Weddings of New York
What if I want a Humanist Ceremony?
"A Humanist ceremony is one that shows respect for both the bride and groom. The vows are personal, often specially written just for the couple. The ceremony reflects the equality of the couple, compassion, mutual trust and respect." - HSOF
Humanism is a non-religious ethics-based philosophy based on reason, compassion, individual human responsibility and the Golden Rule. It began at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, when writers began to observe the world around us, and discuss how we could learn about the world and about each other through scientific investigation, not just through religious teachings.You do not need to be a member of any Humanist organization to be married by our clergy. A Humanist ceremony is simply a non-religious civil ceremony which is personally written for the couple to express your own wishes, with an emphasis on support, respect and mutual cooperation in marriage. In the Reformation, it was Martin Luther who made marriage a civil contract, instead of just a religious ceremony where marriages were controlled by the Church. This meant that there were more rights for the couple (especially women) in terms of divorce and property. A humanist ceremony is therefore about the couple's commitment to each other, instead of about religious doctrine. Most wedding ceremonies use poetry or prose instead of Bible readings. Some humanist clergy are willing to include spiritual blessings, however (similar to a Quaker or Unitarian wedding). Ask your officiant if you want to include a spiritual dimension to your wedding.
You may wish to include a statement of the Humanist Philosophy about marriage, and equality in your ceremony, and here is an example of a simple ceremony with a Humanist quotation about equality and commitment. You are welcome to include your own philosophy of marriage, as well.
What is Humanism?
"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."
Modern humanism began in the Middle Ages and culminated in the Renaissance ("re-birth"). The Arabs had preserved ancient science and literature throughout the Dark Ages, and scholars began to translate and publish these books so everyone could read them, not just the clergy. Freed from the narrowness of a strictly theological view of the world, scholars (and artists and thinkers such as Leonardo) began to ask questions about how the universe works, and modern science was born.
After the Dark Ages, Humanist astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo used scientific observation to bring us our modern view of the universe as a natural, measurable and observable environment, challenging narrow theological interpretations. Eventually scholars in universities began to study 'The Humanities' - Philosophy, Science, Literature and the Arts. (Oddly enough, in modern times we have removed Science from this list -- undoing the work of the pioneering Renaissance Humanists!)
The book by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, shows the battle between humanist thinkers and religious conservatives in the middle ages. (Sean Connery plays William, a humanist priest, in the film).
Our modern word "humanitarian" is also derived from new ideals about individualism and responsibility which reached a high point during the eighteenth century Enlightenment, another period of "rebirth of knowledge". A concern for the betterment of the present world, as opposed to the 'next' world of theology, created a demand for democracy, equality and justice for all, in contrast to the hierarchy and authoritarianism of the Church. This led to the French and American revolutions, and new proclamations such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inaugurated by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, is the culmination of this ideal, and a purely Humanist document establishing human rights and equality for everyone on the planet.
Famous humanists include Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Einstein, Stephen Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, Buckminster Fuller, Andrei Saharov; Doctors like Albert Schweitzer, Helen Caldicott, Jonas Salk and Margaret Sanger; scientists like Steven Jay Gould and Carl Sagan; musicians like Beethoven and Mozart and John Lennon, writers like Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Alice Walker, and many famous Nobel Prize winners such as Rabindranath Tagore. Humanism is recognized as the legal equivalent of faith-based religions by the Supreme Court.
Humanism as a philosophical 'life stance' focuses on ethics, reason, active compassion and individual responsibility, and many humanists are congregational members of Ethical Societies, Unitarian Congregations, and present among Buddhists, Quakers, Secular Jewish groups and others who believe in actively supporting human and civil rights and social justice.
You may also download the entire book The Philosophy of Humanism, by Corliss Lamont, for free, if you wish to know more!
Here are a few essays you might enjoy:
What is Humanism? by Fred Edwords, AHA
**Beth and Mary are ordained clergy by the Humanist Society (formerly the Humanist Society of Friends) and we are members of the American Humanist Association (AHA), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the Council of Ethics-Based Organizations at the United Nations (CEB0), and other national and international organizations working for human rights.** Eileen is a Humanist Chaplain with Spiritual Humanism.