Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of the Central London Humanists. The event was a talk by a long serving Humanist 'Celebrant'. It was particularly appropriate timing for me, in the light of a recent discussion on a Christian blog. The author of the blog wrote about Remembrance Sunday, and how uplifting he found the whole thing. He ended his post with the following:-
"All of sudden I felt pity for those who would desire the removal of Christianity from such occasions and who would exclude themselves from this type of collective worship. I cannot conceive how a community could even begin to mark such an occasion without the Church, and of course God Himself. For me, it was the revelation that humanists, secularists, and atheists might never understand or appreciate the essentiality of Christianity and the wonderful meaning this brings to such occasions."
I'm sure it was not intended, but several commenters found this hugely patronising to Humanists, and betrayed a complete lack of understanding. It's been my experience that most religious people think they know exactly what a Humanist is and is not, and depressingly often they are wrong. Such complaints as "without God anything is permissible" are not only misguided, but frankly insulting.
I will try to get a copy of the transcript of the speakers notes from yesterday evening. It was abundantly clear from the anecdotes he revealed, that Humanist ceremonies are at least as emotive and meaningful as their religious equivalents. Indeed I would suggest they are almost invariably more so, as those most directly affected get to discuss with the celebrant exactly how they would like the ceremony to be conducted. This results in a very personal and ultimately deeply satisfying experience.
One of the problems we have is terminology. For instance 'Celebrant' is a rather awkward title, as is 'Officiant' which it replaced. One can't use the term 'Minister', or 'Chaplain'. Maybe we need another new word for this and many other terms?
Humanist ceremonies are not legally binding in England, though they are other parts of the UK, particularly in Scotland. Hence there is still a reliance on Registrars for the appropriate legal documentation. There is a campaign under way now to bring England into line with the rest of the UK, and have the same legal status as the Church regarding these ceremonies. Watch this space!