Steve Bowen is the Chair of the Kent Humanists. Here, we talk about his life, work, views, and some more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, education, and religion or lack thereof?
Steve Bowen: I was born in the late fifties an only child to an engineer father and stay at home mother. I grew up and went to school in South London where I had a typical Church of England centred education with morning acts of worship and religious instruction as part of the curriculum. My parents were not overtly religious, more apatheist than atheist so I did not attend a church until I joined the scout movement when again Anglican Christianity was very central. Nevertheless I never really believed in or warmed to the idea of God, I had Catholic friends and their outward expressions of religiosity frequently made me uncomfortable. I was always interested in Science and Nature and eventually went on to read Biology at university.
Jacobsen: What is personal background including the discovery or development of a secular outlook on life and philosophy?
Bowen: The first time I heard the word atheist was from my scout master. At the age of nine I was trying to get out of the closing prayer to carry on with the game we had been playing. I told the pack leader I didn’t believe in God and was told in no uncertain terms that atheists weren’t welcome… I left soon after. Consequently, I always had a suspicion of religion after that. I was not aware of the concept of Humanism until I went to university. As a biology student, I was familiar with Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” ( He hadn’t of course written “The God Delusion” by then) and argued with Christian friends for a Darwinian view of ethics. A Baptist friend dubbed me a “Humanist” during one of those conversations. However, I did not self-identify as such until much later in life. My active involvement in any sort of atheist movement began online following 9/11 and reading the well known four horseman books as well as commenting on atheist blogs. I started my own blog http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Atheist MC in 2010 which I kept up for a few years. In 2012 I went to a British Humanist Association convention where I met people from Kent Humanists and joined them that year. I was elected Chair in November 2018
Jacobsen: As the Chair of Kent Humanists, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?
Bowen: Very few really – I am responsible for sourcing and booking speakers for monthly meetings, chairing and moderating events if necessary and being the point of communication with the public and media. I am also a Humanists UK school speaker and represent Kent Humanists in local secondary schools when invited to speak on Humanism to students.
Jacobsen: Why meet at the St. Stephens Church Hall on the third Sunday of each month?
Bowen: The irony of using a church hall is not lost on us… we used to be based at the local university but this became increasingly difficult to book reliably so we were forced to find alternatives. St Stephens is convenient for many of our members and the church is actually very accommodating of us. We do get occasional members of the congregation at our meetings.
Jacobsen: Why fund The Canterbury Foodbank this year?
Bowen: We adopt a different charity each year. Recent ones have been The Red Cross, a women’s shelter and a riding school for the disabled. At the last AGM, it was decided that a local food bank would be appropriate. It is a church-run charity but one of our members volunteers there. It does have the secondary benefit of keeping Humanism visible.
Jacobsen: What have been more impactful social and political activities of the Kent Humanists?
Bowen: Kent Humanists has for a long time been as much about a local humanist community and meeting place for like-minded people. It has a rather “philosophical” bent which is reflected in many of the topics we cover in meetings. As individuals we have members who take part in interfaith dialogue, act as humanist pastoral carers in hospitals and provide educational support to schools.
Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the Kent Humanists? How does this impact the nature of the provisions for the community and the capacities for the community, e.g., giving to the foodbank?
Bowen: Hmmm! We are reliably white, middle class and middle-aged although fairly well gender-balanced. I would tentatively say we are a largely left-leaning bunch politically which may have some bearing on where we concentrate our outreach.
Jacobsen: Who have been integral individuals to the work of the Kent Humanists? Who have been important people to the advancement of the humanist community in the United Kingdom in general? Why them?
Bowen: Undoubtedly the biggest contributor to Kent Humanists was its founder member Professor Richard Norman who remains active with the group after 25 years. I took over from him as Chair. Richard is a VP of Humanists UK and has published several books on ethics and humanism. He is also the founder of “Humanists for a better world” which campaigns on environmental issues.
Jacobsen: Any recommended authors, organizations, or speakers?
Bowen: We’ve had so many. We draw quite heavily on Humanists UK for resources and have had presentations from Jeremy Rodell on interfaith dialogue and most notably a contributor from “Faith to Faithless” an affiliated charity that helps people leave coercive religions. Another popular speaker was Ann Furedi CEO of BPAS who spoke on her book “The Moral Case for Abortion”.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Bowen: My association with Kent Humanists has undoubtedly made a difference to the way I approach my long-standing atheism. I don’t think I’m any more “ethical” as a result as I hope I would be that anyway but it has enabled me to frame my ethics in a more coherent way.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Steve.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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