One of the things I like about humanism is that humanists tend to be happy about marking important points in your life, like births, weddings, and deaths, and so on, without feeling you have to get religion involved. I don’t believe, as some apparently do, that the practice of marking these things is simply a hangover from an older religious age, and that we should get out of the habit. I think the truth is that marking certain points in our lives, just as we mark important points in the year, is something a lot of humans are drawn to, for deep biological reasons. It just happens that, for much of human history, this sort of thing happened to be done in a religious context. If you want, you can see Humanism as reclaiming births, weddings and deaths from the clutches of religion.
Of course, you don’t even need humanism for this. All that humanism really provides is a philosophy and a community of people who have experience of doing this sort of thing. You could, I suppose, characterise the movement as the idea that religion has some good ideas (whether originating in religion, or entirely coopted by it) that we don’t need to abandon if we abandon belief in the supernatural. This doesn’t quite cover it (the promotion of reason is pretty central too), but I think it’s probably one of the main differences between humanism and non-humanist atheism.
Now, this is not to say that, to be a humanist, you have to organise a special ceremony for naming your babies, or even get married. You don’t. I don’t know any humanists who think couples have to get married. I do think, however, that a lot of people (probably most) feel a desire to mark these life events in this way, and that Humanism provides a good context to do it in.
This brings me to an important question I’ve been mulling over for a while: what about the other things that religion does that aren’t inherently supernatural or mystical? What about the singing, the coming together once a week and reciting the same thing with lots of other people? Should humanists do this? I’m coming to the view that, while they shouldn’t feel it’s central to humanism, they shouldn’t feel it’s incompatible with it either.
Some humanists I know hate this sort of thing, and feel it’s cultish. Well, that’s fine, and they don’t need to be involved. However, I think that this is precisely the sort of thing that attracts many people to religion: not a belief in magical beings, or the mystery of transubstantiation, or whatever, but a sense of community, and some strange sense of comfort derived from meeting once a week and doing something with lots of other people, probably much like what you did last week. And of belonging to a community that goes out and does things together, often for the good of other people. Why should religion dominate here? Why should religion give this to people, and humanism not?
Now, I’m not alone among humanists in having this view, but some humanists certainly feel some uncertainty about, if not revulsion towards, it (well, maybe not the doing things for the good of other people). These people, however, are not the ones humanists need to attract. This doesn’t have to be for everyone.
So, what do you think? Is this something you like the idea of? What could it involve? Is chanting inherently cultish and weird? What if you just met once a week and vowed in unison to live your life based on reason and compassion, and to try to reduce suffering where you find it? Would that be wrong and dogmatic? Do you feel that any of this is inherently religious and shouldn’t be allowed past the borders of religion?