Tag Archives: Humanism

On Pizza…and Refusal of Services

I’ll admit, I’ve been captivated by the spectacular firestorm that is Indiana this week. I’m endlessly amazed at how religious belief can be used to justify infringing on the rights of others, while at the same time crying bloody murder that any dissent is an infringement of that belief.

I think in analogies. That’s just the way my mind works – So I started wondering how this debate plays out in my own business, which just happens to be performing secular wedding ceremonies. Here’s what I came up with.

In my mind, a “business” should be able to select what it does, but not for whom it provides that service. If the pizza parlor in Indiana was asked (unlikely as it may be, I know, I know) to provide pizza for a “gay wedding” and they refused because the clients were two people of the same gender, that’s discrimination (wrong in my opinion). If they were asked to provide falafel, or shrimp fried rice, they can certainly refuse. If they were being asked to provide pizza for a wedding outside their delivery area, or on a day they aren’t open, pizza that’s kosher (if they don’t do that sort of thing), or if they have reached the capacity of pizza they can produce that week, then it’s fine to say, “Sorry, we can’t help you”.

In all of those cases, the refusal is tied to what they do and how they do it – not who the customer is. In business, it doesn’t matter who the person is. You serve them. Period.

Now as I’ve said, I operate a secular wedding celebrant business. Could I refuse my services to someone of faith? Absolutely not. It’s actually the case that the majority of the people I’ve married aren’t atheists. Most express that they have some supernatural belief, but for one reason or another (usually it’s discomfort with religious organizations, or the fact that their beliefs are different form their spouse or guests), they’ve decided not to put those beliefs on display. When I first meet with a couple, I let them know that I’m a secular celebrant (my certification is from the American Humanist Association, so I don’t have religious authority). I let them know that any ceremony I perform can’t have praying, holy texts or references to god.

Last year I was asked by a couple (in this case a man and a woman) to perform their ceremony. Very early on in the discussions, despite the thorough description of my business up front, the groom told me that they wanted a very short ceremony with “just a few bible verses and a blessing”. I explained to him that I wasn’t able to perform such a ceremony, and the couple found an alternate solution.

So why isn’t that discrimination?

I didn’t turn this couple away because they were religious believers. It turns out both were very devout conservative Christians but they didn’t want to attend the pre-wedding classes their church required in order for them to have a religious ceremony (which begs the question, “How do you choose which rules of your religion you will follow and which ones you’ll discard?” But that’s a discussion for another day). If the couple had been willing to have a secular service, which is what I provide, I’d have been pleased to marry them. My refusal was linked to what I do as a business, for anyone who would like to hire me.

Now, I might turn someone away because I’m unavailable for a particular date, or because they aren’t willing to pay my fee, or because they are looking for a wedding planner to coordinate their whole event (I don’t do that kind of thing) but the key here is that my decision is based on my business and what I do, and that I’ll do it for anyone, regardless of whatever groups to which they may belong.

And besides, I’m a Long Island girl. Pizza from Indiana? Probably just crummy round bread with crappy cheese and flavorless sauce anyway.

My Own Personal Jesus

I am an Atheist.  I don’t believe in any supernatural deity.  I don’t believe in a god, and I don’t believe in Jesus, the son-of-a-god-who-is-really-god-too-by-some-technicality-I’ve-never-quite-grasped.  But I really like the Idea of Jesus.  In the gloominess of my Catholic upbringing, Jesus was a bright light.  Some of my earliest storybooks feature his kind, serene face and deep soulful eyes.  I loved the story of his birth in the manger (Oh how many times my poor baby brother had to be the infant Jesus to my Virgin Mary as I staged impromptu Christmas pageants!)  The “Sermon on the Mount” with its implied socialism (don’t tell Sarah and Michelle!) struck a serious chord with me early on.  Whatever else, religion might have imprinted on me, Jesus was justice and Jesus was love.

I think of him in the same way you might regard other literary characters – Jiminy Cricket, sitting on your shoulder helping you tell right from wrong, or wise Dumbledore, or Glinda, from the Wizard of Oz, explaining that you’ve had the answers all along, but that you needed to find them within yourself.  His “real-ness” has never diminished for me, what he’s supposed to stand for.  Losing my faith hasn’t robbed me of a belief that “do unto others” and the rest of what’s on his CV are pretty good ideas to live by.

And Jesus was a bit of a rebel too; getting snippy with his mom (the “didn’t you know I’d be in my father’s house?” incident when he went missing as a little boy) and trashing the money lenders at the temple for their greed and poor location choices.  He had a whole crew of guys he rolled with, but he wasn’t a snob.  He hung out with the lepers and the poor and the prostitutes.  Whatever your deal was…he was cool with it.  If Jesus lived on Long Island in the 80’s, he would definitely have worn a leather jacket.

I have a theory that adolescent Catholic girls form an early attachment to Jesus as the image of perfect manhood.  What could be more attractive to a flat-chested, bookish, twelve-year-old but to know that this gentle, handsome man knows you, and loves you for who you are?  For years, the life-sized statue of a crucified Jesus that hung above the altar at our church was the closest thing I’d seen to a naked adult male.  Despite the gore and the ashen pallor, those muscled biceps…the washboard abs…the long hair…I blame my years-long penchant for long-haired heavy-metal bad-boys on my early religious indoctrination.

Earlier this week as the vote for Marriage Equality loomed ever closer, and the arguments, on the street, in the media, and on the internet got more heated, I found myself completely swept up. The live feed from the senate was constantly playing on my computer.  I manically pressed re-dial as I called Senators over and over.  And I actually broke the Facebook app on my iPhone after five days of constant update- checking, and posting of witty and weighty answers to that eternal question, “what’s on your mind?”

And the thing that kept coming into my head, ironically enough, as religion became the defense of choice for intolerance, was “What would Jesus do?”  I mean seriously – which side would he be taking here?  Jesus was all about love, right?  He of the washing of the feet.  He who saved the life of an adulteress by insisting that the one who is without sin, cast the first stone (are you listening Archbishop Timothy Dolan?!?).  He who stuck the ear back on the Roman centurian who had come to arrest him!  I began to feel that a contingent of religious people had stolen Jesus from me and were misrepresenting him!

MY Jesus, the Jesus who occupies my secular heart would have been as ecstatic as I was when the Senate voted in favor of Marriage Equality late Friday night.  My Jesus would have voted yes for love, for commitment, for families, for security, for justice.  He would have been carrying a rainbow flag and singing in the halls of the capital all last week.  He would be at every single gay wedding, making wine from water, just like he did at Cana in the bible – and smiling.

My husband and I drove to Albany late on Friday evening to meet up with an old friend who was in town demonstrating.  We arrived just as the senate vote was made official and caught the wave of frantic reporters and jubilant spectators as they exited the capital.  Amidst horns honking and people shouting, we three walked up the street, going nowhere in particular, taking in the glorious weight of what had just happened.  We were stopped on our trek by a disheveled, middle-aged man staggering, from what was clearly the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol.  “Let ‘em do what they want to do.”  He slurred emphatically.   “I’m TELLING you… I said, this is BULLSHIT.  It’s crap.  Good Luck.  I’m not gay but who gives a shit.  That’s YOUR business.  What business is it to say you can’t do that? I’m down with it.  I’m GLAD you guys won.  I’m ALL good with that.”

MY Jesus would have shaken his hand.

On People of Faith

Two weeks ago, I posted a link to my new website on my Facebook page.  I was expecting some feedback on the template I’d chosen and the way I’d organized my content.  Many of my Facebook contacts are way more technically savvy than I, and I thought they might give me some pointers as I launched my first website and blog.

I didn’t get the kinds of responses I expected.

With the exception of my friend Anthony from high school who (very usefully) flagged me that my blog was not set up to receive comments, the feedback was not about the design and organization at all.  It was about the content.  Much of that feedback was super positive and encouraging – and it came mostly from my friends who have strong theistic beliefs.

It’s not that I anticipated hate mail.  I expected that civility would prevail.  I just hadn’t predicted the outpouring of support and encouragement that I got.   I am, after all, categorically rejecting something that these friends hold dear.  It really caught me off guard.

It shouldn’t have.  Most of these folks are people who I know well, and I know them to be tolerant, generous, accepting individuals.  The idea of secular ceremonies for those who want them isn’t threatening to what they believe.  Marriage equality is a right most of them value and support.  My own humanism isn’t a shock to any of these folks.  Some of them knew me back in my teens when I painted my finger nails black and claimed to worshhip the devil.  They’ve witnessed the journey.

I realize that there is a part of me that’s become so hostile to the idea of faith – because of how it’s wielded by a lot of other people – that I am less conscious of when it is practiced with restraint and openness.  It caused me to re-evaluate the copy on my website.  All in all, I think I was pretty even.  I did edit out one kind of snarky comment about “imaginary friends”.

I’d like to subscribe to a philosophy of ‘live and let live’ and I think that works on an individual basis.  I’m not so sure it functions beyond the circle of people one knows personally.  Sam Harris, whose philosophy I really identify with, suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here) that religious moderates provide a kind of safe cover for religious extremism.  By rejecting the intolerant and violent pieces of dogma, they’re sort of practicing a “religion lite” while still lending credence to the religion as a whole, and making way for those who have a more literal, and perhaps dangerous interpretation of the faith .

So can we believe different things and still share the world?  Do my friends believe they’re going to heaven and I’m not?  Do I believe they’re wasting time and energy on religious practice that could be better spent on tangible action?  Does that change the way we think about each other?  Should it?  By advocating what we believe, do we give license to those who would take those beliefs to unreasonable ends?

I’m still working through this…