What’s Wrong with HumanLight / the Winter Solstice?

December 13, 2012

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, has posted a blog endorsing HumanLight, a Winter Solstice observance invented a bit more than a decade ago by a local humanist group in New Jersey then led by the late Joe Fox. Perhaps that’s an appropriate action for Roy, whose organization has a history of being friendlier toward religious humanists than the Council for Secular Humanism. But I couldn’t resist leaving a secular humanist rejoinder as a comment to Roy’s post. Here it is, below:

Here’s why I think truly secular humanists should steer clear of HumanLight, or any other observance tied to the winter solstice. First, celebrations of the winter solstice have deep roots in a spectrum of European pagan traditions. Atheists, humanists, and freethinkers aren’t just not Christian, they respectfully reject all religions, living and dead. As I say in my book “The Trouble with Christmas,” “If we are not Christians, we are not pagans either.”

Secondly, it devalues our commitment to a clear-eyed, rational understanding of science when we attach quasi-mystical significance to what is actually a thoroughly mundane astronomical event. Yes, after the solstice the days will get longer. South of the equator, they’ll get shorter. So what?

Third, the winter solstice is an inappropriate focus for celebration by a movement that presents itself as global, since the solstice’s nature corresponds to its mythology only in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere; in the tropics the solstice is meaningless, while in the south temperate zone it is a harbinger of the coming winter!

Fourth, keeping the solstice devalues the very real human achievement in using science and technology to build a civiization in which — for many of us, at least — winter’s cold and bluster is an inconvenience, not an existential threat.

Fifth, nonreligious people make themselves disappear when they cling to a “me too” holiday so as not to be seen with nothing special to do towards the end of December. We’d further increase our visibility by ignoring the holiday and pressing our employers to leave the office open on December 25.

Sixth, as seen through our front windows from a passing car, a household keeping HumanLight is indistinguishable from one keeping Christmas. By keeping a “me-too” holiday we contribute to a toxic conviction among Christian conservatives that their faith still exerts unchallenged dominance over the culture at “holiday time.”

Other than that I have no objection to it.

Tom Flynn, editor, FREE INQUIRY