Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rituals

Without cultural sanction, most or all our religious beliefs and rituals would fall into the domain of mental disturbance. ~John Schumaker

A young lady in Florida, a student with a 3.89 GPA, who had been chosen as class valedictorian, was pressured, if not outright forced, into changing her graduation speech. Her sin was that she was going to give a speech that was, shall we say, reality-based. Instead of the usual flowery "As we venture onto the seas of life" garbage, she was going to give some sound advice, like get a steady job before you worry about changing the world.

This upset the powers that be, and she ultimately gave the traditional speech. What a pity.

Allow me a couple of stories. When I graduated from high school during the late Pliestocene, I was chosen as a graduation speaker. In our case, we didn't do valedictorian, salutatorian, or whatever. No, our speakers were elected by the faculty. I came to learn there were some who were concerned about choosing me because they were worried I just might do something on the other of the Floridian. Well, I thought about doing just that, but, realizing that my parents would have a fit, I decided to go the route of writing an abstruse philosophical treatise that no one understood.

The advantage of wrtiing a speech no one could figure out was that no one could think of a good reason to object.

At the end of the ceremony, we did the funeral march out of the gym. Once we exited the gym, we broke into a run for the auditorium where we could dump our robes and mortarboards and get the heck out of Dodge. About half the students were out when the doting parents, grandparents, and assorted other relatives, who were duly absorbed in the solemnity of the moment, heard a piercing, "YAHOO!" ringing out in the hallway. Some were amused, and some weren't.

Flash forward to the graduation of The Daughter. After an interminably long program, the principal finally brought proceedings to a close. As he mouthed his last platitude, the student body rose as one with a cheer and began tossing confetti, streamers, and toilet paper in the air, punctuated by streams of silly string.

I loved it. My mother hated it. I gave The Daughter all sorts of praise for the celebration, while Grandma gave her a sullen peck on the cheek (and probably chewed her out at some later time).

Immense scholarly tomes have been written on the importance of ritual in society. Ritual is a key in human development that bound groups together and brought order to a disordered world. There was time when ritual may have served some sort of purpose of that nature, but, to me, ritual and ceremony are an immense pain.

Ritual pervades our lives. There are graduations, weddings, funerals, initiations, and on and on. All these events seem to involve a lot of time, fancy dress, and regimented behavior. Yet many people cling to these endless wastes of time, all the more as people get older.

Not me. I thnk life it too short to take three days to bury someone. Gatherings where platitudes or "sacred" phrases are mouthed endlessly are a crashing bore. If it were up to me, diplomas would be mailed out.

Ritual has, in fact, often been a divisive force, since, while it binds one group together, it excludes others. This comes to mind everytime I see references to the "secret" initiation rituals of the Freemasons, which evidently aren't very secret any more, since you can see them portrayed about once a month on any of the documentary channels. These rituals have been exaggerated and misinterpreted by those not privy to the inner circles of Freemasonry and used as an excuse for persecution.

One person's ritual is another's satanic rite.

I recognize that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do away with ritual. Totalitarian regimes have tried to do that, because the dictators don't want people to bind against them. What they end up doing, though, is replacing one set of rituals with a new set that glorify the regime. The dictators simply replace one set of ceremonies with another.

Despite the difficulty, it would be helpful to the growth of the human race if we could become independent of baccalaureate breakfasts, viewings of the deceased, and the tallying of the happy couple's wedding gifts. Just imagine the time we'd gain to do something useful with our lives.

By the way, I was the kid screaming, "YAHOO!"

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