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HAT Forum - "The Concept of the Sacred"

  • The 519, Room 304 (check lobby screen to be sure) 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)


Definition 1: regarded with great reverence or respect by a religion, group, or individual

Definition 2: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.

1.    Semantics: What, if any, is the validity\relevance of the concept of “the sacred” to secular humanists?  What are some concerns we might have around the use of religious terminology for everyday life, for example, terms like reverence, sacrosanct, spiritual, and blessed.  Are we “allowed” to use these words? Are there other words that work just as well for us? 

2.    Politics: Jonathan Haidt, who studies moral disgust and ethical systems, in his book The Righteous Mind, claims that those on the right have a greater sense of 1) respect for loyalty, 2) respect for authority, and 3) respect for “sanctity,” than those on the left. If true, what do we do with this information?  Also, how might we desacralize certain potentially harmful concepts, such as some religious traditions/ideas? (See Haidt’s talk on liberals and conservatives on YouTube.)

3.    The Personal: It has been found that atheists also engage in magical thinking, for example, ascribing special importance to objects belonging to dead loved ones. What thing or concept, if any, would you describe as sacred (or use your own words) to you? Why? Is there any sense of profound mystery in your life?

4.    Humour: There is a theory that humour is benign transgression, but what if the transgression is not perceived to be benign? Should some things be sacred? Is there anything that is off bounds? Or do only the people with no sense of humour about certain issues say that there is?!

5.    Awe: Is a sense of awe good for us? What about a sense of profound gratitude? Are the religious better at fostering gratitude? (“Why Is Nature So Good for Your Mental Health?” A new study suggests that nature may make us happier and healthier because it inspires awe.” Headline, April 19, 2019, Greater Good Magazine)

6.    Special Places: What do we make of the concept of sacred ground? How do you feel when in a church, synagogue or mosque? In a museum? A library? Why? Is there such a thing as a spiritual place?

NOTE: The HAT Forum adheres strictly to the City of Toronto Policy on Non-Discrimination (

Earlier Event: May 4
HAT Forum - "Agnostic vs Atheist"
Later Event: May 13
Beyond Believing