“Rational Ritual for Religious Naturalists” by John Halstead

This article was originally published at GodisChange.org, the site of Earthseed, a Naturalistic Pagan religion.

Like many naturalistic religions, the Earthseed described by Octavia Butler in her Parable series is light on ritual.  The gatherings of the Earthseed community in the books involve readings from the Book of the Living and rational reflection, but precious little in the way of ritual.  This is not surprising, since naturalists tend to be skeptical of anything that reminds them of theistic religion — and this includes ritual.

Consider a 2012 article from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, in which Greg Epstein documented the critical reaction from other humanists to his idea of consciously creating humanist rituals.*

“Even the most seemingly innocuous forms of ritualized practice, like starting each meeting of a group with the reading of a poem of significance to a member of the community, came in for heated criticism. Lighting candles to represent the Humanist values of reason, compassion and hope … was declared strictly off-limits. And singing songs celebrating Humanist narratives and principles was, by some, never to be considered. These ideas are, we are told, ’empty’, ‘senseless’, ‘a distraction’, even ‘nauseating’.”

But Epstein defends ritual.  Ritual, when understood as activity which has a primarily symbolic meeting, is ubiquitous.  From giving birthday presents to wedding ceremonies to visiting the graves of ancestors, rituals help us express and share the meaning and significance of all the joys and sorrows of life.  Far from being “empty” and “senseless”, Epstein explains that …

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