Several years ago, my life as I knew it ended. I lost everything except my long time love, Herb. I think if he could have seen into the future, I certainly would have lost him, too. When I have had the courage to ask him why he stayed, he has answered that he thought I would get better.
Here’s briefly what happened. A truck hit me on my way home from the fabric store where I had been shopping for the fabric from which to make my wedding dress. For the first few weeks, it appeared that it was a simple whiplash. Over the months, it just kept getting worse. The pain spread down my back and arms and eventually down my legs. I went to specialist after specialist trying to find a cure.
Finally, I was sent to a doctor who explained that I had healed – if you could call it that. I just hadn’t healed correctly and now it was time to learn how to deal with the disease, disorders, and syndromes that the accident left with me.
I spent years banging my head against a wall trying to recover what I had lost. In the meantime, I just kept losing. I lost my business, I lost my friends, and I lost my faith. I re-educated myself so that I could work from a wheelchair and found that I couldn’t even take the stress of a desk job. Then one day my dog was run over and I lost my mind. I wanted to kill the person who killed my dog. It was worse than an old country western song.
I had read in atheist chat rooms about some non-believers who felt hopeless because they just had no higher power they could trust to make things better. At that moment, I identified with that feeling. I became distraught and grabbed a bottle of sedatives and downed them.
I woke up in the hospital, glad that I had failed but still wondering where I could find the strength to try again. I had a great doctor who tried to explain to me that if I had died I would not be reunited with my family or with God, “It will just be over.” He didn’t understand, that is what I wanted – for it all to be over. I wasn’t looking for some light at the end of the tunnel with a glorious reunion with my ancestors. (Truth is, I never saw one either). Twice, in fact, I have been near death and both times have seen nothing. Not black, not a bright light, no voices of comfort – just nothing. There wasn’t even a sense of passing time.
Awakening Without Religion
When I awoke, I was put in a five-day program that began to turn everything around. Five short days of learning to put one foot in front of the other, and then I was released into a two days a week program that pointed me in the right direction.
I learned that I could defuse unpleasant emotions. I can’t choose what the world throws at me, be it illness, or loss, or people crowding in line in front of me. However, I could choose not to feel despair, overwhelming grief, or anger.
A few weeks ago, I found an article in the Tacoma News Tribune on research showing that those who practice religion on a regular basis are happier than atheists. (I have since discovered that there is research to the contrary. It just depends on who you read.) It mentioned that in England a group of atheist have begun meeting once a week to see if the gathering of like-minded people creates that feeling of well-being.
Having been a devout fundamentalist Christian in my youth, I recalled those meetings and the abundant feeling of joy I felt afterward. As I was remembering those meetings I recalled that they were full of ritual. Rituals that I knew and could participate in without having to follow some outline on a page. I even knew all the words to all of the songs. It occurred to me that it is not just the gathering but the ritual involved in those gatherings that causes the beneficial effects. The gathering itself is filled with ritual. Each person has a ritual for getting ready for the meeting, there are ritualistic greetings of fellow believers, the meeting itself is filled with ritual be it centered around refreshments, a speaker, collecting donations, prayer, sharing of personal blessings, etc.
Importance of Rituals
Rituals are important to all of us because they allow us to access our subconscious and actually change our brains. Mastering the details of a ritual teaches us discipline, self-confidence, problem solving, and allows us to have a sense of being in control, even if just for a while. In fact Our Brains are Wired for Ritual.
I decided that what was needed was a binding philosophy for non-believers. We needed some kind of rules to live by that were based upon science rather than someone’s efforts to control us by telling us stories about gods who would destroy us if we weren’t careful. I wanted to start something that everyone could follow because it is not based on fable, but fact.
In Search of a Name
OK. Ritual will be a part of our name, for it is the Rituals of religions that are so influential to our mind, not the existence of a supreme being. But what about the –ism part of our name? Can we use an existing –ism? There is Atheism, Agnosticism, Stoicism, and Humanism. The first two worry about the existence of a god. Atheists deny the existence of a deity and Agnostics believe it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe and refrains from commitment to any religious doctrine. We are not here to argue about the existence of a supreme being. We are here to teach you what will make your day-to-day life better.
Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in the early 3rd century BC. It can be summarized by “Shit Happens! Live with It!" We considered it, and even adopted parts of its beliefs, but its current meaning of “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint” is a bummer.
That leaves us with Humanism. Wikipedia defines Humanism as a "philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over established doctrine or faith." This seem to be a good to be a good description of our philosophy. However, we would delete the word "generally".
Humanism, that's a positive name. It focuses on us as humans. So we combined it with Ritual to form the name of our philosophy, Ritual Humanism.®
If our objective was complete happiness our philosophy would be a fairy tale. Rather, it is to be present with what life brings us and to move toward productive behavior. In Ritual Humanism one gets to know unpleasant feelings, and to become more comfortable with them so that sadness never becomes despondency. When we learn not to overreact, then we are not afraid to risk new situations where negative emotions might be invoked, but there is also the possibility of happiness.
We learn that instead of trying to change our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, to "just notice," accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones. Ritual Humanism aims to help the individual clarify their personal values and to live by those things we cherish most, bringing more meaning to their life in the process and thereby less suffering.
Cognitive science has also discovered that often when people are in distress it is because their view of the situation is inaccurate and their thoughts may be unrealistic. Ritual Humanism helps people spot their distressing thoughts and evaluate how far from reality they really are. When they have made a mistake in their perceptions they learn to change their thinking. The closer their thinking is to reality, the better they feel. Followers come to live life completely awake, instead of sleeping their way through it. Their lives are richer and fuller for it.
Our next page, Ritual Humanism Explained, will help understand our beliefs.