Humanists put faith to test by giving schools free copies of atheist ‘bible’

The Young Atheist’s Handbook aims to help teenagers live well without recourse to religion

A free copy of a secularist text called The Young Atheist’s Handbook is being sent to every secondary school in England and Wales, in a drive to help teenagers live well without recourse to religion.

The initiative, which is solely funded by public donations, is the latest effort from the British Humanist Association (BHA) to support the teaching of humanist ideas in schools.

The Young Atheist’s Handbook, written by science teacher Alom Shaha, recounts his personal journey, from growing up as a Muslim in a Bangladeshi community in south-east London to eventually rejecting Islam and embracing atheism. It also includes his reflections on philosophy and theology.

The idea of sending the handbook to schools was brought forward by another science teacher, Ian Horsewell, who approached the BHA after reading the text himself.

Mr Shaha told The Independent that he hoped the scheme would expose young people to ideas beyond their upbringing. “Young people don’t buy books,” he said. “But I wrote it with the hope that it would be read by teenagers.

“This is a fantastic way of just putting my book out there so that a few more young people might have access to it or stumble across it.

“I want to be very clear that this is not about proselytising – it’s not about converting people. It is just about giving people the opportunity to  see another point of view.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said of the initiative: “We couldn’t be happier that young people everywhere will now have access to this wonderful book.

“Alom’s message will no doubt inspire young people who are looking to find fulfilment and meaning in their lives, whatever their family background.”

Mr Copson added that he believes the introduction of Mr Shaha’s book into schools’ libraries will provide balance to the views and belief systems currently available to students during their education.

“In a large number of schools, pupils will have access to a number of religious perspectives on life’s bigger questions, but not what most non-religious people believe and how they find happiness and satisfaction,” he said.

“We believe schools should be places where pupils are free to encounter the full range of philosophies and world-views available to them in modern Britain.”

The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Extracts

* “I feel that it is deeply unfair that some people may never experience the joy of knowing that they can lead a perfectly happy life, full of meaning and purpose, without God.”

* “I think the idea that it is immoral to not believe in God is perhaps the most insidious one that parents encourage to take root in the minds of young children."

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