David Robertson mentioned (at the Is Faith in God a Delusion? debate), in response to a question about how atheists are religious, that we all have our rituals. Of course he’s totally missing the point, there’s a difference between doing something because you’re used to doing it and doing something because it’s written down in a magic book. But there are other kinds of ritual that are common between atheists and religious people (in the conventional sense); the kinds of rituals that celebrate the various stages of a persons life. I’m talking about things like weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals.
For many people, these kinds of ceremonies are the first point of contact with humanism. When I mention that I’m a humanist, people often say “Oh, my Uncle Bob had a humanist funeral, it was really good!” (well, they don’t say that if they don’t have an Uncle Bob, but you know what I mean). Just this Saturday gone I overheard an old woman who drinks at my work fairly often talking about a humanist funeral she’d been to, and when I mentioned that I’m a humanist, she said “so… you want all the ritual with none of the spiritual!” as if it were a bad thing, and I replied “Yeah, all the goodness, none of the bull!” I don’t think she realised that humanist organisations do a lot more than just bury people and marry them (not the same people you understand), but nevertheless the ceremonial aspect is important for a lot of people.
I was talking to a friend of mine about trying to get excommunicated from the Catholic Church (still no sign of my baptism certificate. Not being at home I can’t really go searching for it). She said that I shouldn’t do it because then I wouldn’t be able to get married at church. In reality this is one of the few things holding me back from making a real effort to find it and get ranting about it. Say I want to get married, and my future wife wants to have a church wedding, we won’t be able to and it’d be a great shame just because I didn’t want to be associated with the Catholics. But at the same time, is it not very hipocritical of me to keep my membership just for the associated benefits, when by any measure of the word I am no longer a Catholic? Undoubtedly it is. Perhaps I might go back to Christianity one day? I’m fairly sure that’s the reason my mother won’t hand over my baptism certificate. But even in the extremely rare event that some kind of proof of God is discovered, and I do turn back to Christianity, I’d never go back to Catholicism (too much human input to dogma), so it’s irrelevant.
I think I may be hunting out that certificate when I go home for Christmas.