This past weekend...

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

This past weekend I had a lot going on that serves as a synopsis of those things that truly matter to me with respect to my life’s work.

Friday morning I had an early am call with one of the writers I am currently coaching. Early in life she was shackled with chains of shame by her family and religion, which spiraled into a life of obesity. She has an extraordinary life story of overcoming that shame, and conquering her obesity.

I started writing in 2006 and have published five books about my journey out of religion. Along the way people have requested my endorsement for their book, which required sending me their manuscript. In many cases I noticed how their writing could be more powerful and effective, and started working with writers toward this end. Eventually I created an online course for new writers, and do more extensive individual coaching with writers who seek to write and publish a book.

Later Friday morning I had an appointment with an individual who I am currently working with as a “spiritual director.” After I published my first couple books, people began contacting me about doubts they were having about their religious faith and beliefs. In other cases, people reached out to me because their religious involvement and indoctrination of certain beliefs had done great damage in their lives, and they were wanting to disentangle themselves and recover from the psychological effects of their religious conditioning. In addition to meeting with people face-to-face in the city where I live, Skype calls with people all over the world began multiplying. I currently do individual work with people locally and worldwide, counseling and supporting them through a process of recovering from religious pathology, trauma or damage, and creating a post-religion life of meaning, wholeness and wellbeing. After a few years of this work, I created an online course toward the same end – Life After Religion: A Personal Journey Out.

On Friday night, I had a wedding rehearsal for a wedding I officiated on Saturday evening. I spent many years of my life as a church pastor, which included being present with people in some of the highest and lowest moments of their lives. I celebrated the joy and excitement of newfound love or a second chance at love in the wedding ceremonies I officiated. I also shared many moments of grief, sadness and loss, and celebrating the life and legacy of a loved one in funeral and memorial services. There are many significant and special moments in a person's life - the birth of a child, rites of passage, life celebrations, graduations, new beginnings and final goodbyes - that I was called upon and a part of as a minister.

All people want to share, celebrate, mark, honor, memorialize and make special, those moments, milestones, people, passages, beginnings and endings that make us who we are. This year I became a Humanist Celebrant (and Humanist Chaplain) because I many people see and embrace these moments as having profound human meaning, not religious meaning; a natural part of our human journey, not supernatural; an acknowledgement of what we all know in our innermost being deeply matters, not doctrines imposed by religion. I went through a certification process with the American Humanist Association and The Humanist Society. I officiated the non-religious wedding ceremony on Saturday as a Humanist Celebrant. You can read more about my work as a Humanist Celebrant and Chaplain here.

Saturday day before the evening wedding I was at Second Harvest Food Bank, assembling emergency food boxes to be delivered to people in crisis or desperate need in my city. It was a joint effort of Nashville Humanist and Nashville Interfaith, two organizations I am heavily involved in. My involvement with the Nashville Interfaith group relates to my conviction that it’s a step in the right direction if people of different religions will foster more harmony and acceptance between them, and collaborate together for a common good. Virtually every religious tradition affirms the values of love, compassion, service and caring for the vulnerable, marginalized, victimized and those in need.

In his book, Beyond Religion, the Dalai Lama wrote, "What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics." There is obviously a close correlation between poverty and hunger/food insecurity. Former Christian Ryan Bell write a thoughtful and substantial article about Humanism and anti-poverty work.

In my own personal journey, I am finding there are no labels or isms I want to own, save this one – human. In more recent years as my previous involvement in religion becomes more and more something of the past, I have deeply and vigorously explored what it truly means to be human, and how to live a life of meaning and wellbeing outside the framework of religion and Theism. This is the subject of my next book that I am now writing, currently titled: Human by Fire: A Non-Religious Guide to a More Human Spirituality.

I have taken a leadership role in the humanist movement in my city of Nashville. According to the dictionary, "humanism" is technically a noun. It could just as easily be a verb. Humanism is not really a person, place or thing. A verb is a word used to describe an action or state. I’m for embracing a humanism of action – leading meaningful and ethical lives, and adding to the greater good of humanity. You don’t need religion or “God” to do either of these. In fact, I have worked with countless people for whom religion and “God” was an obstacle to them.

There are many secular, humanist, atheist, agnostic, freethinking, SBNR’s and nones in Nashville and beyond. They have found that science, reason and the extraordinary resources of the human spirit provide a solid framework and dependable roadmap for living a life of meaning, wholeness and wellbeing. In my view, religion has been a stumbling block preventing people from exploring, accessing and embracing these gifts that are available to all people.

Humanism does not mean the absence of spirituality. Because the word "spirituality" is often associated with religion, supernatural or metaphysics, there is the distinction of secular spirituality. Secular spirituality is the adherence to a spiritual philosophy without adherence to a religion. Secular spirituality emphasizes the personal development of the individual, rather than a relationship with the divine. Secular spirituality is made up of the search for meaning outside of a religious institution; it considers one's relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers to be the ultimate. Often, the goal of secular spirituality is living happily and/or helping others.

There are two terms that are common descriptors of the non-religious community. The first is"nones," which are those who do not identify with any religion. The terms comes from what is typically the last choice on questions about religious affiliation - "none of the above." There is also the SBNR distinction - "spiritual but not religious." These are people who discard religious structures for a more personal spirituality.

I have discovered in many cases that when individuals declare themselves “spiritual but not religious,” they are adhering to principles of humanism. Many people who aren’t self-identified humanists are de facto humanists. An article aptly titled "The Spiritual Perspective and Social Work Practice," author Patricia Sermabeikian talks about the spiritual dimension of life as expounded by such humanistic and existential theorists as Viktor Frankl, Eric Fromm, and Abraham Maslow. Her quotation from Maslow is particularly instructive: “The human being needs a framework of values, a philosophy of life, a religion or religion-surrogate to live by and understand by, in about the same sense he needs sunlight, calcium, or love.”

The word "spiritual" often stands in contrast to "secular," and both terms are often viewed in quite a narrow-minded sense. Religious/spiritual people tend to have an inadequate understanding of the word "secular," and non-religious people return the favor with an insufficient view of the word "spiritual." The words are often thought of antithetical - in other words, what is "secular" cannot be "spiritual" and what is "spiritual" cannot be "secular." Part of the confusion is that the word "secular" implies to some the absence of things like any kind of deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness or feelings of awe, well-being, love, beauty and happiness or transcendent experiences of knowing oneself as part of and belonging to a greater, mysterious and beautiful whole. And then on the other hand, the word "spiritual" implies to some the belief in God and religion or a bunch of woo-woo and supernatural/metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and irrational nonsensical quackery.

That many humanists themselves disparage the term spiritual as mumbo-jumbo—as little more than outdated pre-scientific superstition—doesn’t much help the matter either. For it inflicts the word with negative meanings similar to what Christian conservatives have done to the tag “secular.” I think humanists would want to claim all the positive, non-supernatural aspects of spirituality, and leave the heavily biased, parochial derision of the term secular to those too narrow-minded, or prejudiced, to appreciate how they’re using it.

In the article, "Humanism and Spirituality: A Spiritual Perspective," Humanist psychologist Judith Goren writes, “Humanism, to be a viable movement in the 21st century, needs to expand its parameters to explore, address and include the spiritual dimension of human experience.” With respect to the Humanist Manifesto of the American Humanist Association, I think that according to all the secular definitions of spirituality I’ve seen—Humanism's philosophy, ethics, and its principles and practices makes humanism a spiritual movement, and one to be reckoned with. Some hope that future humanists will come to recognize their essential identity and reclaim a word that actually reflects the very heart of what they’re all about. Which is to say their aspiration to lead virtuous, morally responsible lives that are at once rational and—emotionally—rich, passionate, exciting . . . and deeply fulfilling.

©  2009 Jim Palmer Author. All Rights Reserved
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