Harry Stopes-Roe

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TENTATIVE Do not quote until approved

By the Lower Lighthouse, September 1939

Stopes-Roe, Harry (1924– )

Stopes-Roe is the son of birth control pioneer Marie Stopes. He received his BSc and MSc in physics from Imperial College, London University, earned his PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge University.

A Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, Science Studies at Birmingham University, he now is retired. His work led him to reject the idea of "God" and to seek an alternative base for morality - i.e. Humanism - particularly concerned with both the theoretical foundations and the practical development of Humanism.

He has been the Chair, later Vice President, of the British Humanist Association. He has been active in the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) for many years. He chaired the working group that developed the IHEU "Minimum Statement". Also, he has been on the board of directors of the Rationalist Press Association.

In Buffalo, at the 1988 Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union Congress, he proposed that humanism should be considered a “life stance.” He suggests that the question whether humanism is a philosophy, a culture, an academic discipline, or a religion is best resolved by considering it a life stance.

His proposal is to avoid dividing humanists into two camps according to how they respond to the word “religion.” The new term, he holds, incorporates the idea and ideal of religion but opens it out so that it is not discriminatory. Thus, a life stance “is theistic or naturalistic according to whether it sees ‘that which is of ultimate importance’ in terms of God; or something naturalistic. It is fundamental that a god-religion—or simply ‘religion’ as these people would say—is precisely a theistic life stance. The two terms are synonymous, each carrying the same depth of meaning. ‘Life stance’ has latent in it all the power of ‘religion’ (in the sense ‘god-religion’); this power is realised (as the god-religious would say) on the acknowledgment of God.” He adds,

  • I hope that even those who are most antipathetic to creeds and dogmas will concur in my suggestion that sentient beings, with their enjoyments and sufferings, and moral sensibilities, are of ultimate importance to Humanists.

Nicolas Walter (New Humanist, December, 1988) gives ten specific arguments against the use of “life stance.” For example, he questions whether humanism is a stance, adding it is not necessarily about life. Most humanists, he holds, do not see humanism and religion as two equal and opposite entities—most see humanism as a rejection of all (not just some) of the essential features of religion. It is the “religious humanists” who see humanism as an actual form of religion. In short, states Walter, “life stance” is of little use and probably will do more harm than good to whatever it is that we do all have in common.

In a response (New Humanist, December, 1988), Stopes-Roe says Walter misunderstands the issues and his basic attitude is anti-rational. He does admit, however, that one genuine difficulty is that “life stance” is difficult to translate into French.

In 1994 at the conference of the Coalition for Secular Humanism, Atheism, and Freethought (CSHAFT), he spoke on “Humanism and Ethics.”

In 1995 at the International and Humanist Ethical Union’s meeting in India, he spoke about the tradition of humanism from the ancient Greeks to the Enlightenment and the current day, emphasizing the importance of David Hume and the British empirical tradition.


In 1996 he was a participant at the Humanist World Congress held in Mexico City. (New Humanist, February 1996)

Stopes-Roe, who signed Humanist Manifesto 2000, is a Vice President of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA).