Atheist Weddings

Our own Matt Dillahunty married this past Sunday (congratulations Matt and Beth!) and now has shared with us a transcript of the proceedings. Here’s the officiant’s opening:

Officiant (Aron)

Honored guests, we gather to participate in a ritual tradition now practiced in nearly every culture or creed throughout humanity, -albeit with some variation, the formal declaration and celebration of marriage.  While some weddings may be polygamous, arranged, and/or entirely political, the most common observance here in the west is that of a partnership of a pair of people; a union not of statute, class, obligation, or obeisance, but a mutual bond of love, wherein both parties hope to honor, cherish, and embrace the other indefinitely as they sail into the unforeseeable future.

Beth and Matt thank you for your presence here today and now ask for your encouragement, and support, for their decision to be married. They are grateful that each of you could share this day with them, and they are especially honored that friends and family have travelled great distances to be here.

Beth and Matt, remember that no ceremony can create your marriage; only you can do that, through your consent and cooperation. What this ceremony can do is to witness and affirm the choice you make to stand together as partners.

Keep reading.

What do you think should be specifically included or excluded in secular wedding ceremonies? Do you have any creative ideas, things you actually said or did, or warnings?

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Steve

    That appears to have been a nice ceremony.

    Civil ceremonies are the best, IMHO. There is no mention of gods (unless requested), and the ceremony is short and sweet. As opposed to Catholic weddings — and I attended well more than my share. Those drone on and on and on……

  • NoYourGod

    When I married in a non-religious ceremony in Florida in 1990 the words were “Do you take this man to be your lawful husband…” and “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wife…”. It is simple, not preachy, and can be easily modified by substituting a 2nd “man…husband” or “woman…wife” in the appropriate situations.

    Side note to Newt G. – even though that marriage ended up in divorce 5 years later, it was not because this atheist f***ed a woman that was not his wife. Unlike some (YOU), this atheist can be trusted to make a good and moral decision because he knows right from wrong. PS – I’ve also never signed a contract that would pay me $4million with a person who would benefit tremendously from laws I would promote, then resign in disgrace when caught red-handed. Again, this atheist has a moral code he follows.

  • cholten99

    That’s a lovely service. When we got married we had a simple service and vows that we wrote ourselves which we invited friends and family to and a completely separate state wedding (with absolutely minimal wording) to which we invited only the required two witnesses.

    The British Humanist Association offers a number of template secular wedding services. Some of these are nice and resemble the one above but some /specifically/ go on about how those getting married have rejected to concept of a divine being, etc. I always thought of those as rather pointless (why not include unicorns and fairies too?).

  • Gregory

    For several years, I had a side business as a Celebrant, doing non-religious weddings with the occasional funeral, a coming-out ceremony and (my absolute favorite commission) an open adoption ceremony.

    The ceremonies were written in consultation with the clients; for weddings, I would interview the couple and put together a custom “idea book”, with a general outline and several different scripts for each part. They would then select which text they wanted, or send me a copy of something else, and put the codes on a worksheet. I assembled everything, with a few modifications to smooth out transitions, and sent back the completed script.

    Typically, my weddings started out with consent: the couple stated they wanted to be married (which is the bare minimum ceremony required by Washington State law), and the guests were asked if they would support the couple.

    Then came readings: mostly secular stuff (Shakespeare’s sonnets were frequent guests) although some couples would use less objectionable scripture (the Love Chapter from I Corinthians, for example) to satisfy some of their more… outspoken relatives in attendance. They could either read something to each other, or have a friend do it.

    After the readings came the “instruction” where I would say something along the lines of “Marriage is a joining of lives and family, it should not be taken lightly, yadda yadda yadda.” Then the vows. My basic version had optional phrasing for “forsaking all others” and “until death do we part”; some couples used them, some did not. This was accompanied with an exchange of tokens, usually but not necessarily rings.

    Then came “the joining”, where the couple would make a symbolic act of becoming a single family/social unit. Some of the options I drew from religious tradition, such as the marriage candle or wedding crowns; some from other cultures, such as a handfasting, jumping the broom or drinking from a common cup. And sometimes, the couples would surprise me: at one Hawaiian theme wedding, the couple wore leis (the real flower ones) and the joining was a removing their own leis and placing it on their new spouse. That was done in silence, but there was no way to misinterpret what it meant.

    Last was a secular benediction, basically “May you find joy in your life together.”

  • Gregory

    @NoYourGod – One of the weddings I did was a stereotypical Seattle affair. The couple were going to have a lavish church ceremony to appease the family, but wanted a specific date a week earlier to be their actual anniversary. So, I met up with the couple and two of their friends at a Starbucks. We grabbed a table, I took a jurat (“Is it your intent to live openly as husband and wife? Ok, you sign here… and you here… and you… and you.”) Then we all grabbed a coffee.

  • cookingwithdogs

    I am a ULC minister and was asked to perform a cyber wedding ceremony for two friends who met and courted through online message boards. Although the readings I used were not specifically atheist in tone, I selected readings that I felt reflected the values of the couple and that didn’t put religion at the forefront since neither of them was particularly religious and I am an atheist.

    I used a portion of Plato’s Symposium on love and marriage and an Apache wedding blessing and the couple also wrote their vows. You can view it here if interested:

  • EveeDream

    We had the town mayor perform the ceremony, and we had my now sister-in-law read “A Lovely Love Story,” which is a children’s book about dinosaurs and it is adorable. Text of the story is here:

  • davidct

    They only thing necessary is to leave the Sky Fairy out of the ceremony. It’s funny how that little change makes it so much more about the people getting married.

  • Wes

    I got married in Pennsylvania, so we were able to get a self-uniting license. We had a party at my mother’s house, and my wife & I spent 10 minutes talking about each other and our relationship, then we went inside and signed the paperwork. It was nice.

  • marybeth

    We were married in Maui. Vows were: Getting married as you are in Hawaii, I think that we think of certain concepts that have been important to the people of these islands for centuries. I think especially of the concepts of ‘aloha’ ‘ohana’ and ‘oponopono’.
    Aloha is the most common term and is known by persons of many language groups all over the world. It is a special term that expresses the bonds of love and affection between persons. It is a caring term for compassion and mercy, for kindness and charity.It is a feeling that other persons have value and worth.
    The concept of ohana comes from the word ‘oha’ meaning taro. members of the ohana, like taro roots are all from the same root.Ohana means family, family group, and we come from individual families and as we get married we begin another family and extend the family of which we are already a part. Ohana is a sense of unity, shared involvement and shared responsibility. It is a mutual interdependence and mutual help. It is emotional support, given and received. It is solidarity and cohesiveness. It is love and loyalty.
    Finally, there is the concept of ho’oponopono. Popo means righteousness or goodness. Ho’oponopono means to make things right. In ancient Hawaii, when disagreements occurred between persons, they would gather in their ohana for a service of reconciliation. When the two of you have disagreements in your married life, I doubt that you will have a service of ho’oponopo to resolve those differences, but I hope you will find loving ways of listening to one anothers feelings and concerns and that you will be able to readily forgive one another. And so…Mary and Patrick, you two have come to this moment and to this place, to express your love for one another and to commit yourselves to building a relationship of caring and understanding in which genuine ‘aloha’ will exist. May you also feel a sense of ohana,a sense of family. May you give one another emotional support and trust and may you always keep the lines of communication open.

  • Roeland

    Since I am a wedding photographer I see a lot of weddings. What never fails to touch me is vows written and spoken by the couple themselves. Any kind of emotional involvement makes a special moment, brilliant.

  • Lazaro Ramez

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. I’d personally also like to state that video games have been ever evolving. Modern technology and revolutions have helped create realistic and active games. Most of these entertainment games were not really sensible when the concept was first being experimented with. Just like other forms of technological know-how, video games as well have had to advance by means of many ages. This is testimony towards the fast growth of video games.