Appreciation of Secular Occasions
Message from Margaret Downey, President of the Freethought Society (FS):
Living as a secularist
FS members understand the importance of living life openly and proudly as a secularist. Our very presence frightens the religious community because we make them question their blind faith. We also make them uneasy about their commitment to a story filled with superstition and implausible details. Our presence defies their obedience to scriptural laws which are antiquated in modern society.
Disclosure of a nontheist philosophy is often met with hostility and combative reactions. This is probably why many freethinkers are compelled to stay silent. An unfriendly environment sometimes prevails in the workplace, at school, within a community, and even within family dynamics. Freethinkers are often outnumbered, over-ruled or belittled when their minority opinion is expressed.
When we live our lives as proud secularists, we may suffer severe consequences. In a worst-case scenario, shunning campaigns take place, jobs are lost; family members are disowned, and marriages are broken apart. Intolerance can prevail, all in the name of religion.
Freethinkers must not hide or feel ashamed of a nontheist life stance. The fact is that declaring oneself a “freethinker” is an intellectual decision that brings peace of mind and freedom of thought.
Yes, it is difficult for freethinkers to disclose feelings in a public way. If, however, freethinkers do not hide their chosen philosophy, we may find that there are others who are just like us. They may have remained silent simply because they think they are the only freethinker around.
Disclosure of your freethought philosophy also provides an opportunity to find common ground on which the religious and nonreligious can negotiate a more comfortable environment for everyone. Chances are the religious community will discover philosophical similarities with the nonreligious.
For instance, donating to worthy causes, feeding the hungry, community clean-up efforts and many other activities that bring so many types of people together in order to help others. Please see the FS “Helping Hands” section on this website for more information about a variety of community events.
Popular holiday celebrations the secular way
On the other hand, popular holiday celebrations can bring major differences between the religious and the nonreligious to the forefront. Freethinkers who do not attend religious services may be asked to do so by well-meaning people with whom they come in contact at work, at school, in their neighborhood or through their family.
If you are not comfortable with attending religious events, make use of their invitation to explain why you do not wish to participate. Look upon the encounter as a way to educate someone. Tell them what the season means to you and how you celebrate it differently.
You might say, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I acknowledge the season and celebrate in other ways.”
This type of conversation is non-confrontational, educational, and allows a freethinker to reach a better understanding with religious friends and family.
Freethinkers should think about common holidays and try to develop new and more meaningful ceremonies that are beneficial to our philosophy. For example, during spring or winter, freethinkers could choose to simply celebrate the beauty of nature and the changing of the seasons. Seasonal celebrations establish kinship bonds and help establish family-like connections.
You may just want to take the opportunity to recognize the warmth of your family’s love during that time of year. Normal activities are put on hold by seasonal holidays, and for a short time, we can suspend everyday duties. Most or all of us rather like that break from work, I’m sure.
Let’s consider a new Humanist winter celebration called “HumanLight”.
I realize that the creation of a HumanLight celebration may seem to some freethinkers too similar to that of the Christian community, and you may have already decided that it is the type of celebration you might want to avoid altogether.
If, however, you are open to the idea of a secular observation to counter Christmas and other winter holidays please seriously consider HumanLight. It is celebrated on or near the Winter Solstice. It was established in 2001 by the New Jersey Humanist Network. Basically, Human Light is a secular celebration that emphasizes reason and rational thinking.
A date in December allows HumanLight to connect itself to the December holiday season without imposing over the other holidays, since many Humanists may participate in a variety of celebrations with family and friends.
HumanLight events can include guest speakers, candle-lighting ceremonies, musical and dramatic performances, dinners, dancing or video presentations. Because Human Light is designed to resist ritual and/or tradition, celebrations may vary in style from year to year.
The religious community does not own the rights to a holiday! Quite the contrary.
Looking back at Pagan celebrations, we see that most were filled with superstitions and were centered around seasonal observations. Christians and other religious groups interjected their particular myths into the Pagan rituals and reinvented seasonal celebrations.
We also know that celebrations are a natural product of human social needs, as the interaction with others is central to all of our actions in the world. However, the meanings attached to many of the celebrations have changed and mutated throughout human history as our knowledge of the natural world has expanded.
Please visit Secular Seasons for ideas about celebrating in a secular way.
The Secular Seasons website contains a lot of seasonal information, monthly celebration ideas, and event suggestions. If you find a holiday you want to promote or celebrate through FS, please volunteer to be the Event Coordinator. FS will assist volunteers and will provide a venue for the event you are passionate about celebrating.
Dr. Richard Dawkins says that when an idea is promoted, it has the potential to become a meme — attaching a different meaning to a celebration that can and will continue to evolve. It is up to us to make sure the adaptations are meaningful, thoughtful, and honest reflections of our freethinking life stance. We need to reinvent the holiday season and incorporate our own secular principles —then spread the new Freethought Secular Celebration meme.
A reinvention of holidays is particularly important when we consider our children and grandchildren. The peer pressure that our children face can cause psychological difficulties. Our children may already feel like outsiders when they realize that almost everyone around them attends church, Sunday school, and celebrates religious holidays.
If we celebrate for rational reasons and tell our children the truth about holiday superstitions, we have not done any harm. There is nothing wrong with celebrations that exemplify what we appreciate and acknowledge.
Each and every day, we freethinkers celebrate our one and only life. We appreciate family, the beauty of the natural world, the changing of the seasons, community and the power of knowledge. In 2007, I designed a winter symbol of nontheist values.
The FS winter display, The Tree of Knowledge, symbolizes beliefs such as the value of education, appreciation of history, biographical acknowledgment of the many contributions nontheists have made to society, human kindness, appreciation of science and the promotion of rational/critical thinking.
Contrary to popular belief in America, there is no war on Christmas. There is rather, a new approach to the winter season I hope will get pushed forward with the help of the freethinking community. A war on intolerance has been declared.
I urge all of you to turn negative war language into a statement that conveys exactly what we are attempting to do when nontheist citizens exercise their First Amendment rights. Nontheists have every right to express themselves through action and speech.
We must celebrate the secular life stance every day and at every opportunity. I contend that if we say nothing and do nothing — we will be treated like nothing. If we can participate without fear, we will have won the War on Intolerance!
Feel free to borrow any information to start your own website and secular celebration services. We need more secular celebrants, and so I am happy to share.
We know there is a strong human need to celebrate or mourn with family and friends. As freethinkers, we need to embrace this understanding rather than reject it. Religion has successfully capitalized on this human need – freethinkers can do the same.
Similarly, secular celebrations can create social settings that induce positive effects on the psychological needs of a nonreligious person. When like-minded individuals are in contact with each other, they are able to fulfill their basic human needs.
A close look at religious gatherings reveals how this is used as a basis for appeal. A welcoming attitude at nonreligious celebrations and events can create a feeling of acceptance in the freethought community.
Religion may offer a feeling of order with false hopes and easy answers. The nonreligious community can offer instead a peaceful resolution to difficult questions through friendship, understanding, and truthful communication.
A secular event or holiday can bring the same hope to lonely people who have a desire to answer their questions with rational thinking. We need to provide an opportunity for this brainstorming process.
A celebration or holiday event inevitably builds stronger bonds with family and friends. The mere fact that people gather together in a positive way promotes these connections. Becoming part of a group provides an opportunity to gain status or honor in a community. Freethinkers should be looking for an opportunity to honor someone’s life, work, and accomplishments. Creating a comfortable atmosphere with a holiday or celebration provides the perfect setting for such acknowledgments.
Everyone needs a place to formulate and act upon ideals, whether it be in a group setting or a simple discussion of current events with a friend. We can actually formulate celebrations and holidays around a single issue or charitable cause.
Some groups in the United States celebrate “Charles Darwin Day” this day promotes scientific research and honors the person who devoted so much of his life to the study of evolution. This type of celebration draws like-minded individuals together and continues to advocate for their philosophy.
Many single people use the church, mosque, temple, or synagogue as a place to find romance and life partners. Nonreligious holidays and celebrations can do the same.
Additionally, many nonreligious events have the potential to provide a place and opportunity to eat together. Fulfillment of this basic human need for nourishment guarantees that a celebration or holiday event will be well attended.
Religious communities attract people to their venues by hosting pot-lucks, pancake breakfasts, and holiday feasts. FS can do the same, but for rational reasons. Celebrations and holidays can also include a chance to have physical and/or mental exercise. FS events may include games and dancing.
Special events can provide a place for tranquility in an otherwise busy life style. When our normal everyday activities are put on hold for a day or just for a few hours, we can refresh ourselves and become renewed.
Nonreligious holidays and celebrations can echo what the religious community has done for centuries — minus the chanting, praying, and traditional group think. Secular celebrations can and do provide a place of refuge that is based in reality.
I once attended a debate entitled “Does God Exist?” As proof that God exists, the religionist showed slides of beautiful flowers, landscapes, gorgeous sunsets and sunrises and of course, the faces of babies. It is an insult to all of us when religionists credit God for the beauty of nature. They hijack these natural phenomena as “God’s gift.” They also claim that the beauty of nature is proof of God’s existence.
Freethinkers must, therefore, object to God getting any credit for the beauty of nature. How better to acknowledge nature’s beauty than through secular celebrations?
Freethinkers celebrate the human family and accept the natural world with joyful hearts by celebrating human life, love, accomplishments and friendship.
My response to that is: humans are social beings.
Humans need communities, friends, families and associates around us in order to live happy and fulfilled lives. Celebrations, holidays, and the recognition of life passages help us to maintain social bonds with one another and maintain good emotional and mental health.
We know that ancient human civilizations created and celebrated holidays. It appears to be a deep-rooted need that helps humans connect with one another. Freethinkers can bring people together who are like-minded. We can be outspoken, proud, principled, and committed to meet that challenge.
As often as possible, members of FS should consider talking with others about the way they celebrate holidays. The media loves to highlight alternative lifestyles, but they can only report about which that they are aware. FS must inform the media about secular celebrations.
Please share a personal story with FS in order to generate interest. Your story might be selected for publication in the FS newsletter “Freethought News” and/or highlighted in a press release. Your story will surely resonate with those who have not yet discovered that they are not alone in their rejection of religious traditions. At the very least your story will foster and promote a better understanding of the nontheist community.
There are many people who think about finding similar individuals, but just don’t know where to look. Advertising a special holiday event might appeal to people who are lonely and in need of connecting with others who are likeminded.
Some freethinkers are just not joiners. They may be, for the most part, content to pass on any type of celebration, but what about their everyday life?
As I previously stated, revealing one’s secular life stance is risky business. The fact is, however, that the future success of secularism depends on those who are brave enough to expose themselves to the prejudices that now prevail.
Those of us who are nonreligious understand that we have only one life to live and that there is no afterlife.
Our legacy is our afterlife.
If you agree, then your goal in the here and now should be to leave a legacy worthy of emulation. Wouldn’t you want your offspring to say that you lived as a proud and principled freethinker? How better to remember you than through the secular celebrations you helped create?
Together we can continue our goal of a better understanding between the religious and the nonreligious; we can do our part to promote freethinking by enabling our secular communities to embrace all that is beautiful about living, loving, and celebrating.
Please volunteer today to be an FS Event Coordinator. A “How to Plan and Implement an FS Event” outline Event Guideline is located here.
If you can’t volunteer, please consider earmarking a donation to sponsor a secular event. Money is needed to host speakers, secure venues and purchase needed supplies.