“The two things we have most trouble with are singing, and candles.”
This comment was made by the organizer of the St. Louis Ethical Culture Society, a non-theistic humanist community. Many humanists and naturalists are uncomfortable with ritual. Even Religious Humanists and Religious Naturalists tend to be minimalists when it comes to ritual. The fictional Earthseed of Octavia Butler’s Parable series is no exception. 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 intentional ritual. This is one way that I hope the real Earthseed diverges from its fictional origins.
Earthseed is a naturalistic religion. Unfortunately, from where I stand, many naturalistic religions seem headed down the same path of other liberal religions. There is much speculation about the reasons for this. One common explanation for the decline of liberal religion is that they let people believe what they want, when in fact what people want is to be told what to believe. But the literalism and dogmatism of more conservative religions is simply not an option for religious liberals — especially Religious Naturalists — and it hardly makes them popular with religious moderates either.
But perhaps the issue isn’t really belief, but practice. Defining religion in terms of belief is really a modern, specifically Protestant, invention. Ancient pagan and indigenous religious were less concerned about what people believed, and more concerned about what people did. In a 2015 article in The Spectator entitled, “Paganism is alive and well – but you won’t find it at a Goddess Temple,” Andrew Brown argues, “What successful churches have is not demanding doctrine but demanding practices, rituals and observances which saturate everyday life.” In spite of the derisive tone of much of the article, I think Brown is on to something.
What many liberal religious are lacking is not orthodoxy, but orthopraxis. Rabbi Eric Yoffie argued in a 2015 article entitled, “The Coming Renaissance of Liberal Religious Life”:
I think the same could be said of Neo-Paganism generally. Pagans can be very adept a constructing ritual, but having eight rituals a years is just not enough to sustain a religion. So I think one of the first orders of business for new naturalistic religions like Earthseed should be the creation of “rituals and observances that saturate everyday life”. The key word there is “saturate”. We need seasonal rituals surely, but also rituals for major life events, as well as weekly and daily rituals — rituals for rising and retiring, rituals for eating, rituals for working and rituals for playing.
So get your candles out folks … and get ready to sing.
∞ = Δ