A group of Hartford Area Humanists recently met in a member’s home on a snowy morning for a group conversation about death and bereavement. This gathering was part of Hartford Area Humanists’ ongoing discussion on “Rational Spirituality.” While many Humanists eschew any mention of spirituality, dismissing it as supernatural “woo-woo” unworthy of serious discussion, others embrace spirituality as a natural human phenomenon that is not dependent upon anything supernatural. These “rational spiritualists” seek to live a happier and more fulfilling life by exploring the deeper aspects of being human.
Sandy Hook Elementary School. Image courtesy of HartfordFAVs
It was no coincidence that we discussed death and bereavement on the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. Tragedies such as Sandy Hook raise difficult questions for Humanists. In the weeks after Sandy Hook, New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman pointedly asked “where were the humanists?”, noting that, while Humanist and other secular groups raised money and held anti-gun rallies, there was no visible Humanist presence offering solace to the victims’ families. Atlanta Page, a Christian blogger writing in Examiner.com, declared that Humanists have nothing to offer the bereaved in the wake of such tragedies, arguing that only faith in a loving God and belief in an afterlife can sooth those facing the otherwise unbearable grief of lives taken too soon. Ms. Page argues that, while the Humanist stance that people should find meaning and purpose during our lives may be work well when celebrating the end of a long and rich life, that approach is inadequate in responding to the tragic and violent death of children.
Implicit in the accusation that Humanism has nothing to offer the bereaved is the assumption that the Humanist worldview is not an effective way of dealing with tragedy.