A little over a month prior, I went to a Seventh-day Adventist service with my friends. A dear friend of ours was giving her first sermon, and we went to support her. It was a Saturday, the day when followers of the religion observe the Sabbath, and quite a pleasant Saturday it was. We all dressed moderately nice, but still paled aesthetically in comparison to the regular patrons. Many men were wearing sweater vests with simple but attractive designs. All had very neat haircuts, and some even wore full suits. The women wore a range of styles, from plain blouses, scarves, and skirts to form-fititng, vibrantly colored dresses. There was a unique mix of piety and class seen in everyone.
After we were all seated, someone began playing the piano and the service began. Several members of a small choir, all of whom were female, walked up to the front of room, and soon the room was filled with a mixture of beautifully played piano notes and lovely soprano voices that sang a variety of hymns. Songs about the crucifixion of Jesus were usually somber, while songs about his resurrection had uplifting melodies that spoke of overcoming hardships. The performance was over I felt too soon, as I really enjoyed it.
Then an interesting thing happened. Someone (presumably a pastor or religious leader of some sort) came up to the podium to make a request. He asked that we all rise from our seats and make greetings to those around us for a couple minutes. So for those few jovial minutes, people were shaking hands and smiling and introducing themselves and laughing at what he or she said and the like. There was no feeling of coercion to be felt, no awkward moments, not a single person, from what I could observe, sitting in exclusion. Like the segment with the hymns, this part was also short lived. People shuffled back to their seats, and the room was hush again.
There was a unique mix of piety and class seen in everyone.
The service maintained this high degree of communalism for the rest of its duration. Another person, who struck me as just being a regular and not necessarily someone who gave sermons, had a personal request for all of us to drop to our knees and make a prayer (I abstained from the prayer, but still went on my knees). This - the ease at which a random person could ask for special prayers - happens very often at religious gatherings. I've specifically seen it at the local masjid (mosque is the more common word) back home.
Our friend gave a powerful sermon. She talked about unconditional love, usually encapsulated as agape in Christian theology. She mentioned her parents as they beamed with pride from the front row. Our friend is a gifted visual artist, often dabbling in stencils and paints to produce gorgeous oeuvres, but her talent for poetic speaking was evinced that afternoon. The service ended shortly thereafter, but without a few more paeans about Jesus. Afterwards, we saw our friend and praised her emotionally charged sermon, before leaving to continue with the rest of our day.
Here I make a transition. Almost three weeks ago, I went up to Harvard with two friends to attend a Humanist service put on by the Humanist Community at Harvard. It might be inaccurate to call it a service due to the religious connotations attached to the word, but there were some parallels. For example, both had music, albeit very different styles. The Humanist event sported a live band slow jamming on stage, providing a sort of hip indie ambiance as the other attendees chatted it up with each other. Surprisingly, most of the attendees belonged to the older generation, with a few Millennials sprinkled here and there. (One of my accompanying friends later informed me that there exists another Humanist meeting group exclusively for Harvard students, so the youth may regularly flock there instead.)
Each Sunday, these services have different guests who share the Humanist philosophy. We happened to stop by when the musician Sunny Jain was the special guest. After a very lengthy introduction given by a handful of the organizers, he got on the tiny stage and gave what at least is the analogous form of a sermon. He started with how his interest in music began, focusing on how he took his dhol drumming to the jazz scene of New York City. About half way through, he transitioned into Humanism and why it was a philosophy that worked for him. The whole time, he spoke casually and after the half-way point encouraged interruptions for questions. Every now and then, he would demo his dhol drumming, which sounded like a hyperactive heartbeat. After his talk and a few more rounds of Q&A, he and the live band started setting up the stage for a collaborative performance of a couple hybrid songs.
One organizer came on stage and shared what he called a moment of connection, during which he briefly shared how music shaped his life. He spoke about his love for Billy Joel.
At this point, the same interesting thing that happened at the Seventh-day Adventist service happened here. One organizer came on stage and shared what he called a moment of connection, during which he briefly shared how music shaped his life. He spoke about his love for Billy Joel. On this note, he asked the audience to do the same. For a few minutes, everyone spoke to a stranger about music, or at least used music as a starting point. This was also enjoyable, although the constraint did make it seem less fluid. Regardless, this uncanny similarity was unexpected. And as anticipated, the subsequent musical performance was nothing short of fun.
Both events spoke to how we should live. The religious service asked for devout worship, the practice of certain rituals, and an acknowledgement of humanity's need for salvation. The latter point had some negative effects on me. It hinted at a sort of wretchedness inherent in humans, for which the only cure is Christ. This feeling of guilt was absent at the Humanist service. There existed only a consistent aura of innocence. Yes, it had a philosophy, but it was one shared with most people I've met, religious or not. Both crowds - the pious Seventh-day Adventists and the local Humanists - took luxury in sermons, music, and community. The Seventh-day Adventists had more: the attribution to God and the lifestyle that follows. This difference seemed unnecessary, for without it people still possessed what appeared to be a ubiquitous morality. In the end, the two philosophies had more than just an overlap. One encompassed the other, with a padding of scripture and regimen in between.
I don't plan on attending similar events in the near future. I don't believe in the tenets of my friend's theology, and Humanism doesn't add much to my personal philosophy. (Also weekly commitments that fall on the weekend are a pet peeve of mine.) I will miss the hymns and dhol drumming though.
I wonder what a hybrid of the two would sound like.