Celebrating the Important Stages of Life without Religion
Thinking About Life and Death Issues
Most human beings enjoy the celebrations that mark special occasions in the pathway of life. Such celebrations may be individual like birthdays and coming-of-age, they may be occasions for communal life-cycle events like birth or marriage, or they may be communal festivals that — however religious or non-religious a person is — provide a time of release from the usual routines of life. Ceremony and festival have always been associated with religion, though there are many in today’s world who continue to enjoy religious ceremonies in a purely secular way. Christmas is a good example: indeed, festivals are so much a part of life that often those of one faith will participate in the festivities of another, and Christmas cards can arrive from Buddhist and Hindu friends as much as from friends with no religious belief whatsoever.
The religious origins of a festival or ceremony do not necessarily preclude humanist participation in either; it is just that the emphasis is different and religious connotations are lost. This is not sometimes hard to do since many religious festivals had their origins in pre-religious, pagan activity. Another important reason for communal gathering occurs at the end of a life when we mark the time when an individual dies. What we shall concentrate on in the first three lessons of your Basic Module are the important celebrations in our lives. In the following two lessons we shall then look a little more closely at two of these — birth, and the issue of abortion, and death, and the issue of euthanasia.
Like all people, humanists find it necessary and need-fulfilling to mark the important occasions of life, as well as its end, in a meaningful way. There are times when we want to share our joy or our sadness with others — times when we want family and friends around us in our happiness or in our sorrow. There are also times when we want to make some public statement about our stage in life. These are the emotional occasions of life, and often the most meaningful and “spiritual” occasions.
The exciting aspect of celebrating such occasions in a humanist way is that they can be made more meaningful because they can be individualized in a way that religious ceremonies cannot. Thus, it is possible to choose poetry and music to suit the occasion and, more importantly, to say the kinds of things that one would want to say — to infuse the occasion with one’s own emotive expression. Leading humanist associations now provide assistance for those preferring non-religious ceremonies.