This post isn’t going to be my life story or a full explanation of what secular celebrants are – you can click the links above and find out more. Instead, I want to give a brief philosophical and personal rationale for why I decided that I wanted to embark on this venture as a secular celebrant.
I believe strongly that the government should be as neutral as possible in creating laws and policies to govern, and in most states – including Illinois – religions are given privilege over non-religious groups. By insisting on the recognition of secular celebrants as worthy of the right to solemnize marriage, I am making a principled stand to make our legal system more equitable.
Many of my secular compatriots argue that non-religious people don’t need ritual or ceremony, that they are merely artifacts of a religious or superstitious mindset that ought to be rejected. To the contrary, though, I look at the history of humanity and see that ritual has a distinct function in helping us to organize our lives, to focus us on the lives we are living now, and to remind us of our shared humanity. I respect those who consider ritual to be superfluous, but there is ample empirical evidence that ritual and ceremony can be beneficial.
I believe that the ethic of humanism comports well with taking time to mark significant moments with the ones we love and to foster human community even in small ways.
Not everyone who seeks out a secular celebrant will hold the same values, but secular ceremonies are a vehicle for declaring, even in subtle ways, what values we hold. In fact, secular ceremonies can move us away from the often-divisive matter of what beliefs we hold to the common values we share.
Although secular ceremonies aren’t typically heavy on the preaching, they may often make use of artistic forms – among them, poetry, prose, and music – to convey the meaning and significance of the occasion. A celebrant’s role is often performative: I am here to help deliver the message you choose to convey through your decisions about the service.
Too often, non-religious people end up making use of religious clergy or officiants to perform the ceremonies that they desire, even though they are subsequently forced to sit through messages they don’t agree with and even outright lies. (This is particularly true for funerals and memorials; more than one secular person has told me horror stories about religious officiants concocting stories of piety and devotion for their deceased loved ones who had never been believers at all, and I have personally been in services where the sermon far outweighed any meaningful recognition of the deceased’s life.) No one should have to sit through a ceremony where they are made to feel uncomfortable through the inclusion of messages that they do not agree with. I want to provide a space where I am not simply given a platform to preach but instead amplify the message and tone that has already been established.
I think that speaks for itself.
It is my sincere hope that my skill set and passion can be used to help fill a need within the secular community and even for some religious people, and I look forward to explaining more of my philosophy on the handling of various ceremonies or turning points of life.
I hope you’ll join me in the conversation.
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