Posts Tagged ‘truth’

7 Tips for a Humanist Wedding

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Humanist weddings are very personal. They are relaxed. They are all about the couple and celebrating their loving commitment to each other.

A little appeal then if you are trying to get a celebrant for your wedding: please don’t send out an impersonal, global email to lots of celebrants that starts: ‘Hi there,’ or the equally impersonal ‘Hi,’

When you are on the receiving end of that you reasonably assume that this is a generic email sent to oodles of celebrants at the same time. And so, as a professional human being hard pressed for time, the temptation is to put that email to the end of the pile since the suspicion persists that it wasn’t really sent to you at all, but to everyone. And what’s sent to everyone isn’t really sent to anyone. And therefore as it wasn’t really sent to you, and others may already have replied, you might decide not to reply at all to what wasn’t sent to you in the first place!

So, tip number one: as Humanist weddings are very personal ceremonies which are all about you as a couple, it’s a basic courtesy to use the celebrant’s name instead of the generic and impersonal ‘Hi,’ or ‘Hi there’ in your first approach.

(Please note: some lovely people have first approached me with the ‘Hi’ or ‘Hi there’ and I’m glad I persisted beyond the initial iffy first impression.)

Tip number two: please put the date of your wedding and the venue and address of the venue in the subject line of your email. That way a celebrant can immediately see if he or she is available on that date, and they can see if the venue is too far away or within the area that they travel. For instance, almost all my weddings are in Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Westmeath, Cavan, Monaghan, Louth or Wicklow.

Also please don’t assume that the celebrant knows the location of your venue by its name alone. You may think everyone knows where Such-and-Such a country house or hotel is but the celebrant might not. So at least include its name and county. It’s also helpful to celebrants if you continue to use the date of your wedding in the subject line of subsequent emails to the celebrant. You are getting married on one date but the celebrant is conducting weddings on lots of dates and your wedding date is the key to opening the relevant file and, probably, getting a quicker response. It will save your celebrant – and you – time.

Tip number three: please do not change the name of the Word file of your wedding draft. When I send out your bespoke, customized first draft, the name of the file has the names of the couple, the venue, and the date of the wedding. All too often when it comes back it has been renamed ‘My wedding’. Just add your readings and music and your decisions about rituals etc to the file I send you but please do not rename that file.

Tip number four: please understand that, especially in high wedding season like the summertime and Christmas that your celebrant can be inundated with phone calls and emails. None of us can afford secretaries so, especially if one is conducting several consecutive ceremonies, it gets really difficult to keep on top of emails. So please be patient. Your celebrant will reply eventually but it may take longer than you’d like. (Unless you’ve sent out that global email ‘Hi there,’ to all and sundry and so he might not reply at all…)

Tip number five: read a bit about the celebrant, especially the most basic things like the areas of the country that they cover. If, in their profile, they say they only cover Dublin, you are probably wasting yours and the celebrant’s time asking them to conduct a wedding in Donegal or Kerry. Please understand too that it can be risky for a celebrant to commit to doing a distant wedding. Hours of travelling that might be better spent tackling that backlog of emails and the risk of the car breaking down. I have to ask myself: how much would it cost me if I had to hire or hail a taxi to get there…and back!

Tip number six: let the celebrant be the celebrant. Sometimes a bride or groom finds it hard to let go and let the celebrant do his or her thing. But once the planning has been done, that’s the very best thing that the bride and groom can do. Accept that no ceremony is ever perfect. Realize that it’s often the mistakes that make a ceremony. Let go. Enjoy the ceremony. Be happy to giggle or cry or laugh or clap. Or do all of these things! Be you. Forget what anyone else thinks. It’s your wedding – not theirs. Once the bride and groom enjoys the day, everyone else will too.

Tip number seven: your wedding is just one day in your marriage. Marriage is something you work at every day. Something that is never static. Sure, your wedding day is important. It is a milestone, a turning point. But it remains just one day in your life, a day when you publicly express your committed love to one another. Prepare for your wedding, sure. But better still to prepare for your lives together. A life of growth. A life of truth. A life of intimacy. A life of mutual challenge. A life of mutual and loving self-acceptance.

Once you accept that you wedding doesn’t have to be perfect, you are far more likely to accept that neither you nor your spouse has to be perfect either – and so you’ll enjoy a far happier and wholesome relationship that is far more likely to last!


Atheist Priests/’Oh Me of Little Faith’

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Atheist Priests

Here is the essence of my article about atheist priests and clergy that was published 3 March 2013 in The Sunday Times: ‘Oh Me of Little Faith’  (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1223820.ece)

Joe Armstrong talks to the priests who feel trapped in their ministries – because they dare not tell their flocks they have become atheists

While 115 cardinals deliberate upon who will be the next pope, all around the world many priests have a far greater crisis: their unbelief in God.

Atheist clergy – Catholic and Protestant – who have outgrown their religious faith often feel trapped financially, personally and professionally.

Typical is Adam, an atheist clergyman interviewed for an American television documentary using a pseudonym, a disguised voice and being shown on film in heavy shadow lest he be identified. These measures emphasised the huge risks atheist clergy take in going public: job, livelihood, security, home, community, friends and even marriage can be at stake.

A long-time cleric untrained for any secular job, Adam doesn’t want to risk his family’s financial security. “I wear a mask every day,” he said. “I am trapped. My greatest fear is doing nothing and pretending to be someone I am not for the rest of my life.”

He is one of the founders of the Clergy Project, an online community of more than 400 atheist clergy, Catholic and Protestant, a quarter of whom remain in active ministry. Several of its members live in Ireland.

In his bestselling 1980s book Help my Unbelief, Michael Paul Gallagher, a Jesuit priest, included a chapter entitled Saying Mass an Atheist.

“Perhaps I would choose a different term now, because ‘atheism’ usually implies a steady stance of denial and I was talking about a temporary mood of doubt, an eclipse that did not last,” Gallagher said. “I have never become an atheist but I have run into times where God seems painfully unreal. I don’t think this is surprising.”

As proof, Gallagher even cites the former Pope Benedict, who once admitted to having been threatened by the “oppressive strength of unbelief”. Too often, priests give the impression that faith is a fortress of security, Gallagher believes. “That’s not the usual personal experience,” he said.

“There are many big reasons for unbelief: the suffering of the world; the painful silence of God – God’s strange shyness, one might say. A priest runs into all these.”

Kevin Hegarty, sacked as editor of church magazine Intercom in 1994 after publishing an article about clerical child abuse, also admits to doubt: ‘‘I’ve had an experience of saying mass when my faith was very fragile. It can be very fragile,” he said. “Faith ebbs and flows. At times I preach something and wonder, is it really true? I don’t expect exactitude. I’m prepared to work through doubt, bit by bit. There are times when I have my doubts about the doctrinal teachings of the church – but they’ve never been overwhelming.’

For Tom Rastrelli, a US-based member of the Clergy Project who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 2002, the doubts were overwhelming. “As the abuse scandal worsened and more bishops denied the crimes they’d committed, my belief in church as a divine institution faded,” he said. “In the confessional, I saw the damage that abusive priests and bullying bishops had done to people. There was nothing of divine inspiration in that. In the trenches of ministry, I saw how harmful particular teachings and actions of the church were to people.”

During the final months of his ministry, Rastrelli said, he no longer believed in the authority of the Catholic Church, the Pope, or the bishops. “I didn’t believe in the Marian teachings – the virgin birth, the preservation of Mary’s hymen during childbirth, the immaculate conception, and the assumption.”

He stopped believing in the “real presence” of the eucharist and could no longer say the creed in good conscience. He questioned everything he’d been taught. “Your life and sexuality are a gift, but since you’re gay, if you act on that gift you’re sinning,” he said. “The god in which I’d been taught to believe was vindictive not loving, a human construct to justify atrocious human behaviour, prejudices, and fears.

“No longer believing in the inspiration of the scriptures, I became a fully-fledged agnostic. Within another few months, I was comfortable saying that I didn’t believe in a god. I was no longer afraid of what people thought of me, of the negative stigma surrounding the word ‘atheist’. I felt free to be a fully realised human being. Thousands of years of canonized fear, loathing, shame, and distrust vanished. I owned being an atheist.”

Rastrelli would say he didn’t “lose” his faith. “I evolved beyond it,” he said. “Having witnessed first-hand the damage that people do in the names of their gods, I’m thankful that I did evolve beyond it. Now I’m free to be who I am. I’ve seen how disgustingly judgmental people can be when armed with their gods. I wouldn’t give my integrity in exchange for the coddled security of priestly life.”

Unlike most atheist clergy, John Shuck, a Presbyterian clergyman in good standing in America, is openly atheistic. He doesn’t believe in the existence of God, the divinity of Christ or the resurrection of Jesus – all of which he regards as useful metaphors created by the human imagination.

Asked how fellow ministers regard him, Shuck said: “Many appreciate what I am doing, as they have many of the same convictions. Others think I represent everything that is wrong with my denomination.”

Shuck rejects the charge of hypocrisy. “I am about the most open person I know with regard to what I believe and don’t believe. I have publicly blogged about this for seven years and preached openly for 20.

“The real charge of hypocrisy should be levelled at those who confuse truth with power; self-appointed gate-keepers of traditional belief who say they are about affirming the truth on one hand, then put up fences of dogma around their cherished beliefs on the other. They are unwilling to look at truth and then threaten with excommunication and loss of employment those who do. That is hypocrisy.”

Shuck does not believe in an afterlife. “The core belief has been, in the words of the catechism, ‘to love God and to enjoy God forever’. If you take the supernaturalism out of that and substitute ‘life’ for ‘God’ and ‘my whole life long’ for ‘forever’ you get the real point of religion.

“It is about how to live a good life. The supernatural elements are excess baggage of an age that is fading away.”

Iain and Kyle – not their real names – are two members of the Clergy Project, both atheist ministers within a mainstream Protestant denomination in Ireland. They envy John Shuck’s “coming out” as an atheist and his congregation’s acceptance. Iain and Kyle say their whole worlds would fall apart if their atheism became known.

“I knew I was an atheist from the early 1990s,” said Iain. “My wife knows. She finds it hard to accept. I don’t look at her while I’m preaching.”

His dilemma is that if he told people, his income would stop immediately. “I don’t think I’d be eligible for a pension. I’d have no job. I’d lose my home,’ he said. He has worked in the church all his life, but finds it increasingly difficult to keep up the pretence. “I don’t see how I can keep going to retirement.”

Iain feels worst about deluding children because he agrees with Richard Dawkins, the biologist and atheist campaigner, that inculcating religious faith in minors is a form of child abuse. “I’d love to stand up and tell my congregation the truth,” he said. “But I don’t have the courage, even though many of them know there is no God. My call is just like anyone else’s, [it’s] total and absolute nonsense – a delusion.’

Kyle says he is torn over his unbelief. He tries to carry out all his religious duties without the supernatural background. Funerals can be especially difficult, however, since he is expected to preach about an afterlife.

Although a Protestant minister, Kyle’s atheism was triggered by Catholic clerical child abuse. “I couldn’t believe a god could permit child abuse. It’s impossible,” he said. “The systematic concealing of it doesn’t get God off the hook. Prayers for the sick are never answered. So for me there’s no way I could believe in God anymore.”

Iain feels trapped and would like to leave the ministry. “I feel guilty. I’m taking their money. I’m living in their house,” he said. But Kyle doesn’t want to leave. “I can influence people for the good as a minister. [The church] is a place where the community gathers and has a sing. We support each other and children are safeguarded against drugs. We don’t take religion too seriously. It’s like inventing our own surreal world.”

Mathew – not his real name – is a Roman Catholic priest affiliated to a diocese in America. He became troubled by the theology that a newborn child carried the stain of original sin and needed baptism.

When he realised he didn’t believe, saying mass became a chore he dreaded.

“I felt like a fraud and wondered how long before someone found me out. I worried that I might slip and reveal my lack of belief,” he said. “I felt sorry for the people who came to mass, which I considered empty and meaningless. I wondered, couldn’t their time be better spent?”

He became disgusted by the theological undertones of the eucharist. “The notion of a god demanding a blood sacrifice – from his own son no less – repelled me. I could not believe in a god who would demand a violent death as reparation for the supposed wrongs of humans.

“The sanctuary’s large crucifix with its bloodied and bruised Jesus became a horrible and disgusting sight. Each morning, as I put on my clerical band collar, it felt like I was putting a heavy metal shackle around my neck. I realised that my doubts about every line in the Creed, including the very existence of God, were not going away, no matter how much I tried. Once I accepted my unbelief, I was not nearly as bothered by it as I had imagined. Unbelief felt natural in a way that religion never had.’

For Patrick Semple, a former Church of Ireland rector and atheist, being an atheist is simply a way of trying to make sense of the mystery around us. “People are genuinely atheist. It’s not a badness or a perversity,” he said.

As a priest Semple accepted doctrines rather than believed them, and was never convinced about life after death. He sees a lot of religious security as a regression to childhood. “I abhor the expression ‘lost the faith’ – it sounds like culpable negligence,” he said. “It was a positive decision that I no longer believed. I realised I was not a Christian agnostic – I was atheist.”

Upon realizing his atheism, Semple talked to his bishop, who was not shocked and simply told him to get back to work. When Semple told another Church of Ireland clergyman of his atheism, his fellow cleric replied: “Join the gang!”

* Joe Armstrong’s documentary ‘From Belief to Unbelief’ can be heard at www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/radio-documentary-from-belief-to-unbelief-joe-armstrong-catholic-priesthood.html