This event is organised by non-believers - Humanists - but as you'll see, we feel no-one should be excluded, including people of faith.
Ten years ago, whilst on holiday in Spain I inadvertently bumped into the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. There I witnessed pilgrims who clearly felt part of something much bigger. On the same day in a magazine, I saw pictures of cave paintings showing our ancient ancestors dancing holding hands. Both were a joy to behold and yet as an atheist I felt sad. As a social species, it seems our nature drives us to belong, however, aside from a shared lack of faith, in what sense can atheists belong together?
Shortly afterwards, whilst reading a book called 'The Ancestor's Tale' by Richard Dawkins, I glanced at its strapline � 'a pilgrimage to the dawn of life'. The book rewound evolution, dazzling the reader with mind bending time scales and the immensity of the Tree of Life. My brother had recently researched our own family tree but as I read the book I was time-warped much further backwards in time, millions and eventually billions of years. A far, far bigger picture emerged ~ I was related not just with everyone who had ever lived, but with every living thing that had ever lived. The strapline said it all - here was a concept that warranted an actual pilgrimage. And, with some help from friends and family, that's exactly what we made happen.
The Ancestor's Trail has now run here in the UK for 7 years and been replicated in three locations internationally. Our numbers are tiny compared to the huge events many faiths organise, but it appears to have legs (several hundred so far).
It is a physical manifestation of the Tree of Life laid out over footpaths - in the UK we're located in Epping Forest near London. Annually we place groups of people at the tips of selected branches representing for instance plants, bacteria, amphibians, gazelles and, of course, ourselves. Each party is allotted its own start time such that they rendezvous sequentially with walkers from the other trails, mirroring (in reverse) the known divergences of the evolutionary tree. In this way, our ever increasing band of pilgrims arrive together at the dawn of life (Cheshunt in our case!). Trails vary from 3 -12 miles in order to better accommodate all ages and capabilities.
Essentially, it is a celebration of our survival thus far, alongside in the rest of life on earth, and in line with this we support biodiversity charities. Like all the best celebrations, we also include music and art. We are a friendly bunch and especially because of the concept behind the event, we offer unrivalled inclusivity - all are welcome.
This year the trails start from 10am onwards on Saturday 29th July. We finish at Cheshunt YHA and enjoy entertainment that evening and natural history lectures the next morning.
From a personal perspective, as the event took shape it provided an answer to my own question about belonging. Although originally I sought a sense of belonging for non believers, I stumbled upon something much better ~ a belonging for us all.
So, why am I inviting you? After all, clearly all faiths already have their own collective events or pilgrimages.I belong to Humanists UK and we strongly defend everyone's right to believe as they wish. However, I also wished to return the favour with respect to the my inspiration in the Santiago de Compostela. Going further, it is our understanding that all humans belong in this Tree of Life. As such, from our point of view, believers belong in our pilgrimage every bit as much as we do. So far we have already welcomed Christians and Buddhists but this invite aims to widen our net still further.
Hopefully, along the way we can develop further our common ground. It's clear that the sudden expansion in human civilisation over the last 3000 years has required increasing acceptance and compassion. To accept someone of a different race or culture, our ancestors had to dampen their instinctive tendency to fear the stranger. The teachings of many religions have assisted in this process.
And yet here we all are, inescapably thrown together in humanity's unequal but accelerating ascendancy. Some have argued that our capacity to live alongside an increasingly wide range of cultures is essentially THE reason human civilisation has expanded as it has. Indeed, our continued existence is surely evidence that, despite wars and genocide, sufficient acceptance must have been forthcoming to get us this far! It hasn't been easy, nor will it be, as our population climbs towards double-figure billions.
After Brexit and Trump, divisions have widened just at a time when we badly need the opposite.
Part of today's crisis seems due to the internet. Increasingly we can blow virtual bubbles around ourselves avoiding anyone with different outlooks and because of this the need to meet 'in person' is all the more important. To rally around agreed moral standards, faith based or not, seems vitally important.
As persons of faith, you probably won't need me to tell you that walking together has great value. When we walk our stance mirrors each other non-confrontationally, and by definition we are all travelling in the same direction and to the same place. Inevitably we 'rub shoulders' along the way. Such things seem obvious but they matter and provide excellent compost for empathy; something perhaps we can all agree, we need more than ever.
Before I finish I will offer five reasons why we are reaching out as inclusively as possible:
* The Ancestor's Trail embodies a series of biological reunifications along the way and we hope the way in which we meet physically sets a precedence for our meeting of minds.
* Whatever the sources from which we build our beliefs and inspiration, they are all open to interpretation. Evolution is no exception. Hitler misinterpreted badly. However, if one sticks to the evidence, all races originally derive from our same black ancestors in Africa. We choose to find this a good reason for the wider acceptance of all people.
* Going further, Darwin's theory tells us all life belongs in the same huge family. Of course this has its limits - smallpox is one 'family' member we were very happy to exterminate - but nonetheless we find this a powerful reason to support nature conservation.
* In common with most people, Humanists see science is an exceptionally powerful tool to support our flourishing here on earth. We see morality as a natural and emergent property and wholeheartedly share in the interfaith adherence to the 'golden rule'. Perhaps now more than ever, it is important we show others we can walk and stand together.
* Through this same lens, although our political/cultural/religious and national identities make sense, our belonging within Homo sapiens has more significance.
I am aware that there exists a strong inter-faith movement. Perhaps, on the 29th July, you'd consider extending this sense of unity to all people, indeed to all life on earth.
Please pass on this email to others who may also wish to attend.
Hope you can come!