Same questions, different answers?


Preparing a lecture, I have been reading a classic “oldie” on secular ritual. Moore & Meyerhoff (1977) write that religions give answers to questions like “where it all began”, “where is it going” and “what is means” (p. 10). Religious traditions have certain ideas about how the cosmos is “working” and how life is connected by referring to transcendental powers . But how does that work in secular ritual? I wonder whether in secular ritual, aren’t it the same questions that are asked?

Perhaps the answers are different and more diverse by means of a plural audience? When people reach for ritual in moments of crisis or transition, they might have the same existential questions as, say, 100 years ago? Questioning our existence and place in the world is for everybody the same? I cannot restrain myself from referring to Frankl’s concept of will to meaning that our main drive in life is to find meaning in the things that we experience/ that overcome us, regardless which worldview one belongs to. Moore and Meyerhoff explain that ritual outcome becomes visible in an explicit purpose and symbols, but that there are also implicit statements in ritual, which work in more subtle ways. The private thoughts and beliefs of ritual participants are never visible for the outside world. But ritual contains tools and prescribes behavior how to bring order in a situation of existential concerns. Everybody wants to know where they belong and how things are connected and most of us are curious about where life comes from and where it is going. Even believing in pure chance is a way of ordering the world. Ritual is a way of ordering in the world. Perhaps we have all the same questions, but are just looking for different answers.