Heralded by a live rendition of the theme from Family Guy, Seth W. MacFarlane, the show’s creator, took a swig of what appeared to be alcohol in front of a packed audience at Memorial Church this Saturday.
“This is kind of hilarious doing this in a church. [I’ll just] take communion here,” said MacFarlane, who was accepting the fifth-annual Harvard Humanist of the Year Award.
His speech, which delivered religious punch line after punch line, addressed what he described as the corrupting influence of religion in today’s society. His address supported Humanism as an alternative to traditional religion.
Humanism is another choice from “the [faiths] that make such a difference in people’s lives,” according to Greg M. Epstein, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain.
“2011 is a strange time to be a humanist,” MacFarlane said. “The knowledge that we have today, you will not be able to find these things in the Bible. At the same time, our society clings to these bizarre [Biblical] superstitions.”
Underlying MacFarlane’s argument was the notion that religion is no longer necessary to keep society intact. Instead, he said, people should turn to reason and science to uphold moral values.
“There are religious folks who acknowledge science, [but] the rest live by what believers call ‘blind faith,’” said MacFarlane. “What these believers are demanding is more like Helen Keller faith. If you don’t understand your world, you just moan and throw shit at it.”
In the event’s question and answer period, MacFarlane acknowledged that Humanists can do good working alongside the faithful, citing environmental conservation as a goal that both groups could work towards. Still, he argued that reason should ultimately prevail over religion.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he said of collaborating with the religious. “We aligned with the Russians during World War II and then we went after them. Let’s do that.”
In one of the more awkwardly received moments of the evening, MacFarlane acknowledged the interpreter translating his speech into sign language.
“Are you doing sign language?” he asked, to no response. “So no jokes about anal sex. Certainly no jokes about performing fellatio.”
The interpreter did not respond.
“Sodomy!” he said, turning to the interpreter at random point later in the evening.
MacFarlane also made jest of the church’s decor, describing the bird adorning the speaker’s podium as a “Hitler eagle.”
MacFarlane said he recognized that his jokes were intended to offend, but described himself as an “equal opportunity offender.”
The award was sponsored by the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy.
The humanist community at Harvard and around the world is rapidly expanding, according to Esptein. The Humanist Chaplaincy now hosts typically religious ceremonies, including weddings and funerals.
The Harvard Secular Society, an undergraduate organization that aligns itself with Humanism, consistently draws a group of about 30 people, according to its president Jimmy P. Bohnslav ’13.
“We are an organization that takes common sense’s ideas ... to figure out how to relate to one another,” said Epstein.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.