Posts Tagged ‘religious faith’

Humanist Celebrant – Joe Armstrong

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I am very happy to say that I have been accredited as a Humanist Celebrant by the Humanist Association of Ireland. It’s like an aspect of my life coming full circle – having trained for the Catholic priesthood, spent nine years in religious life, left, stopped believing in God, given up on the idea of being with people at key moments in their lives like births, marriages and deaths, and now, unexpectedly, finding myself able again, with integrity, to celebrate these turning points in people’s lives again.

When I was moving beyond religious faith but still attending religious ceremonies I often used to try to deconstruct the religious content and language of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I tried to translate them in my head, quietly and privately, so that the ceremonies could mean something to me. What was the essential human meaning behind the tissue of myth of religion? There was essential meaning there and I sensed that it was a pity that it should be clouded by religious ritual, language and daft beliefs. I wondered if they could be stripped of the nonsense and if we could just celebrate the human moments they signified: a new life born to us! a new loving union of two people committing their lives to each other publicly! a life ended, that life celebrated and mourned in equal measure, and without the unnecessary facade of an afterlife.

I conducted my first funeral last Friday. I feel that Humanist funerals do great justice to a live well lived. A person attending a Humanist funeral who did not know the deceased will have a good sense of what that person was like by the end of the ceremony. After a whole life well lived, surely it’s the least we can do, to honour someone who has died. And to remember the deceased. And it’s such a relief to be able to do that without nonsensical talk of ‘sin’ or an ‘afterlife’. Death is the most natural thing. All living things and beings die. Nothing and nobody lasts forever. And so when we die let’s be adult enough to see death as the end but to recognize that we loved the person who died and wish to honour their life and their passing.

I very much look forward to conducting naming ceremonies for families and couples welcoming new life into their midst. It is important to celebrate new birth, a new life, a new name, a new individual. It is a time of joy and wonder, a time of celebration and delight. And we can welcome new human beings without having to believe in nonsensical beliefs, such as that a baby is born in ‘original sin’. What nonsense! But let not our distaste for old mythologies discourage us from having a naming or welcoming ceremony because ceremonies are important. They are key moments in our lives.

And, yes, let is celebrate marriages. Courageous couples who publicly commit their love to one another. Love is what it’s all about, as we know. And so it’s important to celebrate love publicly and not only privately. The community gathers to acknowledge and support a new couple in their love for one another, and to publicly mark the love between two people which manifests in a new public commitment. Even in Catholic theology, the groom administers the sacrament to the bride and the bride administers it to the groom. They are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest is only there as a witness. Likewise, in Humanist ceremonies, the bride and groom marry each other and everyone else is there as a privileged witness of the loving commitment made by the couple.

Love needs support. Marriage needs support. Couples need to know that love is indeed the way, and that love can and does survive. That love is a beacon in what can at times be the stormy seas of life. And that love is worth it. Money, success, power, pleasure, health…all these things will end. But love survives.

What a privilege to be able to conduct weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals! It is an honour to be with people at such moments, at such turning points in their lives. Each is a threshold through which lives pass, changing almost everything. Each is a human moment, a singular moment, unique to that person, that couple, that family; and yet also shared by all humanity.

I look forward to helping couples and families and loved ones to craft and create ceremonies that are unique to them at key moments of their lives.

For more about Humanist Ceremonies, see Humanist Association of Ireland
 

Post-theism when the crowd still applauds the Emperor

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Since ‘coming out’ as a non-believer, a post-theist, a person who has outgrown religious faith, I have had to stop writing two columns I used to write in Reality, published by the Redemptorist Publications.  I have been writing for the magazine for I think about 14 years. I particularly loved writing the Soul Food Restaurant column. I have found it a real challenge. The very fine editor, Father Gerry Maloney, a great guy, had asked me to write it. I found it a privilege and a challenge. Could I write something that was true to me and which also struck a chord and made sense or was even inspiring to people with religious faith? It seems I succeeded as that column ran for quite a while and I presume it would have continued to do so had I not, having completed my book, realised that I really had gotten off the fence and had come down very much on the side of post-religious-belief or unbelief or post-theism or whatever you want to call it. As I came towards the end of the second complete draft of the book I have been writing, I became uncomfortable writing for Reality or any magazine that seeks to perpetuate or propagate religious faith.

I identify with the boy who recognised that the Emperor had no clothes and yet, unlike the fable, when the boy shouts aloud that the Emperor is naked, so many people persist in seeing him as clothed. I, too, of course, was part of that crowd. Like them, I had often heard boys in the crowd shout that the Emperor was naked. Why, I ask myself, did I then go on believing? While I was a seminarian, my livelihood depended on it. If your mortgage and livelihood is tied up in a product and someone tells you it doesn’t work, it’s fake, there’s a better product, a better, truer, way of living, the person dependant on that product for their livelihood is unlikely to agree. Then there’s the herd instinct, the lemmings effect. Sure, a boy in the crowd is shouting ‘He’s starkers!’ But so many other people go on seeming to believe that we disregard the voice of reason. But why? It could also be the seeming comfort of religion. We don’t want to acknowledge that this is all we have. That we won’t survive our own death. That there is no life for us after our death. That death really is the end. And yet matter does not cease to exist. We will feed a tree or the crawly things of the earth. And our work may live on after us, be it in architecture, music, art, literature or the electronic ether. And if we have loved and been a good enough parent, our loved ones will, for a time, remember us and be, hopefully, the happier for having been loved by us. And then there are those whose moralities are so bound up in their religions that they fear there would be no point in being good and no reward system were their religious faith to be superseded by a humanist viewpoint, an adult viewpoint. They fear they might have no reason to be good. Yet goodness is its own reward. Choosing well ennobles us. Ethical living makes life sweet for us as for others.

I do not believe in god. I see the indoctrination of children into religious faith as intellectual abuse. I was so abused. It damages thinking and it warps one emotionally.