The Arizona House of Representatives, like most legislative bodies, opens its sessions with an invocation — nearly always a Christian one. But on Tuesday, atheist lawmaker Juan Mendez of Tempe delivered a secular invocation and even quoted Carl Sagan. I really like the message he gave:
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”
As you can imagine — especially now, with Arizona’s legislature being controlled by religion-heavy Republicans — this is probably the first time that an invocation at the legislature took that direction.
“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration,” Mendez said. “But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.
Mendez continued, “Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.’”
That’s pitch perfect. It draws on humanist principles and presents a positive message of reason, compassion and our common humanity. Bravo, Mr. Mendez.