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Monday, April 23, 2007

Humanist Ritual

A reader has asked recently about Humanist rituals:

I'd be interested in hearing your take on creating humanist rituals. There seems to be an innate human need to create ceremonies and do things that have a feeling of "sacred space".
This was actually the topic of the day at the most recent session of my Humanist Contemplatives Club. A complete report of our conclusions on this can be read on our Club's journal (link HERE), but I've repeated the core part of the summary here...

1) We acknowledge that Humanists already engage in many rituals. These include various meetups, weddings, funuerals, baby namings, etc.

2) There seems to be a major distinction between rituals, based on why they are conducted. In one sense, you have the 'superstitious ritual' in which the practitioner believes these acts to be accomplishing something disconnected from the typical natural cause-and-effect we know of empirically. Examples include rain dances and prayer. The second sense of ritual is the 'symbolic ritual' in which the practitioner is conducting an activity in order to symbolize a concept. These rituals are designed to create a sense of solemnity, help us adjust our mindset and focus on the reasons behind the ritual, cement social interactions, and mark special events or notions. It was concluded quite easily that Humanist ritual must be exlusive to this latter form.

3) Future Humanist rituals should take advantage of the rich cultural lineage behind it. This includes elements of art, music, poetry, literature, and other elements by past Humanists or humanistic artists and thinkers. This should bring in a sense of tradition such that the ritual does not feel extraneous or contrived.

4) Rituals should be 'multisensory' experiences. They should tap as many of our senses as possible; having visual, audial, olfactory, and possibly tactile elements. Internally, they should tap both the intellect as well as the emotional, intuitive, and imaginative.

It was also mentioned that science fiction can be an inspiration for creative ideas. At the same time, a Humanist ritual must be something with real functional purpose - even if merely social or emotional - or else it will seem contrived.

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