Recently, the Friendly Humanist has taken a great interest in what we, as humanists, should do about festivals and holidays. Obviously there is a genuine need for some kind of holiday at this time of year; it’s cold and horrible and I wouldn’t get up in the morning if it wasn’t for my mum shouting at my brother to get up and go to college (ooh I didn’t mention, I’m writing now from beyond the border!).
The Friendly Humanist has been concentrating on the Cosmic Calendar, a brilliant piece of thinking by Carl Sagan, who reduced the entire history of the cosmic universe into a calendar for 1 year. With this timescale, the early homo sapiens only came into being in the last 10 seconds of New Year’s Eve. I’ve read other ways of comparing it. If you stretch your arms out at each side, and conceive that the fingertips of your left hand represent the origin of life on Earth, and the fingertips of your right hand represent the present moment, then (if I remember this analogy correctly, I can’t remember where I read it) vertebrates would only emerge at about your right elbow, homo sapiens would only emerge at the knuckle nearest your fingernail, and all recorded history since the Greeks would be erased with just a single stroke of a nail file. Makes you feel really significant, doesn’t it?
Anyway I’ll come back from my tangent and ask the question I’ve been thinking about for a good couple of weeks now. It’s all very well using logical alternative methods to come up with our own humanist holidays, but is it necessary? We have perfectly good holidays right here that are becoming increasingly secular, and I think we can just hijack them. After all, was Christmas not originally a pagan festival before the Church hijacked it and suddenly decided (arbitrarily) that Jesus was born on that date? Now, especially in the UK, I think people are more and more deviating away from the “true” meaning of Christmas, and it’s being hijacked by secularists as a time to be spent with family, which is certainly appealing to a humanist lifestyle. The same can be said of other religious festivals.
But the downside is that if we did that, we’d be hearing the same criticism that I’ve heard a number of times, that humanism is merely a parasite of Christianity and other religions. But why not!? Why shouldn’t we take the good bits of religion, like the “love your neighbour” morals of the New Testament, or in this case the family values of Christmas, and get rid of all the bullshit? Religion (in my case Christianity) is a big part of the culture, history and heritage of our society, and we don’t have to reject all the good things that it entails when we reject the religious beliefs.
The thing about all this is that if we take on any humanist holidays of our own, whether we hijack pre-existing ones or we make up our own, is that from the outside humanism will look just like another religion, and we’ll become part of the very thing many of us are trying to destroy. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, because it may help humanism appear as a more viable alternative to religion, but at the same time compromises our values somewhat. Make up your own mind.