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The Human Factor

Jo Ann Mooney

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 1.

Welcome back to the column written by its readers. In the last Bulletin, we asked for your opinions about humanist celebrations and/or holidays. Thank you for your responses. We will try to synthesize your suggestions into a plan for the future.

World Humanist Day, on June 21, marks the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, but of course is mid-winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Thus, we have been accused of being boreohemispherocentric-favoring the Northern Hemisphere! One response was to propose celebrating both Summer and Winter solstices. Charles Selby, of Christmas Valley, Oregon, writes, "On the matter of holidays (or more properly, days for secular celebrations): I would go along with using both of the Solstices, which are natural events not requiring any sanction from mayors, Presidents, or dictators. While it is true that pagans once used those, they didn't take out a patent."

Gary Davis, of St. Catherines, Ontario, agrees that we should also celebrate the December Solstice. He thinks it might help resolve the Christmas dilemma. He suggests that this should be a time of giving gifts and therefore would have the additional advantage of occurring before Christmas.

There were differences of opinion on whether we should ask government officials to recognize World Humanist Day. Some readers feel it would be hypocritical to seek official proclamations when many humanist communities have protested government proclamations of a National Day of Prayer. Charles Selby thinks, "It is a mistake to ask for any governmental sanction [for World Humanist Day], because that establishes a precedent for government sanctions of religious holidays, which we don't need."

"However, why not go for it," argues Allan H. Jodrey, "as long as it is not promoted as an anti-religious celebration. If we are charged with setting a double standard and there are complaints, we can always say 'See, you don't like it, so if you stop your National Day of Prayer, we will stop also.'"

Another view on celebrating Christmas is best expressed by Gary Brill, of New Jersey. "Our culture is structured for a major holiday celebration in late December. Yet Christmas is for Christians, Hanukkah for Jews, and Kwanzaa for African-Americans. Winter Solstice is associated with earth-centered religions. We need a new holiday that can be celebrated by all people everywhere and which can be fully embraced by Humanists. A holiday to emphasize our connections to family, friends, life, nature, and the universe as a whole. A holiday to focus on love and hope for humanity, on values that promote the well-being of all persons and all of nature: inclusiveness, acceptance, kindness, knowledge, wisdom, understanding."

What might that new holiday be? Many have suggested using Darwin's birthday as a time for celebration. "I also am not much favorable to using the birthdate of a particular individual, such as Charles Darwin, both because that unavoidably leaves out others and because it might tend to elevate him to a sort of 'sainthood' or even 'godhood,' which we certainly don't want," says Charles Selby. "If we need additional days for celebrations, we could pick dates of important events, such as the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

I believe that there is merit to all of the above suggestions. I think we need more humanist celebration days. The Council for Secular Humanism will continue to celebrate World Humanist Day on June 21. There is too much misinformation about humanism in the world today. World Humanist Day could be used as a forum for educating the public about humanism and what it stands for.

Additionally, I think we should add even more days to celebrate. I share Brill's desire to create a new holiday in the winter, not using the already existing ones of the Winter Solstice or Christmas. The New Year is an arbitrarily determined date, yet it has many important connotations. It is already celebrated as a secular event. Most important, it can be a time of reflection upon how one has spent the last year and how one would like to approach the new year. This time of reflection is important. We can incorporate other humanist ideals along with this reflection. We can celebrate charity, love, and hope for humanity.

I also would like to celebrate important events, as Charles Selby suggested. I, too, feel that we should not celebrate individuals' birthdays but rather recognize the achievements that they accomplished. Therefore, I would like to propose that we celebrate the anniversary of the publication date of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species on November 24, l859. We can use this as a time to promote science education and literacy. We could also celebrate the anniversary of the ratification of the First Amendment on December 15, 1791. This would be a time to really focus on the separation of church and state.

Jo Ann Mooney is Executive Director of the Alliance of Secular Humanist Societies.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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