Humanist delivers council ‘prayer’

Humanist delivers council ‘prayer’

Humanist celebrant Guy Otten, third from right, broke new ground this week when he delivered a secular ‘prayer’ to members of Stockport Council in Great Manchester, England.

In a message sent to me earlier today, Guy said he was told that this was “a first for Stockport”. He also sent me a link to a video showing his address (it’s around five minutes in, plus the text of his address).

This is what he said:

Members of the Council, my name is Guy Otten and I am a Humanist Celebrant. I thank the Mayor for his invitation to speak to you today in the form of prayers.

As a humanist I do not interpret the word “prayer” in any transcendental sense; humanists, whether agnostics or atheists, do not run their lives on the basis that there is a god to whom prayer might be directed, but happily the word “prayer” is broad enough to include secular meanings.

In recognition of those here who do believe in God, however, I will ask for 30 seconds silence before the end of my remarks so that those with a religious belief can use the time in their own private way while non-believers can attune themselves for the meeting ahead.

If you do not believe in God or feel uncomfortable with religious language the question is what do you believe, and on what basis do you run your life. At least 25 percent of the UK population (and in some surveys nearer 50 percent) do not have a religion.

Humanists believe that we humans must make our own decisions about how we live the one life we have, and also what purpose and meaning we give to our lives. The number of people coming to this humanist life stance has been steadily increasing since the 1960s.

Humanists do not derive moral views from revelation – obviously. Indeed, moral rules predate religious claims to have revealed them. We look for moral guidance in universally shared human values, as found and agreed by rational and democratic debate, something we celebrate in this election period.

Sadly we face in today’s world the denial of the validity of democratic and human decision-making in the form of extremist religious expression.

There are some who say: only God’s law is valid – and they are the ones to tell us what it is and to enforce it. Therefore you, members of Stockport’s Council, by meeting here tonight and making decisions on behalf of the people of Stockport, are making an important statement: that human democratic decision-making is valid when it comes to making the arrangements by which we live.

In this way we can live in a free society where lawmakers and government are accountable to the citizens who are affected.

It is through a rational and scientific approach to the challenges we face that we can solve our problems and improve the lot of humankind. We see a good example of this now in the Ebola outbreak. It is an international rational, medical scientific and humanitarian effort that is containing the epidemic.

Before I make my final remarks I ask you now to observe a period of 30 seconds silence for you to use either as attunement or to say a private prayer.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I now wish you every success in your deliberations this evening; may you choose friendly and cooperative discussion to find the decisions that best contribute to the welfare and progress of the people of Stockport.

12 responses to “Humanist delivers council ‘prayer’”

  1. barriejohn says:

    Here is some truly shocking news, which must have had Daily Mail readers weeping into their cornflakes this morning. There is, apparently, a growing trend to have ungodly, unchristian, and most certainly unbritish funerals, conducted by random members of the public with no theological qualifications or spiritual background and beliefs whatsoever. Could there be any clearer sign that this once great nation, admired all over the globe, is heading rapidly and inexorably for…(continues in same vein for several hundred paragraphs).

    Read more here:

  2. barriejohn says:

    Comments seem overwhelmingly positive as far as rationalists would be concerned (again), though some are cringeworthy:

    Without Jesus, the Lord of Life and Forgiveness, what hope is there in any funeral?


    What is wrong with fun funerals, we had one for Maggie.

    One thinks he doth extract the Michael!

  3. Dan says:

    Secularists should oppose this. We should want to abolish prayers as part of government or local government official business, not add humanists to the circus.

  4. Swiftsure says:

    I’m starting to get on in years now, and as I get older I find myself attending more and more funerals. I’ve noticed, however, that the religious funerals I have been to in the past are now being overtaken by humanist funerals. That’s telling, I think.

    If prayers in council meetings are starting to give way to a reminder that the council members are there for a secular purpose, for the benefit of the people who voted for them rather than a non-existent deity (that does nothing for them), I’m OK with that.

  5. Broga says:

    That was an admirable humanist address: temperate, measured and no sense of scoring points (so tempting) against the religious.

    As for the DM comments on humanist funerals, this was the usual biased drivel to be expected. But they can’t win. Reason defeats them. I conducted my mum’s funeral and it was sorrowful but with a buffet afterwards to remember her sense of fun and feisty approach to life.

    Later I was at a religious funeral and it was seriously embarrassing and ridiculous with people talking about the cremated deceased watching and listening to them. His ashes were buried by then but apparently some method had been found to put him in heaven. He had died after a long time suffering from cancer.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Broga: Religious funerals, especially for obvious unbelievers (“Our sister Gladys, now in the presence of her Saviour”), turn my stomach. In Justin Welby’s interview with Canon J. John (to which I provided a link recently, and which can be viewed on YouTube – Facing the Canon), Welby was prattling on about all the “good things” that the church does today – like educating a million children, running food banks, and conducting a multitude of christenings, marriages, funerals and interments (free of charge?). He kept reiterating that they do all this for unbelievers “because we love ’em”, yet at the same time kept stating that their aim was “to bring them to faith”. Well – what’s the truth then; and how abhorrent to take advantage of people at their most vulnerable to promote your own particular ideology.

    And as regards the Mail, the following article by Paul Heiney appears in the rag this very morning, and is to be serialized next week:

    How the brilliant son I lost to suicide still talks to me

    Heiney is married to Libby Purves of the BBC. These people are influential and dangerous, and far from being afraid of being labelled “vociferous” and “militant”, we need to redouble our efforts to counteract the propagation of such blatant nonsense.

  7. AgentCormac says:

    An interesting article containing yet more revealing figures which show just how irrelevant religion and its ceremonies are to modern Britons.

  8. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: Ironic, isn’t it that religious people can hear voices and be admired for it; an atheist voices a rational opinion and is clobbered? Voices from beyond the grave must be imagination fuelled by wishful thinking. And that desire that a dead close relative is still alive and communicating is the means by which lying mediums make money.

    The air waves are currently suffocating under a tsunami of superstition. Believers rushing to “worship” an imaginary being. Another book, I’m told (I haven’t the details) is based on research which examines 28 sources contemporary to the time of the supposed Jesus. None mention him although they do refer to evens far less dramatic that Jesus’ supposed miracles.

  9. barriejohn says:

    Broga: The best article that I have come across so far this Easter is the following.

    I used to wonder about that myself. If dozens (hundreds?) of people who had been dead for ages were “resurrected” on the day of the crucifixion, and roamed the streets of Jerusalem, then why would anyone have been surprised that Jesus’ tomb was empty two days later, or that he himself should appear after his death? What clothes did these resurrected bodies wear, and in what form did they appear? If dead babies were raised were they able to walk and talk? Were crippled people now healed? And how the hell does anyone explain the fact that only Matthew of all ancient writers records this phenomenal event?

  10. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: I have read that, thanks. And I agree that it is excellent. It includes,

    “this popular, poetic description is deliberately vague—its forte is atmosphere, not details…to make a matter of major concern their literal historicity is to fail to understand their nature as symbols and the literary genre in which they are presented.”

    This is the well worn cop out. To accept the “truth” of the bible is “to fail to understand.” This provides the freedom to accept any construction the preacher or reader chooses. I liked “its forte is atmosphere, not details”. This seems to me to turn the meaning of “forte” on its head. Can it be a source of strength to rely on something as vague as atmosphere.

  11. Stuart H. says:

    Luckily, we’ve never had the council prayers phenomena in my area, but we do have ‘Civic Sundays’.
    In case this isn’t a UK practice – general form is the chair of the council invites councillors & public to his/her church for a Sunday service, where the preacher inevitably lets rip big time, knowing he has a rare chance of a press write-up. In recent years these have gone badly wrong; most visitors walked out of one local service last year in disgust because the preacher had such a severe rant about feckless parents and kids not going to Sunday school leading to high crime, etc. etc., and both he and the council leader got slated in the local press for weeks afterwards.
    One local authority with an openly atheist chair did set a new trend by cutting the service and simply inviting all locals to the town hall tea and stickies which traditionally follows. Ratepayers got to meet politicians & town hall staff in an informal setting – seemed to work in a quiet way as it got folk thinking if there was any point in the wasted hour in church which usually precedes it.