I don’t want to scare non-deist grievers away with mere terminology, so I am explaining here what I mean when I use words that have, historically, been weighed down with paranormal superstitions, such as “sacred,” “spirituality,” and “rituals.”
The primary difference to keep in mind here is a concept that was very well expressed by journalist Bill Frezza in his article, Towards a More Nuanced Understanding Secular Spirituality. He defines it as “the satisfaction of our yearning for a transcendent intimacy that connects us with our fellow [humans] while reconciling us to the reality of our own impermanent existence.”
That is, essentially, the description of an emotion.
A secular view of spirituality, sacredness and rituals is rooted in the understanding that what we feel is important, and not reliant on external, paranormal forces/beings. Transcendence is an emotion, as is spirituality. None of this is about connecting to something “greater than ourselves” but rather connecting fully with ourselves.
I have written before about the use of “sacred” in the context of grieving as a non-deist. The fifth definition of the word as given by dictionary.com is what I have in mind here: “regarded with reverence.”
As for rituals, my own personal, totally non-scientific belief is that they answer some psychological need to create order out of chaos; quite frankly, as someone who suffers from OCD I tend to lump humanity’s need for rituals both secular and religious in the same bucket as my need to put line up everything on my desk at perfect 90 degree angles (ALL MUST BE SQUARED…I’m pretty much “recovered” now but during my teens, this was an obsession): It is a desperate form of trying to control the environment/fate/people/the future. That doesn’t make it bad, as long as we understand that this is an internal desire. Rituals are simply answering that need and do not actually have a paranormal effect on things or people around us. In this way we can appreciate and even appropriate rituals that serve our needs.
I understand that the majority of non-deists consist of the de-converted, and thus have a lot of mixed (and often justifiably hostile) emotions in regards to anything that smacks of the religion they have worked so hard to leave behind. As I’ve stated before, I was raised non-deist by two agnostics, so I don’t have the personal baggage attached to words like “sacred” that so many others do. I hope that works in my favor as I try to help other non-deist grievers through this blog.