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Posted: 19 December 2007 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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We do have to be careful, in choosing alternatives for religious rituals, to not fall into the trap of simply constructing new religious rituals.  I am not interested in building some sort of atheistic church.  I am a freethinker, an individualist and am uncomfortable with social situations in which I feel that I have to pose or pretend or fake a sense of community in any way.  I am only comfortable expressing affection toward others when I feel that it is genuine, and I feel the same way about receiving it.  I am also weary of the political elements that surface in large groups.

But we do need to address the sorts of emotional and existential needs that many people fulfill through religious institutions.  We need to do this without providing yet another religion.  This is quite a bit more difficult than simpky debunking myths, but it is a challenge that I do believe can be met.  It is not a fundamental or essential quality of human nature to need religion.  I don’t need it and I am no Nietzschean Overman.  I am not so special that I can do fine without religion in a way that others can’t.  This is evidence enough.  Nobody needs religion, and anyone and everyone who is victim to it would be better off without it.

So Charles, here’s my broad three constructive suggestions-

1. Promotion of humanistic ethics
I believe that numerous people who don’t know about humanistic philosophy would actually agree about most humanistic ethical positions, and many religious persons would probably even prefer them over their own religious ethical systems if they could examine them closely back to back.

2. Promotion of eupraxsophy
Model ways in which one can lead an independent and non-religious lifestyle that emanates with meaning, richness and reward.  We need to demonstrate such lives by example and talk openly about humanism as a driving force.  We also need to promote this in literature, film, art and music.

3. Provision of outlets for community and socialization between humanists that people can participate in on their own terms
I have attended some wonderful events hosted by the Ethical Culture Society, but I should say that I do prefer CFI’s approach to community building.  I think that this is a more individualistically constructive approach, particularly in consideration of the sorts of activities that these Centers for Inquiry perform.  I would like to see these Centers expand.

We need secular humanist cafes (someone else mentioned this at some point on this forum).  Perhaps these could be located at or near our Centers for Inquiry.  Unimposing open door public institutions that function much like this forum, but live.  We also, again, need more literature, film, art and music with plain and clear humanistic content.  In a thread a couple of months ago, Doug had mentioned that the simple act of building Centers for Inquiry was a means in-and-of itself of building momentum.

I hope that others will follow up on Charles’ challenge by posting a few suggestions of their own.  Charles, what are your three?

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Posted: 19 December 2007 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I’d be careful, erasmusinfinity, with presuming your personal preferences are normative standards. You may not like the idea of secular ritual and what seems ot you “artifical” community that such ritual can foster, but that doesn’t mean these are necessarily bad things or unwelcome by other atheists. I think it is possible to capture some of the value of the “psychological theater” religious ritual provides, and some of its uses to mark significant moments and milestones in our lives, without sacrificing freedom of thought or individuality, so while I agree strongly with the constructive suggestuions you offer, I think your initial caution in the post above is too strong and based more on your preferences than a broader assessment of psychology. Then again, maybe that’s just my preferences talking. I love going to Mass, except for all the god parts, so maybe I just like that sort of thing grin

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Posted: 19 December 2007 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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mckenzievmd - 19 December 2007 09:59 AM

... maybe that’s just my preferences talking. I love going to Mass, except for all the god parts, so maybe I just like that sort of thing grin

Yes, I think to a large extent it is an issue of personal preferences. But I’ll just repeat what I said above: I think any secularist who is engaged in trying to create secular rituals as substitutes for religious ones has to take care not to make secularism into yet another ossified, doctrinal belief system. Ritual can be good in giving people a deeper sense of community, yes. But ritual can be bad in creating a deeper sense of who is a real participant in the community as versus who is in the secular “out group”.

The danger is that the rituals become laws unto themselves, and practice of meaningless gesture overcomes real learning.

To take some examples: it seems innocent to have a sort of communal talk every Sunday, and so it is, unless people use this weekly meeting as a time to look around and see who is not there this week.

It seems innocent enough to make a secular holiday, and so it is, unless people use celebration of that holiday as a mark of who is “us” and “not us”.

It seems innocent enough to create a series of performative motions or utterances at the beginning of regular group events, and so it is, unless knowledge of precisely which motions and utterances is used to distinguish the true community members from the pretenders.

In all of these cases, problems can arise because membership in the community ends up being partly an issue of irrational ritual practice rather than honest belief and willingness to engage in the issues that are actually important to the community. (E.g., those issues that created the community in the first place: secularism, humanism, etc.)

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Posted: 19 December 2007 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Doug,

I never thought of you as so pessimistic. grin I believe cliques are an endemic part of the human psyche, and we are unlikley to eliminate them, though we can perhaps supress the tendency. And yes, rituals can contribute to this. But they can be lots of good things too. An opportunity for reflection on our core values, especially useful in an age and culture when we’re so frantically busy and not inclined to be reflective. An opportunity to celebrate core human experiences we all share, regardless of ideology (birth, love, death, tragedy, joy, and for many of us parenting). I think it would be a huge, maybe fatal mistake, in the effort to create a big tent humanism with broad appeal and to diminish the importance of supernaturalism, to give up these things for fear that they are corrupting of the spirit of inclusiveness and free inquiry. The rituals reflect more than create values. And while they can become pro forma, if the core values is anti-dogmatic, I don’t think ritual practices will create dogma.

Sure, some will prefer not to participate (you and erasmus, clearly), but I don’t think you can assume that will automatically create dangerous schism or exclusion for a community based on principles of individual freedom, reason, naturalism, etc. Now CFI is a great example of how personality politics can lead to schism and rancor, but I think you overestimate the role of ritual observances in this, and underestimate the degree to which it’s just an unavoidable part of human social behavior. Just as I don’t think we have to give up wonder, awe, even a sense of the spiritual when we give up religion, I don’t think we have to give up rites of passage and communal celebration.

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Posted: 19 December 2007 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Oh, I should make clear, I have nothing per se against rites of passage and communal celebrations. Taking them in turn, rites of passage are almost by definition personal events—and if the person undergoing the change feels some sort of ritual is necessary, then good for them. And communal celebrations or big parties are fun for everyone. I’m not one of those folks who refuses on principle to celebrate Christmas ... I just celebrate it (when convenient) in a secular manner. If one year I don’t wish to celebrate it, then I don’t. But parties are fun, and of all people, atheists and secularists should be putting forward a happier, more “fun” picture of themselves.

... of course, it also follows from this that if one chooses to have a communal celebration as one’s rite of passage, all the better. Parties are largely spontaneous, and so less likely to become ossified and doctrinal than some set series of ritual oblations or statements.

But hey, I wouldn’t want to make the lack of ritual into a doctrine either ... so again, whatever floats your boat. I’d just take care with them. Rituals can be powerful medicine.

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Posted: 19 December 2007 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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How about secular hazing?

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Posted: 19 December 2007 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Pragmatic Naturalist - 19 December 2007 11:49 AM

How about secular hazing?

LOL

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Posted: 19 December 2007 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Doug & Brennen,

Pat Churchland made a few interesting observations on human nature and mimicry in her beyond belief presentation.  It appears that we may be biologically tuned to relate to various rituals, such as dancing.  The interesting topics for me on these issues are: Do we benefit from all forms of mimicry?  Our these observations true on a local and/or world scales?  Do they cause unforeseeable short term or long term problems, if we could ever prove these correlation?  If so, is it ethical to engage in these practices to promote moving away from them?  Would this be considered similair to the patch for smokers?

For the record: I am pro dancing.  grin  Its more of the ingroup outgroup associations provided by religions that I am primarily concerned with.  Maybe I should start a tpoic on ingroup/ outgroup roles in a global economy?

“What’s in your head?  Zombie, Zombie, Zombie”

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Posted: 19 December 2007 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” - George Bernard Shaw

A truly troublesome concept for a group that considers reason to be an unassailable virtue.  And yet, I think this is precisely what the doctor orders here.

I must say I am very pleased to see how all of you have stepped up to the challenge.  I really did not expect it, as my other rally cries here have been largely ignored.

I think we face the very same challenges that theistic groups encounter when establishing rituals that meet our needs without corrupting our values. 

I have tried to find alternatives, and I have been frustrated.  San Francisco recently opened a new CFI chapter, but as yet I have been unable to attend any events.  They insist on having meetings and events in the middle of the work week, and since I work far from downtown SF, I cannot make it into the City for these events.  The only reason I knew about this was from a membership in the Bay Area Atheists/Agnostics/Brights/Humanists/Freethinkers group via http://www.meetup.com.  I spent a great deal of time searching this group out, and even before the CFI-co-hosting, I was unable to attend due to time/place restrictions.

I don’t have any pat answers, but I’d like to start by listing the ingredients that I’d like to see included, along with a few suggestions for meeting places, and specific rituals that would make it not only useful, but enjoyable.

I like much of what erasmusinfinity suggested in his 3 examples, but I’d Like to expand on them.

1st and foremost
I think it is helpful to consider establishing a genuine community atmosphere.  One that meets locally, at times suited to the membership.  It should also be inclusive.  Meaning that it is not designed to exclude or include members based solely on age, lifestyle, political or intellectual leanings.  The link is our Secular Human values. 

2nd I think that in the spirit of community, we should establish rituals that are designed to build upon our values as a stepping stone to positive contribution to the community as a whole.  An emphasis on Humanistic values will provide a means of binding us to one another without antagonizing members of the community.  I see no reason to focus on attacks on religion or any specific group in such rituals.  Emphasis on ethics, positive influence and education will create an atmosphere that is more suited to facilitating comradary and inspiration.

3rd, I see nothing wrong with establishing rituals that acknowledge seasonal change, births, deaths, weddings/partnerships, hardship, or other milestones in peoples lives.  In addition, placing emphasis on education, perhaps using curriculum available from Prometheus Books.  Fun, lets not forget to have fun.  One thing that would separate us from religious ritual is an emphasis on joy, happiness and a celebration of life that I think cannot be equaled in theistic circles.  We are not bridled by artificial guilt, shame or constrictions of faith.  We should not be afraid to demonstrate the bounty of joy we have as a result of free thought.

These are all suggested guides to success, in addition there is the issue of meeting place.  I know it is difficult to purchase property for the purpose of hosting such meetings.  But it is not impossible to rent space.  I know of a few community centers in my area that can be rented for a modest fee.  They could easily accommodate groups that would meet for the purposes I have described.  And if the groups became large enough, larger facilities can be rented as well.  While this would require some kind of fee, I don’t see it as a huge roadblock.

I think organizations like CFI can help tremendously by establishing a lessons learned resource and perhaps even a “toolkit” of sorts to assist groups in getting started, by suggesting topics for discussion, community action, group activities, etc.

Perhaps a good place to start for such groups is to review the various Secular Humanist manifestos that have been generated, discuss how they would like to invest more of themselves in realizing these values in a community setting.  See where that takes us.  Most of all, get to know each other, begin a circle of care and concern for one another that embodies the values we have staked claim to as Secular Humanists.

I’d like to see CFI host some sort of forum for establishment of such groups.  Perhaps this forum would do, but I think it could be better.  Some way of finding people in your area, linking them together by proximity 1st, then by a shared interest in forming a local community.  This along with some kind of material that helps us get started and keeps it interesting so that it just doesn’t fizzle out, would be a wonderful tool to inspire more people to get something started.

As more of these communities are built, some cross pollination can occur, where groups from different areas get together to share some kind of experience, get to know each other and build on the comradary that they already have.  A groundswell of inspiration and mutual support could then be built that would establish a very compelling alternative to religious ritual.

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Posted: 19 December 2007 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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retrospy - 19 December 2007 12:02 PM

For the record: I am pro dancing.  grin

For the record: I am a militant adanceist. mad

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Posted: 19 December 2007 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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mckenzievmd - 19 December 2007 09:59 AM

I’d be careful, erasmusinfinity, with presuming your personal preferences are normative standards. You may not like the idea of secular ritual and what seems ot you “artifical” community that such ritual can foster, but that doesn’t mean these are necessarily bad things or unwelcome by other atheists. I think it is possible to capture some of the value of the “psychological theater” religious ritual provides, and some of its uses to mark significant moments and milestones in our lives, without sacrificing freedom of thought or individuality, so while I agree strongly with the constructive suggestuions you offer, I think your initial caution in the post above is too strong and based more on your preferences than a broader assessment of psychology. Then again, maybe that’s just my preferences talking. I love going to Mass, except for all the god parts, so maybe I just like that sort of thing grin

Just to be clear, I’m fine with you and others performing whatever secular rituals you want.  I even encourage you to do so as you see fit.  I don’t presume that my preferences are normative standards.  I only suggest that I do not see an absolute need for all secular persons to take part in a specified ritual of your or my choosing.  My point with building Centers for Inquiry was to provide for basic emotional and existential needs of non-theistic persons that they may or may not choose to take part in to the degree that they see fit.  And, I do enjoy attending concerts in churches and cathedrals and attending certain events at The Ethical Culture Society.  I indulge in many secular rituals and even borrow a few,  myself, from christian traditions.

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Posted: 19 December 2007 02:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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George - 19 December 2007 01:05 PM
retrospy - 19 December 2007 12:02 PM

For the record: I am pro dancing.  grin

For the record: I am a militant adanceist. mad

Haha, nice.  Note to self: don’t go clubbing with George.  :grin:

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Posted: 19 December 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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retrospy - 19 December 2007 12:02 PM

It appears that we may be biologically tuned to relate to various rituals, such as dancing.

I would even suggest that in one sense it is a matter of ritual that we train ourselves not to dance, as a matter of behaving “properly” in social contexts.  Of course, this depends on how you define dance.

George - 19 December 2007 01:05 PM

For the record: I am a militant adanceist. mad

Is adanceism to be considered only as a rejection of danceism?  cheese

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Posted: 19 December 2007 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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I’m with George. Up with adanceism!

cheese

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Posted: 19 December 2007 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 19 December 2007 02:25 PM

Is adanceism to be considered only as a rejection of danceism?  cheese

No, it is more than that! Do you know what bothers me the most? Not that I can’t dance, but that some men can… cool mad

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