Ceremonies: the rich heratige of religion

Mar 4, 2013

Discussion by: Paul Sousek
The main world religions have existed for hundreds or thousands of years. In that time they have developed a whole series of ceremonies with which to celebrate or commemorate various life stages, such as death, marriage, birth, naming of a child, passing to adulthood, periodical celebrations, such as the 5 prayers/day in Islam or the Mass in Christianity, reinforcing the faith and a sense of common purpose..

Atheists have equivalent ceremonies for some of these events, but atheism not being a ‘unified’ movement does not have much of an agreed culture for such occasions. That means people are often unsure whether such ceremonies even exist and if invited do not necessarily know how to behave there, what to wear, or what the customs are.
As an example: my son and his wife mentioned that they would like to have their 5 months old baby christened. They felt it would be nice to in some way publicly acknowledge the naming of the child and also use that event to meetup up with a lot of their friends and more distant relatives. But there is no ceremony known to me for the naming of a child in the atheist world. So we discussed having a humanist christening – not entirely satisfactory solution.
Would it be a good idea to have a list of organisations involved in such event, perhaps a list of the best liked atheists ceremonies or perhaps even use this forum to develop something along these lines?
What do you think?
Paul Sousek

8 comments on “Ceremonies: the rich heratige of religion

  • 1
    Chuck Johnson says:

    Yes, with its ancient heritage, religion is much more that just belief in the supernatural, and nonbelievers can certainly benefit by creating strong communities similar to church communities.

    A “christening” is not such a good name for this atheist celebration. I suggest inviting friends and family for the child’s first birthday party.

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  • 3
    Jos Gibbons says:

    Religion may be “much more that just belief in the supernatural”, but that still means it contains stuff nothing should ever contain. What’s more, the rest of what it contains is either otherwise achievable or bad, since that which needs faulty premises is by definition indefensible. That’s not to say naming ceremonies, weddings etc. should be abandoned; it’s to say we should stop considering them automatically part of religion.

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  • 4
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #2 by Nitya:

    I can’t speak for other countries, but in Australia, Naming Days are becoming a popular excuse for a celebration.

    Definitely. You can sign up a Civil Celebrant here for a Naming Ceremony.


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  • 5
    Alan4discussion says:

    Christenings are about promising that the child would be brought up as a Christian (or whatever).

    What you are looking for, is naming ceremony, as a social event to introduce the new family member to others.

    I suggest looking at the following links:-



    Celebrating the arrival of a new baby into your family and circle of friends is both a joyful and serious occasion. You are not only introducing them by name, you may also want to mark your commitment to their welfare and to them as significant people in your lives. You might also wish to take the opportunity of including older children in a ceremony. A Humanist naming ceremony is most often held in the home of a family member or close friend.

    New Arrivals: a BHA publication, includes a range of sample ceremonies, practical tips, ideas and selections of poetry and prose which many non-religious families have found useful.

    The following is an example of a web link to a celebrant. – There are others for other localities if you do a Google search for “Humanist Celebrants”.


    Thanks for Looking by…. I’m Ross, and I live in Pollokshields,Glasgow. I applied to become a humanist celebrant after doing a reading at the naming ceremony for my friends’ baby. When I actually listened to the words I was saying, I realised they were much more meaningful than the religious ceremonies that I’d been brought up with.

    It is a privilege to help people through the most important rites of passage of life, welcoming new life into the world, celebrating love and, at the end, celebrating a life that is complete.

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  • 6
    QuestioningKat says:

    I like the idea of a naming ceremony or a welcoming ceremony. Welcome to the world little one! Parents and loved ones can recite secular poems, throw confetti or rose petals. The challenge would be to get people to acknowlege that it is not a religious ceremony.

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  • 7
    Uriel-238 says:

    This reminds me of the debate that occurred when the USPS was going out of business, and the question was raised whether we should just let it (since there are numerous competing postal services) and someone noticed that the USPS didn’t just mail letters, but also maintains the delivery addressing system.

    Churches didn’t just standardize rites and practices, but have also been responsible for the community centers which didn’t focus on everyone getting sloshed.

    Our complaint regards those religious institutions have become really ill-behaved about their position in the center of society (not unlike what happens when you have a monopoly or tight group controlling a popular or necessary product).

    Much the way the MPAA is egregiously imposing of conservative values within its movie rating system** It’s going to be difficult to find a Christian church that will minimize the Christ they put into your ceremony. (Difficult but not impossible. There are 40K denominations. Try the Unitarians.)

    ** e.g. you can’t show a woman enjoying sex too much. You can’t mention abortion unless it’s an option to be ruled out.

    EDIT: My asterisk got turned into a bullet.

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  • 8
    Bobwundaye says:

    Religious ceremonies weren’t handed down from above but evolved and got enriched over time. It is not unreasonable to expect atheist ceremonies should develop in the same ways as the numbers in the atheist ranks increase. And personally, with my sentimentalism for religion, I kind of look forward to the growth in these ceremonies.

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