Saturday, April 14, 2012

The need to coalesce

This morning, Mr. Jewess and I went to our local Humanist meeting. Before the main presenter, there was a brief discussion about the Reason Rally and subsequent Atheist Symposium that happened a few weeks ago. While I was pleased to find that some locals had been to the event, I was rather shocked at the ignorance of the Humanist Movement expressed by the members. Here are a few quotes from the discussion, with my annotations:

"Dawkins seems to have mellowed a bit. He was less anti-religion than he can be."

Excellent! In order to achieve anything, we have to work with reasonable religionists. There are plenty of people who consider themselves religious and yet work for the dignity of humanity. Those people are our allies, and the more we argue with them about transubstantiation (or whatever) the less time we have to work for peace, justice and equality.

"There were some ministers and priests who came out as atheists. There is a fund to help them for six months because they find themselves without work when they come out. What kind of work can they do?"

How about ministering? They could help people develop life cycle events, counsel people in crisis, organize communities, help the poor, explain ethical dilemmas, comfort the sick, and teach children. We all need people to do these things, whether or not we believe in god. And to tell the truth, they can probably get jobs teaching religion, too. Most denominations require at least the equivalent of a Master's Degree for ordination, and most colleges and universities would not consider atheism a problem.

"There was an atheist rabbi? How can you be an atheist and a rabbi?"

Mr. Jewess chalks this one up to a lack of understanding about Judaism. Of course, Christians have a creed, so you can't be a Priest and an atheist. But "Rabbi" just means "teacher" and there's no creed in Judaism, so there's really no reason you can't be a rabbi and an atheist, even without Humanistic Judaism. (Although it WOULD be reasonable for a congregation to require a rabbi to believe in god, if they're into that sort of thing.) But I suspect the rabbi they were talking about is Miriam Jerris, who is ordained in the Humanist Movement.

This conversation got me thinking. Clearly, this group is not well-informed about the movement within Humanism to develop religious-style practice. They seem to be more of the philosophy that learning in community replaces prayer in community. And I suppose it can to some extent, but not completely. For example, what will happen when these people die? Do they plan to have funerals? If not, how will their families mark the loss? And if so, who will lead the service and what will it be like? Humanists need life-cycle events as much as anyone else. So I think what I want to do is to make a presentation to the group about the call for ritual within Humanism, and the various ways people are studying this idea and pursuing it. Maybe I can get them to consider adding some ritual elements to the group, or expanding to a second group that discusses religion and ethics. Really, there are lots of areas that religious institutions fill in people's lives that a Humanist organization could fill--charity work, artistic expression, cross-cultural experiences, and community meals are just a few. I wonder if this group could grow into any of those areas.

I think it will be fun to find out.

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