This Memorial Day, Take Time to Reflect

This Monday is Memorial Day, and many Americans are preparing to honor those who have fought and died for our freedom. Others are preparing for their first summer vacation, outdoor barbeque, or long weekend in the sun. Both are true statements but reflect a very different respect (or lack thereof) for secular values.

Memorial Day, unlike some other recognized holidays, is a secular day for all Americans. The holiday arises from values from our common nationality but that need not arise from or be rooted in any individual’s deeply-held beliefs. We should as humanists take seriously this and other secular holidays to reflect on the values they represent.

But like sectarian holidays, Memorial Day is subject to being commercialized or otherwise taken for granted. Many people value Memorial Day not as a time for reflection, celebration, and gratitude, but as simply a day off from work. Christians might lament the commercialization and secularization of Christmas (or Wiccans the Christianization of Winter Solstice celebrations), but in the same way, humanists might lament the marginalization of important secular values intended for celebration during Memorial Day. Memorial Day represents an opportunity for all Americans, in a secular way, to show gratitude for the sacrifice and service of those who have given their lives for us and for American values.

While gratitude and solemn reflection are traditionally expected, some may choose to consider the foreign policy decisions that led to various conflicts or the political landscape that led to the decisions. Done properly, such examinations can honor those who gave their lives better than any parade could. Done badly, such discussions would dishonor their memory with arguments about personal politics. Similarly, activities like explicitly humanist readings, prayer, or energy cleansing can add personal meaning to a private event, but excessive reliance on such sectarian activities could eliminate the common ground a secular holiday is intended to create.

This weekend, let’s all celebrate our shared secular values, like service and sacrifice for the common good, while being careful not to exploit or take the holiday for granted.

Tags: , ,