Athe­ists push ‘hu­man­ist’ hol­i­days; Dar­win Day is among ob­ser­vances

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - Karen Gold­berg Goff

Now that Earth Day is over, let the plan­ning be­gin for the sum­mer sol­stice and World Hu­man­ist Day in June.

The In­sti­tute for Hu­man­ist Stud­ies, an Albany, N.Y.-based non­profit, is call­ing at­ten­tion to its cal­en­dar of athe­ist hol­i­days on its Web site, www.sec­u­larsea­ The group wants non­be­liev­ers (or at least peo­ple who don’t cel­e­brate re­li­gious hol­i­days) to have a handy ref­er­ence guide of the cal­en­dar of hol­i­days honor­ing free-thinkers, banned books and na­ture, among other themes.

Matt Cherry, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Hu­man­ist Stud­ies, said his group is try­ing to ex­pand op­tions and al­ter­na­tives for sec­u­lar hol­i­days. He said he hopes even peo­ple af­fil­i­ated with a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion will con­sider the op­tions.

“Some re­li­gious hol­i­days are about cul­ture and tra­di­tion, not the- ology,” he says. “Even peo­ple who go to church only on Christ­mas or to syn­a­gogue on the High Hol­i­days do so out of cul­tural her­itage, not be­cause they be­lieve the re­li­gious doc­trines as­so­ci­ated with it.”

Some of the high­lights of the Sec­u­lar Sea­sons cal­en­dar in­clude Thomas Paine Day (Jan. 29), April Fool’s Day (as al­ways, April 1), and Inger­soll Day (Aug. 11) — which cel­e­brates the birth­day of 19th-cen­tury thinker Robert Green Inger­soll, who was known as “the Great Ag­nos­tic.” Sec­u­lar Sea­sons rec­om­mends visit­ing his birth­place in Dres­den, N.Y., for a hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tion. (Hey — you live only once.)

The site also breaks down the cus­toms of Fes­tivus, the hol­i­day pop­u­lar­ized by Jerry Stiller on “Se­in­feld.” In that episode, a Fes­tivus pole is plain aluminum, made to con­trast with the or­nate Christ­mas trees; the of­fi­cial greet­ing is “Happy Fes­tivus”; and each per­son com­plains to fam­ily and friends how they have dis­ap­pointed the com­plainer in the past year.

Mr. Cherry said Dar­win Day (Feb. 12) is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. Charles Dar­win’s 200th birth­day is in Fe­bru­ary 2009, and next year also will be the 150th an­niver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of his book “The Ori­gin of Species.”

Honor­ing the man who helped us un­der­stand science and hu­man­ity is a rea­son to cel­e­brate, said Mr. Cherry. His rec­om­men­da­tions: Throw cau­tion to the wind and at­tend a bi­ol­ogy lec­ture or even have folks bring fos­sils to a party.

“This year, there will be al­most 1,000 events for Dar­win Day around the world,” he said. “I hope Hall­mark would come out with a card. There are lots of pho­tos to cel­e­brate evo­lu­tion.”

William J. Murray, chair­man of the Re­li­gious Free­dom Coali­tion, a Wash­ing­ton non­profit, said the United States al­ready has plenty of made-up hol­i­days.

“We’ve got Valen­tine’s Day, al­though that ac­tu­ally is a saint’s hol­i­day,” he said. “We’ve got Mother’s Day, Fa­ther’s Day. If some­one wants to make up a hol­i­day, they can be my guest — as long as they are not go­ing to im­pose that hol­i­day on the vast ma­jor­ity of us who cel­e­brate re­li­gious hol­i­days.

“There is no smaller mi­nor­ity in this coun­try than athe­ists,” said Mr. Murray, son of the late Mada­lyn Murray O’Hair, who was once the na­tion’s best-known athe­ist and from whom he be­came es­tranged when he em­braced Chris­tian­ity. “The propo­si­tion of [athe­ist hol­i­days] is in it­self ridicu­lous.”

The re­cently re­leased Pew Fo­rum U.S. Re­li­gious Land­scape Sur­vey found that 16 per­cent of Amer­i­cans con­sider them­selves un­af­fil­i­ated. How­ever, most of that num­ber (12 per­cent) said they were “noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar,” as op­posed to the 1.6 per­cent who said they were athe­ist. Chris­tians of var­i­ous de­nom­i­na­tions make up the largest seg­ment at 78 per­cent.

Mean­while, Mr. Cherry and Sec­u­lar Sea­sons are seek­ing sug­ges­tions from the pub­lic on hol­i­days to add to the cal­en­dar.

“We’ve got­ten more ideas for free-thinkers to be cel­e­brated,” said Mr. Cherry.

Among them: Jawa­har­lal Nehru, In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter; Mex­i­can revo­lu­tion­ary states­man Ben­ito Juarez; and Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk, first pres­i­dent of mod­ern Turkey.

Also sug­gested was an ex­panded ob­ser­vance of Cos­mo­nau­tics Day, the Rus­sian hol­i­day on April 12 that cel­e­brates Yuri Ga­garin’s first manned space or­bit.

Since you just missed it, put the vodka and caviar away and get fired up for Na­tional Day of Rea­son in May, or­ga­nized a few years ago to coun­ter­act the Na­tional Day of Prayer. Com­mon cus­toms: a day of care to help the el­derly or dis­abled, and a blood drive.

Just don’t ex­pect a church ser­vice, or candy.

One more thing not to ex­pect with athe­ist hol­i­days: pa­rades fea­tur­ing pan­der­ing politi­cians trolling for votes.

Now that’s cause for cel­e­bra­tion.

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