Rituals are practiced by the faithful all over. This suggests that it may be required to reinforce faith.

We are reminded by the church that in communist Russia, where religious ritual was banned for a while, Christianity still famously survived. But it is quite possible that ritual simply went underground, rather than ceased.

What do you think …

Are we inherently rational?
Is ritual the little Dutch boy’s finger in the dyke of irrationality?


Slightly off topic, sorry.
I saw this somewhere the other day: “What would be the Atheist ritual food for special occasions?”. The answers range from “strictly organic and GMO free” to a few rather silly suggestions. But should an atheist food by definition not be “nothing special”? We don’t have special occasions, do we? Maybe Douglas Adams “Towel day” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Towel_Daybut can’t think of anything else.

Everyday is an atheist holiday.
So what ever you eat today will be the ritual food, I just ate a babotie pie

Actually, just about everybody participates in rituals of some sort. The commies in the USSR had their own rituals. And when grandma dies, no matter how staunch an atheist you may be, you don’t just throw her in the recycle bin.

Humans seem to have a need for ritual. One has to wonder why.

I’d guess our need for ritual is entirely psychological. We find comfort and security in things with which we are familiar. Ritual, by its nature, is either practising and reaffirming that which is familiar, or a formal path towards becoming familiar with something. We are (mostly) creatures of habit, and ritual is just embellished habit. Also, we are distressed, often disproportionately, when we find our habits are under threat, whether real or imaginary.

I am reminded of a short SF story (Asimov or Bradbury, IIRC) in which a Japanese Hiroshima (or Nagasaki) survivor is transported a few hundred years into the future shortly after the A-bomb attack by would-be scientific Samaritans from that future. The short of it is that he is so unfamiliar with and bewildered by that ostensibly much better world in which peace and comfort and magical technology prevail that he begs to be put back into his own time, despite all the ruination and death reigning there. I think that story marks a dramatic take on the human condition — one that is nonetheless perceptively accurate.


It stengthens the herd, makes one feel part of the pack so to speak. Even in families we do it, that one dish Mom only makes when everybody is present, the family stories that are told over and over and over again during family gatherings. I re-enforces our place in the family/society/world, that feeling of belonging.

although there are no doubt a couple of us here that couldnt care a hoot about belonging. >:D

Here’s my understanding of it: (sorry I am quoting from my book):"People have an apparent and sometimes almost insatiable need for ‘ekstasis’ or ecstasy, to give meaning to their lives. This so-called ‘stepping outside’ finds expression in many ways such as music, dance, sport, sex and sadly in drug- and alcohol-abuse as well. It can also be found in religious fervour, attending religious gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues, Satan worship; participating in secret societies, group activities and community projects. It also forms an important basis for joining radical groups, labour movements, political meetings, and of fundamentalism and radicalism.

Thus rituals are part of the socialisation that is part and parcel of these groups and when you get involved in very primitive societies (like I was among the San people as a child) these rituals are fundamental to also understanding them. So whether you’re a Free mason of a Satanist (many would argue they are the same) or merely being inducted into a boarding establishment at school, people need these within reason I suppose 'coz some rituals are horrific e.g. Zulu breaking of an ox’s neck which I’ve also attended much later in life.

Why, Tweefs, I’m suprised you had to ask!



Maybe irrationality, like misery and almost everything else, likes company. The social aspect must be important, but there are also lots of private rituals that presumably also reinforces belief. Like praying before bedtime, private bible study etc.


Apart from the social aspects of rituals, maybe it also has something to do with our brains constantly looking for shortcuts. Shortcuts in all senses - from short, concise, abbreviated formulas to massively complicated concepts (think Einstein’s E=mc2) to repeating the actions we took right before something advantageous happened. If I scratch my head and then pull the slot machine lever, and right at that moment win the jackpot, my primal brain might connect the dots and through a complete misunderstanding of causality make me scratch my head every time I pull the lever in the future. Go and look at the slots next time you happen to be at Monte Casino - people do just that. That might be the same mechanism that lies at the root of rain dances. And then, when the ritual leads to nothing, as it will in the vast majority of cases, it will be because Somebody Up There is not happy with us. Which, of course, leads to a slew of other religious inventions.

There’s something very Pavlovian about it. And whereas Pavlov’s dog starts salivating at the ring of the bell, we start building our expectations at the completion of the ritual only to be kicked in the teeth by reality - which leads to us feeling guilty about some purported sin we’ve committed, because, hey - when you put your left foot out, you put your right foot out, it simply HAS to start raining when you shake it all about. Unless you’ve done something to piss off the Man Upstairs. Yes - that MUST be it. God hates me. Because my prayers don’t get answered. I’m a bad, bad man. And the only way to fix that, is to go back to church on Sunday. This time, with even MORE money.

I went to a wedding this weekend, and how adventageous that the very topic I was ruminating about at the time should be raised on this forum!

I think Faerie has it right about “us”, I’ve realised the more weddings I attend, the more the ritual of it all annoys and bewilders me. I don’t think all people feel this need for ritual, I certainly don’t, and rue the social occasion where I have to participate. To me it’s all just too formulaic… Lacking in spontaneity, authenticity. It doesn’t feel real. It feels more like a play, in which each person participating is an actor. The entire thing is scripted, nicely laid out with steps to follow. To be honest, it gives me the heebie jeebies.

Every speech echoes a nice formula you’ve heard countless times before, then you stand, then you applaud, then you sit, then you eat, then you cut a cake, then you feed the cake to your spouse, then you hold that pose while a photo is taken, then you toss a bouquet… the list is endless. WHY?!

Tellingly, Majin at one stage turned to me and said exactly what I was thinking: “Please, I never want to have a marriage like this… we have to do something way different”. It reminded me why we’re together in the first place.

The sad part of all this: Cursed be the fool who dares subvert all this tomfoolery. We’re reminded regularly how “weird” and out of place we are in society at large. Occassions like this seem to serve to drive this home at every turn. A week before the event I heard she was going to catch the flowers and I was going to catch the garter. I use the term catch loosely, but “catch” it we both did. Even the spontaneous part of the evening had been pre-planned by everyone who knows us…

And the reason is downright braindead easy to guess… Everyone we know, want us to marry. Not as much for our sake as for theirs. THEY would feel better about life, somehow, if WE got married. And I’m guessing they’re not contemplating the “go to court and sign papers” kind of marriage. They want their rituals damnit! And they want us to share in the ritual, even if by force, to match their own steps through life in sync with them. I guess to them, that’s what it means for us to “belong” with them.

It all reminds me of this:

Boogie you said it all!

Ohhhh… weddings… (insert involuntary ass-cramp)

I am glad to report that I haven’t been down that particular road yet. As a matter of principle. Because of the very reasons you’ve highlighted in your post.


I do have a wife, and I have two beautiful daughters.

How did that happen, I hear you gasp in amazement?

Simple. The wife and I simply never felt the need to have our relationship ‘certified’ or stamped with the seal of society’s approval by getting married. We didn’t get married in a church, and we didn’t get married in court. What we have done, however, is to change our wills. So, in the event of either party’s death, the other party and the children have got legal recourse to the deceased’s estate.

And we had the most amazing “wedding”. Check this: A regular wedding can easily set you back a hundred grand for a single Saturday afternoon’s scripted idiocy. We spent half that, got a beach house in Marina Beach, and rented rooms in Margate for twelve of our closest friends and family. It was six couples, so we only had to rent six rooms. And it was completely out of season, the beach was empty and quiet and the accommodation was cheap. Our friends had to take the Thursday, Friday and next Monday off from work, and everybody congregated at the beach house in Marina Beach. And yes, we were shitfaced most of the time. It was awesome, intimate, and genuine. We had braais on the beach, we got smashed, we laughed, we danced, we fished, we started up another braai, got smashed again, passed out, woke up, walked along the beach, sobered up, got smashed again, went fishing again, passed out in the sun, got horribly sunburnt, the whole nine yards. By Monday, we decided that we’ve pretty much done celebrating our union and we all left for Gauteng for work on the Tuesday.

I don’t remember if we’ve actually decided “okay, NOW we’re married” or sny such thing. I’m sure in our inebriated state we probably did have a couple of faux ceremonies. I honestly can’t tell you. I do have photos of us doing amazingly weird shit, and any one of them probably could have been a wedding ceremony. But if I did get ‘married’ in the ceremonial sense, I was only wearing a board short and flip-flops. With a horrible sunburn.

I do suppose that probably did count as a ‘wedding’. But we simply refused to do it the ‘church’ way. We had a braai on the beach. And let the chips fall where they may. So, there’s an idea for you guys, Boogie & Majin!

The irony of it all is that at the same time, my wife’s cousins started getting into the marriage game. And she’s got a helluva big extended family. We prolly went to weddings at the rate of four to five a year, for about five years running. And her family is happy clappy llike hell. The lot of them. My father in law will spontaneously burst out in praise songs when we’re braaiing at the old man’s house. VERY awkward. That’s how they roll. But their religion and commitment to religious claptrap like ‘weddings’ and such ceremonies didn’t help them jack shit. Because, after fourteen years, more than half of them are already divorced. The other half are very unhappy, and divorce proceedings are probably not far off. Yet me and my heathen missus are still together and happy as the proverbial shit-covered pigs. And legally speaking, there is nothing keeping us together. If I give my wife a second’s worth of shit more than what she deems is right, or vise versa, we don’t need lawyers or any complicated proceedings to dissolve our union. At worst, the unhappy party simply has to pack his/her shit and bugger off. But we don’t do that. Because we love each other. And we’re in it for the long haul. And we’ve got two beautiful girls who we love. We’re committed to make it work. Because it’s what WE want - not something dictated to us by some imaginery fairy in the sky.

It’s incredibly liberating, and much more real, for want of a better term. Love should not be dictated, formulated or ritualised. Then it’s just more smoke and mirrors, leading to immensely unhappy couples, wealthy lawyers and traumatised children. A ritual only makes it real on paper.

Oh yes - and, after fourteen years, our ‘wedding’ is the only one that the attendees remember. All the other formulated weddings they’ve been to around the same time all melded together in their memories. They can’t remember whether it was at Trevor’s, Wayne’s or Suzanne’s wedding when ouma’s dress caught light on one of the table candles. But they DO remember that time down in Margate when Henk and his better half got ‘married’. Because it was unique, it was fun, and above all, it was REAL.

You guys should really consider following that route. The only bit of paperwork involved is just to adapt your wills to give the other party and/or any offspring legal surety in the case of death.

Of course, were you to ‘divorce’ and go your own ways, you are free to change your will again to cut your ex-partner our of your estate. But then you’re just an asshole, and besides, your estate can be sued by your offspring and the courts will in any case see you as being in a common-law marriage if you’ve stayed together for more than six months. So, from the common-law protection given your partner and your offspring, there’s in any case even LESS of a reason to do it the oldfashioned way.

Right on man, I couldn’t agree more. Many people I’ve seen who are in a rush to get married end up so, SO unhappy. Spouses who all but ignore them, seperations, divorces, court cases about children… Ugh. And I blatantly tell people this! I tell it go right to their face: Us being married doesn’t mean shit! It surely doesn’t guarantee happiness or longevity of the union. IMHO if the state could fuckoff with the mandatory “we WILL govern your love” shit it would be most welcome. IMHO me and Majin are married, and have been for quite a while. It’s just not formalised, you know, the way everyone else wants it. I don’t see us seperating ways ever, but if we do, it’ll be a long, loooong time after others we know have re-married.

Only thing I really have to do is adjust my will and death benefits… which we’ll be doing pretty soon. I do like the party idea, that’s very tempting.

EDIT: Oh, and a hearty hoesit!

Speaking of divorce, one of my aunts got married last year after being with the person for quite a long time. Within a month she got divorced.
We spoke on the phone a while ago and she asked me, “so when is Boogie going to ask you to get married?” I can’t really remember what I said to her, but she had the cheek to say to me: “You should maybe weigh your options then, and maybe decide to leave boogie.”

That to me is just an idiotic statement and idea! I can’t understand why it matters more for you to be married but it’s fine for you to get divorced after.
People go through the big wedding show and then get divorced quite easily.

Boogie can leave me at any time even if we are married, and I don’t see marriage as proof of commitment. We have been together for a long time - and I reckon if he wanted to leave me he would have done so much sooner.

It is frowned upon calling someone your wife without a legal certificate. I see me and Boogie as already married. But dare I call him my man or mention that I am his wife or even mention that his Mom and Dad has accepted me as their daughter. I get treated like an outcast. It affects me more then I would like it to affect me.

Donn my younger son (34) has been in a relationship with Lee for the last 6 years. His take on marriage is “it’s just paper work”. The interesting thing is that he says that Lee is indeed his common law wife and actually has considerable rights in common law in SA. I like Henk’s approach to rewriting the wills; this will add substantial solidity to the situation as well. I have been married 46 years now and went through the whole rigmarole, NG Kerk, Gebooie, etc etc and a moerse plaas party reception. Yes marriage does not guarantee longevity of a relationship but a good relationship guarantees the longevity of a marriage.

Boogie sez it all. My S/O and I got married for financial reasons… I work for one of the big banks and he could only qualify for a staff rate on our bond if we were married. So we popped into home affairs, signed what needed to be signed and went straight back to the bank with our piece of paper that would save a couple thousand rand on our budget every month.

My mother in law only found out about our “marriage” some eight months later, and after being furious and ranting at us, she arranged for a fairly elaborate wedding reception to take place… complete with the “family” from the Eastern Cape neither of us have ever heard of and the wedding gifts (a silver Ice scoop and teaset) that we never will use. Oh, and she got a dominee to say a blessing over us…


A prime opportunity to start convulsing on the floor and foaming at the mouth.

Hmm, I wonder. Doing so might fuel the delusion by “confirming” that you’re possessed by a demon. In turn, this could occasion yet more unwelcome ritual in the form of an exorcism and a prayer vigil… >:D


For clarification: I did say it’s generally people who rush into weddings, probably so that the pomping is more kosher… because of religion.

So no, getting back on topic: I don’t understand why people adore rituals and ceremonies so much, but I seriously doubt I make up part the target audience. If there is “something to it” then I’m clueless.