Secular separatists

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week with more background on the “Imagine No Religion” ad campaign and related developments:

Late next month, atheists, humanists, freethinkers, secularists — in short, nonbelievers of every description — will gather in dozens of cities to mark the holiday they call HumanLight.

Whether by singing from a Humanist Hymnal, decorating a winter wreath or lighting candles dedicated to personal heroes, they’ll celebrate what has been an exhilarating ride for the faithless — a surge in recognition that has many convinced they’re on the brink of making a mark on mainstream America…

Building on that momentum, nonbelievers have begun a very public campaign to win broad acceptance. On billboards and bus ads, radio commercials and the Internet, atheists are coming forward to declare, quite simply: We’re here. And we’re just like you.

The article is interesting throughout and includes the revelation that atheists now fund a congressional lobbyist. I’m looking forward to receiving a federal subsidy for the time I spend not worshiping. Hey, it works for farmers.

So what is this HumanLight day and what happened to its founders’ space bar?

In Western societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During the winter holiday season, where the word “holiday” has taken on a more secular meaning, many events are observed. This tradition of celebrations, however, is grounded in supernatural religious beliefs that many people in modern society cannot accept. HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.

I don’t want to denigrate a holiday that’s clearly filling a need for some people, but it seems a bit overly sensitive to think that Christmas is unfit for non-believers. The holiday has already become highly secularized and represents the very things listed above to millions of Americans, leaving them free to attach specific Christian meanings only if they choose to. For many non-Christians the day has as little do with the birth of Christ as it does with the pagan festivals that give it form. Given that HumanLight is not going to knock Christmas off its perch as the primary winter holiday any time soon, this is a good thing. It seems to me truer to the theme of universal good will to continue co-opting Christmas and making it our own than to replace it with an esoteric, separate celebration two days earlier. And if our aim is to make secularism more accepted and appealing, then we should perhaps not send the message that being an atheist requires giving up a treasured holiday with centuries of tradition behind it. (Though if HumanLight makes you happy, by all means enjoy it. The group responds to criticism, including discussion of the capitalized ‘L’, here.)

On a semi-related note, head over to the new Secular Right weblog. It’s got some good names behind it and is off to a promising start.

[WSJ link via Freedom and Shit.]

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