In the fireplace, the flames are burning down to embers, casting flickering patterns of light and shadow on the walls and the wreaths of holly and evergreen that hang there. Outside the windows, the last snowstorm of the year is flurrying down, burying the slumbering earth in a peaceful carpet of white. The falling snowflakes glitter in the dark like tiny stars as they fly past and catch the light from the dying fire.
Most of the guests from the day's gathering have already departed, leaving only a few sitting in the armchairs before the warm tranquility of the fireplace. As seasonal cheer fades into quiet contemplation, the gathering's host, Ebonmuse, clears his throat.
"Thank you, friends, for being here. I have a few more words to say before the last of us seek the comforts of home. The new year is almost upon us, and if you're the kind of person who makes resolutions, we have some things for you to think about tonight. It may be that one of these essays will remind you of the importance of the goals that lie ahead, or give you renewed motivation to strive for the cause of humanism. Here they are:
We begin with Greta Christina, who writes on how to live a meaningful life despite the knowledge that our lives are small and fleeting in a vast and ancient cosmos, in Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen.
Next, Mansur Ahmed argues that we should replace divisive dogmas with a broader conception of love for our fellow human beings, in The Great Religious Divide.
Orna Ross calls for a freethought movement that defines itself in positive terms, in How Free is Your Thinking?
Spanish Inquisitor praises an Australian public school that's planning to offer humanist instruction as an alternative to religious education classes, in Teaching Humanism.
Andrew Bernardin criticizes science journalism that draws unwarranted moral conclusions, in Moralizing Science.
Phil for Humanity calls for a more community-oriented outlook on life, in Less Me, More We.
Alvaro Fernandez interviews Dr. Andrew Newberg on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, in Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg.
Chris Hallquist writes about the measurable value of people in a society trusting each other, in Faith and trust.
Asmoday looks back on the long, strange, beautifully unlikely trip each of us has taken, in Why You Should Love Yourself.
Burak Bilgin writes on how to find joy in life, in Joy: the Key to Wisdom.
Vjack discusses how Christmas has become a secular holiday, in How Christians Have Secularized Christmas.
Vihar Sheth has some encouraging news about the growth of religious tolerance, in Your God's Cool Too.
verywide.net muses on why atheists care about a future we'll never personally witness, in Some thoughts about this life.
And finally, Michael White discusses the core belief of humanism - that our morality is innate within ourselves and can be discovered using reason - in A Humanistic Outlook.
That's all for now, my friends! We'll reconvene in 2009, when the next Humanist Symposium will appear at An Apostate's Chapel. Until then, good wishes and good health to all of you, and may the new year see the spread of humanism far and wide!"