Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why start a new "religion"?

Not surprisingly, when I bring up the idea of starting this new religion of Sapienism, people have reactions.

Atheists tend to recoil at the idea, seeing anything related to the word "religion" as leading in a bad direction.  By and large, most of them are content to leave behind all the trappings of religion and want nothing to do with anything similar.  They think I'm just missing the community aspect and suggest I go join a sports group or attend some barbecues.  I could dump the word religion, but frankly that would be rather dishonest, since I am modelling this on religion, and I wouldn't know what else to call it.  Perhaps a fraternal organization, since it's similar to those - except those have secrets and restrict membership - I don't want that.

Others of various faiths don't understand what makes this idea different.  They see something in my ideas similar to something that exists and say why you just go join a Shamanist, or Buddhist, or Unitarian Universalist group.   

If all I was trying to do was find someplace for me to fit in, these would be absolutely valid criticisms.  But that is only a small part of what I am trying to accomplish.  The fundamental reason I want to do this is because I think it is needed.

I believe that what makes religion harmful is not the rituals, not the symbols, not community gatherings. It's the faith.  The belief in invisible things without any evidence for them, the magical thinking, etc.  When people reject the faith, they toss out everything else as well.  The baby out with the bath water.

How many people are in the pews every week not out of deep conviction, but because they like the other stuff and don't want to leave it?  How many have left their churches, but now feel isolated and alone, unfulfilled?  Sure there are partial ways of getting portions of what's lost, but nowhere that I know of to get both community and spiritual fulfillment that does not depend on any sort of faith.  (here you might cite Unitarian Universalism - which comes close - but that is not specifically atheist, skeptical, etc.) 

When Christianity supplanted paganism in Europe, it did not do so by completely wiping out the indigenous religions and supplanting them with something new.  That would have been a failing tactic.  It took what was already there and familiar and gave it new meaning.  It took the festivals, kept the rituals and symbols, but changed their significance.  In the same way, I think it's difficult to convince people, even if they agree on an intellectual level, to abandon their religions where they are happy.  New Atheism, being that isn't a religion, but a movement, seeks to show people the harm caused by supernatural beliefs and indoctrination, but in it's place it offers nothing.  Over and over again I hear de-conversion stories of people who leave their churches only to find themselves utterly alone.  But if they could come to a community where the familiar feel of a group united in shared ideals gathered to celebrate with readings, song, and discourse, where the ceremonial and ritual elements were there and were rich and deep in meaning, then the transition would be eased and they would find a new home.  Religion is a powerful tool for bringing people together around common ideas and shared values.

The next question people will have is whether I'm trying to become some guru or cult leader or something.  Yes and no.  When I was young I wanted to be a priest.  I love writing, public speaking, sharing my ideas, etc.  So yes, that appeals to me.  I would love to be a minister of sorts within this new religion, to lead a group through a ceremony, to speak on various topics, etc.  I also want to write and have people read my books.  If I could make a living at these things, that would be wonderful.  But I want to create a living community, where the members guide it and help it evolve.  I don't want to become some pope or dictator, that's not me and that's not something I would want to promote, either.

Bottom line - if this doesn't appeal to you, that's fine.  I am in no way attempting to say my way is the only way.  I'm just taking the ideals that most in the Atheist and freethinker community share: valuing science and reason, humanist morality, skepticism, and open exchange of ideas, and pairing that with a format based on elements of religion I feel are part of cultural and evolutionary heritage.  It's just a way of packaging, distributing, and enjoying these shared values.  Nothing more.    It's a pretty simple idea, really, and actually not particularly controversial when understood.  I know many people will not like this idea.  That's fine by me. I'm not going to worry about trying to convince those who don't find the idea appealing - I have nothing to gain in such an effort.  I'm going to focus on working for those people do find it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Menarche Liturgy

This Menarche Liturgy may be freely shared and used, though not republished without permission.  It is Sapienist ceremony (What on earth is "Sapienism"?), but like most Sapienist ceremonies, it is inclusive and could be used in any sort of inclusive non-denominational setting.  I am presenting this ceremony first as it will be the first public Sapienist ceremony performed outside of my immediate family.  We will be performing it for my daughter's 13th birthday at the end of April.  I am publishing it here so that attendees can read it before coming so they know what to expect.

Sapienist Menarche Liturgy

(Note: for families where certain members are no longer living or cannot or do not wish to participate, substitute a close friend or other relative.) 

Welcome, everyone!
We are gathered today to celebrate the menarche of (name), to welcome her into womanhood and use this occasion to celebrate womanhood and the women in our lives: mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives and lovers.

At this time I would like us to take a few moments, in comfortable silence, to reflect on the women in our lives, to acknowledge and appreciate their presence, their love, and the impact they have on us, our families, and our communities.  Feel free to reach out and embrace or squeeze the hand of any of the wonderful women here you are thankful for.

(About a minute or so of silence.)

Now, we begin with a selection of readings about this important transition in a girl’s life, read by the women in her life.

(Introduce each woman)

(1st reading – maternal grandmother)
(2nd reading – paternal grandmother)
(3rd reading – mother)

This doorway represents the passage from one part of life to another.  We use it to celebrate important transitions, such as this. 
(Name) will now join a circle of women behind the doorway who will each present her with a small gift and share with her some words about their own experience of womanhood. 
Young girls who have not yet started their menarche are invited to sit outside the circle and observe.
While this happens, please mingle among yourselves.  When this portion of the ceremony is finished, a bell will ring signalling us to return for the presentation of new woman.

-The designated women proceed around – not through – the ceremonial doorway (see below for details).  If they are entering a separate room, the doorway should be placed far enough away from the entrance so people can go around it. 
-The women have been invited by the family beforehand and will have prepared.  In addition to important family members: mother, grandmothers, close aunts, sisters who have already passed menarche, there should be a mix of ages - some post menopausal women, some with young children, some who couldn't have children, etc. 
-Younger girls may observe quietly from outside the circle.  The girl’s father or father figure may be present in the circle, or listening from outside the circle, or outside the doorway, depending on the wishes of the family. 
- Each woman says something (briefly 1 or 2 minutes) about what womanhood means to them, and presents her with some small symbolic gift.  Ideas for gifts include: books, jewelry, pieces of art, framed photos.  Hugs and kisses are appropriate with each presentation.  The father should present his gift second last and the mother last.
-Once finished, the mother rings a bell.  First the observers (the younger girls who were sitting outside the circle) leave the circle going around the ceremonial doorway and return to their seats.
-The new woman’s father gives his daughter a hug and kiss on the cheek, the goes around the ceremonial door to stand on the other side, waiting for her.
-The new woman’s mother opens the door or the curtain on the doorway.
-The designated women, led by the mother, walk through the ceremonial door.  The mother stands opposite the father.  The other women form a corridor.
-The new woman waits on the other side, while the mother speaks.

Please stand and let us welcome my daughter (name) as she passes over the threshold, just as she is passing from girlhood to womanhood.  (Name) please cross the threshold. 

-(Name) then crosses the threshold and all applaud.  As she walks through the corridor of women and her father, the each place a hand on her shoulder to bestow a blessing.  When she reaches the end of the corridor she turns and faces the doorway.  Her mother and father then retrieve the threshold box and bring it to her.  If the box includes candle holders, the candles should be lit, and the new woman may blow out the candles after accepting the box.

Parents (together):

The ceremony has ended. Let the celebration begin.  Go in peace with love and joy.


Party.  Other gifts can be given, serve food, etc.

-Doorway used for ceremonies.  It would be decorated differently depending on the occasion.  Perhaps the outside edge would have sconces for flowers and candles, etc. A curtain or beads or strips of cloth hang from a rod inside the frame. 
The threshold would be different for every person.  The threshold will fit in the frame.   It should be a wooden, stone or metal box (Other natural materials would be acceptable, but no plastic or other unnatural materials).  It should be decorated, signed, etc.  Some suggestions:  Holes for holding candles in the top, carved feminine symbols, embedded stones (glass jewels are OK, but not plastic). Then, after the ceremony, it becomes their souvenir, like a baptismal candle.  The box is used to save the cards and notes of welcome to womanhood and any small gifts and tokens from the occasion.

A new "religion" is founded: Sapienism

I am an ordinary man.  I am not a prophet.  I claim no special or divine knowledge. I have no spiritual visions.  I am just a man with an idea; an admittedly presumptuous idea!

I am hereby founding a new religion, and I am calling it Sapienism, taken from the word Sapiens - as in Homo Sapiens.  Both because this is a humanist religion, and because the word refers to knowing and wisdom.  

I am an atheist, a rationalist, a skeptic.  I am also deeply religious.  Contradiction?  Not if I have a say in it!

You see, to most, religion is synonymous with faith in the supernatural.  In most cases, that's accurate.  But most of the elements of what makes a religion do not actually require such belief.  I studied "religious sciences" in university - basically the anthropological study of religion.  Religion was one of humankind's first inventions.  It may have been evolutionarily advantageous on its own, or a by-product of how our pattern-seeking minds work.  Either way, it's hard-wired into who we are and all cultures have developed their own versions of it, which have certain elements in common.  These range from ancestor worship all the way to major world religions which claim possess the ultimate truth.  But now we know better.  We know that many of the questions we sought to answer with religion are much better answered with science.  However, even though many of us have left our churches, synagogues and temples, we still sometimes feel that yearning for what might be most easily described as "spiritual fulfillment."  We can still have that fulfillment, without recourse to superstitious beliefs in an unseen spiritual realm.  Christopher Hitchens said it well during the Monk debates in Toronto in November 2010, when he explained "the question is how to keep what is of value of this sort in art and our emotions and in our finer feelings; the numinous, the transcendent…the ecstatic, and to distinguish it precisely from superstition, and the supernatural, which is designed to make us fearful and afraid and servile…”  So when I say spiritual fulfillment I am refering not to a literal spirit or soul, but to those emotional qualities common to us that we generally equate with spirituality.  Things such as a sense of self, of purpose, a sense of wonder and awe, a sense of belonging.

Rather than concern ourselves with expounding on what cannot be known: the unseen, the supernatural, we instead focus on this world, this life.  Sapienism believes in making the most of this human life; the only life we can be absolutely certain of.  Sapienism believes in seeking truth - not the esoteric knowledge of "divine revelation" that many claim as truth, and not the sort of equivocal "all beliefs are equally valid" kind of truth - but the truth of seeking the best answers for understanding the reality of the world around us and our place in the universe.  Sapienism promises no eternal reward or punishment, demands no allegiance, and does not enforce any dogma (there is no punishment for Sapienists holding views and beliefs contrary to "official" teachings.).  Sapienism seeks to create a worldwide community where the rewards are found in this life.
What does Sapienism have in common with other religions?  The crucial elements of religion include the following:

  1.  Sacred and profane
    • The sacred includes knowledge seeking, critical thinking, relationships, aspects of human life, reverence for the natural world, reverence for our humanity and the qualities that make us human.
    • The profane includes magical thinking, superstition, dishonesty and misinformation, and other things that are antithetical to the sacred elements.
  2. Unique sentiments structured around the sacred
  3. An overarching view of the world and the individual’s place in it.
  4. Prayer
    • Prayer traditionally serves various functions such as seeking aid, offering thanks, etc.  Sapienists choose to seek these things from the community and have various means of accomplishing the things that prayer seeks to accomplish, except for worship, and we don't actually pray..   
  5. Rituals
    • There will be a book of liturgies.  Both communal and individual rituals, ceremonies, and symbols are part of Sapienism.
  6. A system of morality
    • Essentially humanism centered around the golden rule (One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself), and the silver rule (One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.), with some particular foci.
  7. A community group
Sapienism includes all of these things, though it approaches them in a very different way than most traditional religions yiou may be familiar with.  I will explain further in my book.


I am in the process of writing a book, which I have titled "My Godless Religion: Building a New Tradition on a Human Foundation."  I will be offering as a "by donation" download once I complete it in the coming months.  In the event that Sapienism takes root and flourishes, it should be noted that neither this or any other book should ever be used as some sort of scripture or definitive pronouncement.  It can and should be discussed critically and not set apart as a sacred cow.

I'll be using this blog to promote the ideas and introduce Sapienism to the world.

In addition to exploring the above ideas more in depth, I will be publishing a book of ceremonies and rituals.  The first one I'll be posting right away in another blog post.  It's a Menarche Liturgy that we'll be using soon to mark my daughter's 13th birthday.