South Portland Mayor Asks Secular Humanist to Deliver Invocation

The new mayor of South Portland, Maine is Tom Coward, and one of his first duties was to decide who would deliver the invocation at the ceremony in which other new city officials would be inaugurated.

He made a surprising (and welcome) pick: Andrew Lovley, a college senior who founded the Southern Maine Association of Secular Humanists (SMASH) on his campus.

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[Lovley] told city officials, “In the face of adversity, we need not look above for answers.”

Instead, he said, we should “recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges that may arrive.”

Lovley, in phone and e-mail interviews after the event, acknowledged that most invocations are religious. But, he said, he believes a secular humanist version to be “the most inclusive and realistic.”

“My speech did not speak to only one denomination or sect, but to humankind in general,” Lovley said. “Since nearly all social problems are human in origin, I think it is important we accept the responsibility to develop our own solutions and not try to solicit help from up above.”

So what was the reaction from other city officials?

It ranged from lots of confusion (We have to look to ourselves to fix problems?!) to lots of praise (the speech was “different”…)

Andrew was nice enough to send me the text of his invocation address upon request. You can see for yourself how inspiring it is:

Today we have come together to mark a new beginning of governance in the city of South Portland. What lies ahead is an untold opportunity to affirm our ability and our responsibility to serve the greater good –- of which there is no higher purpose.

We must open our hearts to the welfare of all people within our community by respecting the inherent dignity within all of us, and realize that our differences of race, religion, and party affiliation are only superficial. We are united by our common humanity, and through our interdependence we share a common fate.

In order to achieve our greatest capabilities as citizens and leaders of this community, it is important for us maintain an open mind. Let us consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that only serve to obstruct our path to progress.

Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in denial or deference, we should open our eyes widely to accept the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what it could be.

Through the prudent use of reason and compassion we can ensure the success of this great city.

Lastly we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges that may arise.

Wow. Kudos to Andrew for representing himself and other atheists so well.

In an email to me, Andrew also responded to the criticism from one reverend that “sometimes our best is not enough. Let’s call on something greater than ourselves.”

How is it appropriate to invoke fatalism when an invocation is meant to be inspiring? What I set out to do is invoke confidence in the human potential because that is where our success stems from.

I think he definitely inspired a lot of people.

Mayor Coward deserves our thanks, too; unlike so many before him, he has started his tenure out on the right foot by reaching out to a group that rarely gets acknowledgment from any government.

(via @secstualliance)

  • Heidi

    That was excellent. Yay for not having to sit through the privileged religion speech!

    And I agree about the “sometimes our best is not enough” bit. The hell kind of thing is that to tell people? “Give up and wish.” Pfft.

    I’m feeling very included right now. My thanks to Andrew and Mayor Coward.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    Mayor Coward wasn’t.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Sometimes our best is not enough?

    I’d wager that when it isn’t, sitting on our butts and praying hasn’t done much to remedy the situation.

  • http://www.thoughtcounts.net thoughtcounts Z

    Well done, all around! (Like Judith I also want to point out that Tom Coward appears to be — happily — inaccurately named. :) )

  • Luther

    All that the criticism points out is that underneath the ususal religious invocations is a call to avoid responsibility – god(s) caused our problems – if they aren’t solved it is the god(s) fault.

    What kind of god would create and support a class of irresponsible whiners? Certainly not an intelligent designer.

  • codemenkey

    Mayor Coward wasn’t.

    this.

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com/ Eamon Knight

    Mayor Coward wasn’t.

    …and that invocation was Lovely.

    Cue cries of “We’re being persecuted by not getting our traditional privilege!” from the usual sources in 3…2…1…

  • TeddyKGB

    There are two obvious jabs at organized religion in the invocation which are completely unnecessary; playing devil’s advocate (pun intended), I can see why someone would get upset. We would be rightfully upset if someone used an invocation to bash atheists.

  • Heidi

    That sounded like bashing to you? How is it any worse than (or even as bad as) atheists and other non-Christians being forced to sit through an opening prayer?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/gettingfreeftw gettingfree

    Andrew Lovley = another great example of “good without ‘god’”. Thanks Andrew!

    And special thanks to Tom Coward for doing what a good politician should, which is include people of various view points.

    Regarding the reverend’s comment, “sometimes our best is not enough. Let’s call on something greater than ourselves.” Some times our best isn’t enough, but there is no-one higher to call on. People need to stop pretending there is someone higher to call on just because it is uncomfortable to realize that there is not.

  • TeddyKGB

    First – right or wrong, the Supreme Court has established that invocations like this don’t violate the Establishment Clause; after all, a secular humanist just got to do one.

    Secondly, “rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in denial or deference” and “we need not look above for answers” are deliberately confrontational statements, which pretty much misses the point of an invocation.

    Third, if you are secure in your beliefs, why should other people’s prayer bother you? It’s hypocritical to expect people to respect your beliefs when you disrespect theirs, religious or non-religious.

  • benjdm

    Secondly, “rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in denial or deference” and “we need not look above for answers” are deliberately confrontational statements, which pretty much misses the point of an invocation.

    They are equally as confrontational as traditional invocations asking that we bow our heads or ask God for answers.

    Third, if you are secure in your beliefs, why should other people’s prayer bother you?

    If they are only speaking for themselves, they don’t bother us. A government invocation is not like that. An invocation is always going to ‘bother’ someone and I don’t think there should be any. Case in point: you being bothered by this one. But if we’re going to have them, let’s spread the bother around.

  • TeddyKGB

    Please don’t cherry-pick my argument; the first thing I said was that the Supremes have already ruled that these type of invocations don’t violate the Establishment Clause. I did not say I agreed with them; it probably would be better if these sort of things were left out entirely.

    If the point of doing this particular invocation was to say that invocations are wrong, that’s not only hypocritical – it’s childish. If it was intended to be a heartfelt expression of what we believe in, the tone was inappropriate. Let’s talk about what we believe in; not what we don’t.

  • Miko

    Interestingly enough, the speech works equally well if you interpret the ‘higher power’ that we shouldn’t rely on as being the government.

    Let’s talk about what we believe in; not what we don’t.

    There’s essentially nothing that ‘we’ (construed widely enough) believe in. The best we could hope for is a universal affirmation that it’s okay for other people to believe different things than we do. And I don’t think we’re going to get even that.

  • TeddyKGB

    There’s essentially nothing that ‘we’ (construed widely enough) believe in.

    That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    The golden rule, for instance, is an innate wisdom that pretty much all religions work into their beliefs; secular humanists included.

  • Sesoron

    The supposed confrontational bits aren’t really necessarily so, depending on interpretation. “We mustn’t bow our heads or close our eyes in denial or deference” could be construed as chiastic: he means the outer parts to go together, and the inner parts to go together, as in “we mustn’t bow our heads in deference or close our eyes in denial”. I think that’s very much a valid concern in our world, where many people would rather pray, which is established to be ineffective, than find a real solution. “We need not look above for answers” is the same way. I think even religious folks can agree to this: that’s why there are religious charities who do more than just sit around and pray. There’s definitely an argument for those exhortations that assumes the truth of religion: God gave us the ability to solve our own problems, therefore we should use it. Humanism is certainly compatible with theism.

    As for the critic who said that our best isn’t always enough, I’d say to him: whose best? The best of the entire human species? Because there’s an immense amount of goodness in that population. One person’s best may not always be enough for a given problem, but that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t help them to solve it anyway. Just because we haven’t solved all the problems yet doesn’t mean we never will. That’s a poor argument from lack of imagination. You can’t just go around declaring that humanity’s best will never be enough when you aren’t omniscient.

    Or maybe he just thinks someone omniscient has told him so.

  • ImmortalityLTD

    Sometimes our best is not enough?

    I’d wager that when it isn’t, sitting on our butts and praying hasn’t done much to remedy the situation.

    I’d wager that when sitting on your butts and praying IS your best, it won’t EVER be good enough.

  • Trace

    I agree with TeddyKGB.

  • Vas

    There’s essentially nothing that ‘we’ (construed widely enough) believe in.

    That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    The golden rule, for instance, is an innate wisdom that pretty much all religions work into their beliefs; secular humanists included.

    Inate Wisdom!?! WTF… really, innate wisdom, is that anything like the infallible truth? For the record I’m not on board with this “innate wisdom” for a second. How about “Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the law?” is this innate wisdom as well or just kooky junk? Sounds better to me than “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you” that does not sound like wisdom of any description to me, rather it sounds like a recipe for disaster, a one way ticket to victimville. While the golden rule may be conventional wisdom it is not innate wisdom and we can not agree on this rule. I know a great many people who do not subscribe to this golden rule, many of them religious, and I can assure you that this is not a universally accepted notion even in religious circles.

    Let’s talk about what we believe in; not what we don’t.

    How about this, speak for yourself and others will do the same. You have, I have, others have and will continue to. That is the way of it.

  • Heidi

    Please don’t cherry-pick my argument; the first thing I said was that the Supremes have already ruled that these type of invocations don’t violate the Establishment Clause.

    Yes, you did. In fact you said:

    First – right or wrong, the Supreme Court has established that invocations like this don’t violate the Establishment Clause; after all, a secular humanist just got to do one.

    I’m not clear on why it’s “cherry picking” to you that benjdm did not respond to this one sentence. I’m guessing that was because it was irrelevant to the discussion. Neither I, nor anyone who posted after me said an invocation of any sort was unconstitutional. Nor did anyone but you bring up the establishment clause. So where are you going with this?

    What I actually did say is that IMO there is nothing in Andrew’s invocation that is as offensive as the glorified mini-church services which make up the usual invocations. I am extremely uncomfortable when forced to sit through a barrage of mumbo jumbo while everyone nods their head like it’s a good idea to wish, rather than do. And yet even by your own admission, I have no recourse but to sit through them or not attend.

    You appear to be missing the point of the invocation completely. It was not to push anyone’s beliefs. It was not to slam the idea of an invocation. It was to show a better way to do it. It was a way to be inspirational without bringing in mythology

    And if theists’ faith is so weak that they can’t interpret Andrew’s words as “God helps those who help themselves,” then I feel like maybe they should re-examine it.

    As for myself, “there is no evidence” is really not a shakeable “belief” unless they come up with some evidence, now is it? So again, you’re arguing with something that was not said.

  • We Are The 801

    “sometimes our best is not enough. Let’s call on something greater than ourselves.”

    People like this remind me of people with self-esteem problems who invariably get stuck in an abusive relationship, where the implicit (and sometimes explicit) message is: “You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.” Eventually, this poor victim doesn’t even need to be told this– they’ve been conditioned to think that way. Even the slightest suggestion that they are a “good person” will strike them as entirely foreign concept. Sad.

  • We Are The 801

    TO ADD: But this “abusive relationship” analogy only goes so far… because the abusive partner or parent is, well, non-existent…

  • muggle

    Great invocation! And cudos to the mayor for offering a minority the opportunity. ‘Bout time and he handled it well.

    I don’t find it at all confrontational, except in the most mildly possible way. (It was rather impossible not to be at all so unless maybe he stood up there and recited his A, B, C’s or something.) More along the vein of John Lennon’s “Imagine” or something and there’s certainly plenty of theists who love that damned song (I’m using damned endearingly here; it is one of my favorite songs). Mr. Lovley’s was, in fact, rather a bit milder than that.

    As for the Golden Rule, stuff it. I fucking hate that egotistical piece of bullshit. Don’t fucking assume what you want is what I’d want and I won’t assume you are me, okay?

    Better rule: do no harm. Better still: think before you act.

  • TeddyKGB

    Wow. Is Vas aware that he’s mentally ill?

    As for the Golden Rule, stuff it. I fucking hate that egotistical piece of bullshit. Don’t fucking assume what you want is what I’d want and I won’t assume you are me, okay?

    Better rule: do no harm. Better still: think before you act.

    Uh, yeah – that’s pretty much the golden rule.

    It’s quite depressingly to find atheists who are as militaristically boneheaded about their beliefs as fundamentalists are. Yikes.

  • muggle

    Uh, no, it’s not. There’s one hell of a difference between do unto others as you would have them do unto you and do no harm or think before you act. The golden rule in fact asks for knee jerk assumption not to think but to presume the other person would always want exactly what you would in their place. Egotistical horseshit that often does harm and definitely doesn’t think before acting.

    And I guess — since you practice the Golden Rule — what you want when someone disagrees with you is to be accused of being insane, right?

    Okay, you’re fucking crazy.

  • muggle

    It’s quite depressingly to find atheists who are as militaristically boneheaded about their beliefs as fundamentalists are.

    That’s for damned sure. Too bad you have to demonstrate it in your obsession over an adage.

  • Heidi

    Wow. Is Vas aware that he’s mentally ill?

    Are you aware that this is an ad hominem, not an argument?

    It’s quite depressingly to find atheists who are as militaristically boneheaded about their beliefs as fundamentalists are.

    You mean like people who continually argue with strawmen, rather than addressing what anyone actually says, apparently for no other reason than that they feel like arguing (i.e. “playing devil’s advocate (pun intended)”)? Yeah, that’s fairly depressing.

  • TeddyKGB

    That’s for damned sure. Too bad you have to demonstrate it in your obsession over an adage.

    Clearly, there’s one of us here obsessed over an adage, and it isn’t me. The kneejerks here seem to believe that the “golden rule” has a religious origin, when in fact religions co-opted an innate logical way to behave morally.

    Not once did I say that this applies to every situation, and you’d have to be a rather dark fuck in order to turn it into something sinister (hence, insulting vas).

    Heidi’s kneejerk is so pervasive that she has no sense of humor and little or no reading comprehension, so I won’t even respond to her. (Oops.)

  • Vas

    Ummmm, yeah ad hominem is being kind, but true enough. For the record, I am, in fact not mentally ill. Perhaps I am rather dark but again this has nothing to do with the discussion or the proposition you forwarded. My darkness or mental state has absolutely no bearing on the matter whatsoever. I think the golden rule is a bad rule and I think not everyone can agree that it is good, as you suggested. Further I reject the notion of “innate wisdom” I think it’s an attempt at a cheap trick to make you appear correct. it reminds me of the quote “God said it, I believe it, and that’s the end of it”. Your argument as near as I can tell is, I’m right because I say I’m right, and you are wrong because you are darksided and mentally ill, bad form. I can take the baseless insults and have no fear that anyone here will take your unsupported accusations as meritorious. In the end it reflects rather poorly on you, do you not see this?
    I come to this site often and occasionally forward opinions that are met with harsh disagreement, and I’m fine with that, but at least they are not hollow bait, they are real opinions and not posted to stir derision or to be “the Devil’s advocate”. I think we discuss important matters here and am disheartened when discussions descend to petty name calling such as TeddyKGB’s above comments. Why do you even bother, this is not a site full of stupid people, how could you imagine this type of thing would go unnoticed or unchecked?

  • muggle

    Um, Teddy, answer my question, since you are the one arguing in favor of the golden rule: did you call Vas mentally ill because you would like people to call you mentally ill?

    My point — since it seems to have gone over your head — is practice what you preach, or perhaps rethink what you’re preaching since you’re not capable of it.

  • Heidi

    Heidi’s kneejerk is so pervasive that she has no sense of humor and little or no reading comprehension, so I won’t even respond to her. (Oops.)

    See now there he goes being rude and insulting again, and calling people names, and… WTF is he even talking about? “Kneejerk??” Yeah, that’s what it was. It’s a “kneejerk” reaction when someone doesn’t agree with you, and calls you on your logical fallacies. Uh-huh. Also, Teddy, are you saying that insulting other people is funny? Because you’re right that I didn’t think it was at all funny when you insulted Vas. I thought it was obnoxious and juvenile.

    FTR, my reading comprehension is just fine thanks. (Perhaps you should look up the big words in a dictionary?) But I am suffering from major depression and panic disorder. So you may feel free to call me mentally ill. I’m sure that’s funny to you.

  • muggle

    Heidi, since he’s acting this way in defense of his argument for the Golden Rule, I can only figure he’s treating people as he wants to be treated. If that’s the case, he isn’t in a place to accuse anyone else of mental disorders.

    My daughter’s diagnosed depressive too. On her medication, she’s going to college, working two part-time jobs and sandwiched between a young son and an aging mother and handling it. Off it, she just doesn’t function. There’s nothing funny about it.

  • Heidi

    I noticed that he was also rude and insulting to some of the people in the poly thread. So I think it’s a thing with him. I wonder if he acts this way in person.

  • http://jessicasideways.com Jessica Sideways

    I am so happy to see one Mayor who was not willing to completely submit to Christofascism…

  • muggle

    I thought I could be abrasive…

  • tom coward

    This is “Mayor Coward.” As a long time (but sporadic) reader of this blog, I am honored that Hement has posted this. Having a Secular Humanist invocation has sparked a small amount of controversy locally. We shall see if it goes any further.

    –Tom

  • Heidi

    Well, sir, you have a fan club here. Thank you again.

  • Pingback: And Now For Something Completely Different: A Secular Humanist Invocation « Phases of the Noon

  • SlipperyWhenWet

    I live in Scarborough, which is essentially South Portland’s zit, as the bridge going from Scarborough to South Portland is literally right next to my neighborhood.

    I wish I knew about this earlier.


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