Humanist delivers council ‘prayer’

From The Freethinker:

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.

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