asking for anyone in the Forces interested in Humanism to contact him at humanists in foxholes. This was after I had retired, so I just saw myself as adding to the numbers of what is now UKAFHA. I recently met David Brittain as we live fairly close. Talking to him it struck me that I could make a contribution. Although I lead a busy life I am more in control than when I was working so I thought I could make a small contribution to UKAFHA by helping with some of the admin. My computer skills are not great but I hope they are sufficient to be of service to you. Carol can be contacted on UKAFHA’s website email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Rogers – BHA Trustees Representative for UKAFHA
With an MA from Cambridge University, a PGCE and a Diploma of Management Studies, Patricia is an educator and internationalist, and has lived, taught and written in the UK, Nigeria, Pakistan the Philippines and South Korea. She also has strong working links with India, Nepal, Tibet, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
She has seen both devastations and transformations resulting from religious convictions and although she was a committed Christian to start, she has been a humanist now for about 40 years.
Patricia has been Chief Executive of the Council for Education in World Citizenship, as well as the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Pestalozzi International Village. She is aware of the effectiveness of international collaboration and attended the 2011 IHEU meeting in Norway. She hopes her experience of running educational, international and campaigning charities will be useful to the UKAFHA. Trisha can be contacted via her email address: email@example.com.
Sara Passmore – BHA Management Representative for UKAFHA
Sara studied Education and English Literature at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and has since led on multi-million pound educational programmes across the UK as a projects manager at PFEG (Personal Finance Education Group). In her spare time Sara helps run SCI-FI-LONDON, the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastical Film.
Sara joined the BHA in May 2011. She has responsibility for promoting understanding of Humanism, including through an educational setting, and for promoting the BHA to diverse audiences. Sara can be contacted directly on her email address:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royal Navy Representative  – John Craig
John Craig was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in the days before Leeds bloomed into a cosmopolitan metropolis. As it really was ‘grim up north’, he ran away to sea and joined the Royal Navy in 1989 as a Warfare Officer. A specialist Mine Clearance Diving Officer and Principal Warfare Officer (Underwater), he has served all over the world from the USA to Hong Kong and Norway to the Falkland Islands. He commanded five SANDOWN Class Mine Hunters in 2006-8 and the Second Mine Countermeasures Squadron (eight HUNT Class Mine Hunters) in 2009-11. Since 2003, he has spent most of his time in the Middle East, mainly operating out of Bahrain.
John’s regular interactions with Naval Chaplains during the 2003 Iraq Campaign strengthened his view that religion has an unnecessarily privileged status within the military, a view supported by his studies towards degrees in Technology (MSc from Kingston University) and Classical Studies and Philosophy (BA(Hons) with The Open University), which further highlighted the tensions between science and religion and between religion and rational thought.
John is currently the UK exchange instructor at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where he teaches Joint Military Operations. John can be contacted directly via his email address: email@example.com.
My name is Matt Hicks. I have been in the Royal Navy for just over 14 years. I spent 11 years in the Medical Branch as a Medical Assistant and Operating Department Practitioner reaching the Rate of Petty Officer. In 2009 I commenced a BSc in Adult Nursing at Birmingham City University and am now a Leading Naval Nurse in the Queen Alexandra Royal Navy Nursing Service at MDHU Derriford in Plymouth.
My journey towards humanism began at the opposite end of the spectrum having been brought up in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian church and, for most of my childhood and early adulthood labelled myself a devout “born again” Christian. I began asking questions at quite a young age regarding philosophical discrepancies I found within my religious tradition which, ultimately, led to the realisation that I was neither devout or particularly Christian and was quite content to have only been born the once!
Having walked briefly with the black sheep with white woolly jumpers in the “non-realist” department of the church, I found that my existence was becoming richer through abandoning the definitions of the Christian faith and taking the world as it comes with a rational, sceptical but inquisitive head.
I am a proud agnostic who has belatedly found that meaning is bound up strongly within our own subjective experience rather than granted by higher forces or other people. I am part of a wider population of people for whom religion does not serve to reflect their reality but who still aim to live creatively without causing too much damage on the way. I look forward to working with Commander John Craig in supporting those who feel the same way and wish to express it within the Royal Navy and wider Armed Forces.
I am married to Christine and we have two sons William and Oliver. I enjoy reading, singing, playing guitar and ukulele and have dabbled in song writing and performing in various venues in an acoustic duo. I also enjoy/dislike long distance running as well as cycling. I am trying with little success to apply a beginning, middle and end to my great unfinished novel but in the mean time attempt to keep my writing skills up by blogging at: http://woodyduck.wordpress.com. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Army Representative – Tarquin Shipley
Tarquin’s’ journey to Humanism has been a slow one as he probably did not do too much thinking about it until he was in his mid-twenties when he decided that he was going to be registered in Army records as agnostic and popped into the admin office of the unit he was serving with. He had, at 18, put in the default setting on his forms as C of E when he had joined. When he tried to change it he was told that he had to see the Padre for him to authorise the change! The padre and Tarquin had a nice chat and he signed a memo changing his religion and he got my new Agnostic ID discs. How much easier it is now on JPA.
This essentially remained his position for about 10 years. He ambled through those years only feeling minor irritation every time he found himself at some Remembrance service or a wedding and the vicar mentioned about ‘being stood before god’. One day he came across The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and could not put it down. It was his ‘conversion’ to Atheism, but more importantly, to see it as something we need to be engaged with; not just blindly accepting the status quo and not accepting that religion has any special place in society when it is so clearly made up by man.
Tarquin was therefore pleased to find Humanism as something that is positive and he saw it as (in Tony Blair’s phrase) ‘a force for good’. That is why he joined UKAFHA and stood up to be counted. He hopes he maintains this enthusiasm and that he might even stop shouting at the telly when he see people hiding behind religion. “We should not hide behind things but face them and accept our responsibility as humans.” He says. Tarquin’s’ email address is: email@example.com.
RAF Representative  – Bill Connelly
When I joined the RAF in 1984, like many who had gone before, I ticked RC before moving on to the next in the ever increasing pile of forms. In this context I remained a paper catholic for the majority of my service only touching religion when required to “volunteer” to attend remembrance services church parades etc. However, once I stepped outside the acceptance that being a member of a religion was the norm it became increasingly clear that the default setting for remembrance etc was religion centric and as such failed to represent the perspective of significant number of Service personnel who did not believe in God. In a military context religious based events are often dressed up as “tradition” and have the habit of overriding the beliefs of those who do not believe in God that is no longer acceptable.
As one of the two RAF representatives on the UKAFHA committee I will work with my colleague SAC Luke Jenkins in an effort to ensure the views of those who do not believe in God and are serving in the in the RAF are represented. My civilian email:firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions or wish to discuss Humanism and any related challenges or issues from a RAF perspective please do not hesitate to get in touch with either Luke or myself.
RAF Representative  – Luke Jenkins
My name is Luke Jenkins, I am 25 years old, and I am based at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk. I have served almost five years in the RAF, my first unit being RAF Odiham in Hampshire. My first tour has included two deployments to Afghanistan, several detachments, and extensive work with the Air Cadet Organisation. I also study History part-time with the Open University.
Like many people, it was the literature of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that opened my eyes to the mother of all debates; I subsequently identify myself as an Atheist. The writings of the two men I have just mentioned have raised my consciousness to the privilege religion enjoys, and the resulting inequality. I think Humanists of every stripe need to assert their beliefs, for the betterment of all. As the total sum of evidence and reason rests firmly with us, we stand strongly on the side of right.
I look forward to a service of remembrance, wherein only the selfless exploits of the brave men and women who gave their lives for sovereign and country are extolled, as they rightly should be. The superfluous need, to commit them to an unsubstantiated ‘celestial North Korea’ (Christopher Hitchens) is meaningless. Furthermore, it is incongruous to say prayers and prostrate ourselves before a being, whose very existence remains unproven, at such an event.
As UKAFHA’s joint co vice-chair from the RAF, I will endeavour to represent the junior ranks as well as I am able. I also aim to work closely with my colleague WO Bill Connelly, to ensure quality of advice and representation for all those who may need it. My contact details are: email@example.com.
Civil Service Representative – John Dalgleish
Born and brought up in an Edinburgh estate, I worked in a variety of low-paid jobs until I had saved enough to go to St Andrews University where I studied the philosophy of logic along with medieval history. I joined the MoD as a civvie at the age of 27.
Made to go to church into my teens, I was always the one to ask the awkward questions. The tolerance of my ‘Marxist tendencies’ ended when I got involved at national level as mission secretary and tried to spend money helping people instead of enhancing church buildings. At university my neighbour was an evangelical creationist who’d come to study microbiology. I watched his beliefs transform while myself coming into more conflict with the church, this time enduring public vitriol for my failure to bend rules for the local Christian Association.
My upbringing helps me reason with Christians on their own terms and I’ve had experience of working successfully to secure recognition and rights for non-Christian groups in the face of chaplains opposing change. I’m opposed to state-funded religious schools and I see the Christian right in Britain beginning to predominate; due as much to the terminal decline of more liberal beliefs rather than any real spread of fundamentalist views. I believe that to create a new age of religious dogma and superstition just needs a prolonged period where most rational people do nothing to create a more positive future.
I’m married, have two young daughters and am currently more interested in non-religious summer-camps for the kids.
After a decade in the Civil Service, I’m not really a fan of committees – but I like to get the job done.
If you would like to make contact with John, please email him direct:firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will be delighted to hear from you!
Veterans’ Representative – Robbie Thompson
I am 48 years old and served in the regular Army as an education officer for sixteen years before retiring in 2007. I settled in West Wales with my young family and worked initially for a local wildlife charity before taking up a post at Llandovery College, teaching English as a foreign language. I continued my link with the Army there through the CCF.
I have recently secured a new position closer to home as Director of Curriculum at Coleg Ceredigion, an FE college in Cardigan. I was first involved with the UKAFHA at a very early stage when I met Henry Cummins at a Remembrance Day service in Kuwait in 2003 and we noticed that we both seemed to be singing the songs but not taking part in the liturgy, this led us to a discussion on our views on faith. I first counted myself as a humanist on joining the Army and I decided to be religion ‘none’ on my docs, only to be told by the admin sergeant that ‘you can’t be None Sir!’
Scanning down the list of available options ‘humanist’ seemed to be my only choice, so humanist I was. My dog tags still said ‘CofE’ when I got them though! No matter, I don’t care what they do with my body once I’m gone. I have pride in the Armed Forces and what we achieve. I enjoy the peace and solemnity of places of worship, but worship just isn’t for me. I do believe that church and chapel will have to do until we find an alternative place to gather and think. Contact Robbie on:email@example.com.
Associate Committee member for the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) – Marilyn Jackson
Marilyn joined the Humanist Society of Scotland in 1991 and is a member of the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS).
She trained as a celebrant in May 2008, after taking voluntary redundancy from the City of Edinburgh Council, where she worked in committee services and as a political group business manager. She now conducts funerals and weddings (Humanist weddings are legal in Scotland) and namings in Edinburgh, the East of Scotland and the Borders.
Marilyn says that for her, Humanism isn’t just the negative of not believing in a god, it is about living a good and ethical life, respecting other people in all their diversity and making a contribution to society.
Until recently, she had relatives in the Armed Forces and the Army Cadets.
Contact her on: firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0131 229 7731.