Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 30, 2015

An atheist in the pulpit

"Some might be surprised to see an avowed atheist take the pulpit in a Christian church,” I said as I began my sermon at the University Church of St Mary The Virgin back in February. “Others will know that this is far from unprecedented, although admittedly the atheist before you would usually be an ordained one."
I was fairly confident this joke wouldn’t offend the congregation of Oxford University’s liberal Anglican church. There are and have been many atheist clerics in churches like this, sometimes avowedly but usually in all but name. Most don’t like the A-word because of its anti-religious connotations, but if being an atheist means fully accepting a naturalist worldview and rejecting the existence of a literal, personal God, then many churches are full of them.
So I wasn’t too worried that my hosts would think their vicar had invited them to dance with the devil. If anything, I expected more criticism from my secular comrades. Sam Harris famously made the case that these apparently harmless liberal theists are are at least as dangerous as their hellfire-proclaiming brethren. The moderates make religion more acceptable, shielding it from criticism and delaying the day it finally dies... (continues)
Julian Baggini 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A secular thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow, and although my extended family knows me too well ever to risk asking me to say "grace" or "bless" the occasion, I know plenty of secularists who dread the prospect of such a moment. Others relish it. There's a growing Internet archive of options (see below). And for those thankful for recovered good health, there's Daniel Dennett's classic "Thank Goodness!"

Secular and agnostic prayers

De-baptismal certificate
“I, having been subjected to a Christian baptism before reaching an age of consent, or having submitted to baptism before embracing freethought and reason, hereby officially renounce that primitive rite and the Church that imposed it. I categorically reject the creeds, dogmas, and superstitions of my former religion, particularly the pernicious doctrines of ‘Original Sin’ and damnation.
“I further denounce as an affront and defamation to humanity the false and demeaning belief that any baby is born with ‘Original Sin’ and must be cleansed of it by baptism. From this day forward, I wish to be excluded from any claims of religious affiliation or membership based on baptismal records.”
Signed __________________
Opening a professional society meeting.
  • Give thanks to the magical elves that no one thinks about: the catering and cleaning staff and administrative support professionals who made this meeting happen, who worked tirelessly to organize and produce it while making it look like it took no effort whatsoever, that it all appeared out of thin air, and were paid very little to do so, and who will clean up the mess we make and do it all again tomorrow for some other organization, forever and ever, till death do they part, world without end. —Judy L.
  • Replace the invocation with a reading of the organization’s mission statement before each meeting begins.. —dezcrawford
  • “All of us assembled here clearly know from our studies there is no evidence for any sort of god, and we give thanks that the wishes of imaginary deities have no effect on chemical bonds.” —Randomfactor

Secular Invocations and Graces

In addition to the major rites of passage, humanists and other nonreligious people often find themselves asked to contribute to other types of ceremonial event: a benediction before a banquet, an invocation at the beginning of a legislative session, or a toast at a retirement party. Sometimes the standard wording is religious, and secular participants struggle to find an alternative. Other times there is no standard wording. In either situation, you may find the following advice and examples useful.

Secular Invocations

Many groups and government bodies begin their meetings with prayers or other forms of religious invocation conducted by a chaplain or religious minister. Even when such religious commencements make an effort to include people of all faiths they may exclude people with no religion. Secularists argue that government should not hold religious events because they have the effect of endorsing religion and relegating the non-religious to second-class status. However, when governments and other groups refuse to stop all religious commencements and invocations, they may sometimes agree to a humanist benediction as an alternative.
For an example of a secular invocation that is inclusive, although given by someone identified as representing a humanist viewpoint, read this article by Herb Silverman.
For an example of a more pointed invocation by an atheist, read this article.

Need a secular grace this Thanksgiving? HNN readers and AHA members submit their own Thanksgiving “non-prayers” that can satisfy both religious and non-religious family members before the big meal!

Thanksgiving is a holiday many Americans can enjoy. But what should humanists do if they’re asked to say “grace” before the meal? Many may choose to keep the peace and lead the family (especially if the family includes very religious members) in a traditional prayer. But for those who desire a non-religious option, here are several “Thanksgiving Non-Prayers” for the holiday!
Van Curren submits these two non-prayers. He is president of the Humanists of Idaho and became a Humanist Celebrant in 2006. He's also authored three books; the latest is Dissecting A Bible: A Critical Analysis of the Holy Scriptures
Corn and grain, meat and milk
Upon our table width and length
With loving thought and careful craft
Through so many hands have passed
Essence of life, fruits of our labors
Bringing sustenance and strength
To ours and all our neighbors
May we all be grateful for all we have
And compassion for those without.
From the freshly baked breads
To delicious meats and treats
This meal is the work
Of many hands
For all of us to share
From the seeds in the field
And animals in the barn
To this table of family and friends
Hard work has provided us
A bounty of tender, loving care.
In HNN’s Thanksgiving Issue last year, we published a “Nonbeliever’s Grace” by Paul Diamond, who was inspired by a column in Ann Landers where an atheist asked what to say when asked to say “grace” before a meal.
I offer my deepest appreciation and my most profound apologies to the plants and animals whose lives were forfeit for our good health this day.
We give thanks to the ranchers and the farmers, their workers and their hands whose skill, sweat and toil have brought forth this bounty from the Earth.
We are grateful to the workers in the fields who pick our food, the workers in the plants where our food is processed, the teamsters who carry it to market and the stockers and the checkers who offer it up for our selection.
We are particularly appreciative for those at this table who have prepared this food with love and affection for our enjoyment and nourishment this day.
We remember fondly those who the miles and circumstance keep from joining us today as we remember those who are no longer with us and are grateful for the time we have shared with them.
We enjoy the warmth and fellowship that surrounds this gathering as we share the fervent hope  That people the world over can share the good fortune, warm feeling and conviviality that  embraces this gathering.
This non-prayer was composed by the Red Bank Humanists and submitted by HNN reader Bruce Fowler last year.
As we come together at this special time, let us pause a moment to appreciate the opportunity for good company and to thank all those past and present whose efforts have made this event possible. We reap the fruits of our society, our Country, and our civilization, and take joy in the bounties of Nature on this happy occasion. Let us also wish that, some day, all people on Earth may enjoy the same good fortune that we share.
HNN reader Kris Punke offered this simple grace:
As we eat, let us turn our minds to every individual we know, and wish them plenty, love and comfort on this day and every day. As we sit together, let us turn our minds to those we do not know, and wish them plenty, love and comfort on this and every day.  As we celebrate, let us turn our minds and hearts to love, always love, of everyone on this world.  Finally, let us turn our  minds and hearts onto ourselves, make our wishes into action: sharing love and comfort whenever we can, with whomever we can, wherever we may be, and be thankful for the opportunities to  give, love and comfort. In this way, we give thanks and are thankful in return.
Finally, another HNN reader who goes by the handle skeptic150 offers this modified version:
Let us be thankful to those who planted the crops, cultivated the fields, and gathered the harvest; for the plants and animals who have given themselves so that we can enjoy this meal together;  and to those who prepared this meal, those who served it, and those who will clean up afterwards.         
Let us remember those who have no festivity; those who are alone; those who cannot share this plenty; those who are hungry, sick, and cold; and those whose lives are more affected than our  own by injustice, tyranny, war, oppression, and exploitation.
In sharing this meal, let us be thankful for the good things we have, for family and friends, for warm hospitality, and for good company. americanhumanist.org