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Recent experiences of a non-believer with death

I don't normally blog these days, but this topic's been stewing with me the past little bit, so, here goes.

The past two months were a little hard on my immediate family, with the loss of both my paternal and maternal grandmothers.  Both were Christian believers, as such (along with social norms) had Christian funerals (Anglican and United, respectively).  As a non-believer, I expected this and went along with it all for family reasons. Personally, I deal well with loss/death, I accept it, celebrate the person and keep going, but I recognize that many people don't.

The religious nature of both ceremonies contained many expected elements, proceeding as one might normally expect, but a couple elements of each struck me as offensive (as a non-believer, believers might have been fine with the whole deal), though what I found offensive in one I didn't really see in the other.
My maternal grandmother died first, and the church service, well, seemed to contain too much church for my tastes.  There were kind words from the priest/preacher/pastor or whatever the title is in the denomination, but, everything about the person who was my grandmother was reduced to being attributed to God.  Her strength? No, that was God's strength.  Her compassion? Nope, that was God's too.  Her love?  God's again.  Her various talents in life? Also God...  Nothing that made her the person she was was actually hers, it was all God.  I found this angering, as the person who was my grandmother was eroded away by the notion that without God to provide them, she would have held none of her strengths.  I understand the religious need to bolster their beliefs, but I found the bolstering in the context of diminishing the human to be despicable, crass and more than a little tacky.  Outright, it was disrespectful, I think.
While there were some elements of this at my paternal grandmother's funeral, it was less pronounced (thankfully), the offensive elements were a little less subtle, more direct.  Many on my father's side of the family are not quite religious.  As such, I can't be sure if the priest (or what have you)'s comments were intentional or just part of his normal rhetoric, but I noticed that he had a strong tendency to insert comments like "we are so lucky in these times to have our faith, just think of those poor people who have none" implying that those without faith are somehow lacking in times of loss (or perhaps in general).  One, maybe two comments like this might illicit a raised eyebrow and a thought of "you have no idea what you're talking about", but the sentiment was raised several times through the wake and then funeral and interment.  These jabs towards those without faith in a time of loss, are, again, disrespectful, though this time more towards the deceased's loved ones than the deceased themselves, which, in some ways makes it ever so slightly better... I guess... maybe?  Yeah, I suppose not.
In my paternal grandmother's service there were a lot of "I think," "I believe," and "I like to think/believe that..." comments from the priest-type regarding the nature of the afterlife (the area in which theologians supposedly have their expertise) and how we manifest as people at God's side after death.  Maybe it's just because I'm a non-believer, but all of these statements rang exceptionally hollow to me, and I do not under stand how something like "I like to believe that *deceased* is up there now happily looking down on us all gathered here today with *deceased spouse*, awaiting our arrival..." could possibly hold comfort or apparent truth for anyone.  Think and believe are weasel words for "I really have no idea if there's any validity to what I'm saying, but here it is..." much like the use of "appears to be" or "seems" are in scientific reporting.  It reeked of bullshit, and trying to offer empty comforts and false hopes based on nothing but wishful thinking.

All in all, I found both funeral experiences to be disrespecting and annoying on a couple levels; the complete opposite of what should be conveyed in such a ceremony.  If this is what religion has to offer, I can understand why some are in arms against them.  Rather than offering the comfort that religions often claim to be their primary social service, they denigrate individual strengths and belittle those who don't sip their Cool-Aid.  Kudos.

5 blog comments below


My maternal grandmother died first, and the church service, well, seemed to contain too much church for my tastes. There were kind words from the priest/preacher/pastor or whatever the title is in the denomination, but, everything about the person who was my grandmother was reduced to being attributed to God. Her strength? No, that was God's strength. Her compassion? Nope, that was God's too. Her love? God's again. Her various talents in life? Also God... Nothing that made her the person she was was actually hers, it was all God.

Well, your grandmother is God's creation and His child. So to say that everything positive in her is "of God" isn't mean to denigrate her at all.
mgeek on Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:19 am
Yeah, I know it wasn't meant to, but I did find it insulting. I found it reduced the personal accomplishments we might achieve through our lives and the joy that we might spread to the influence of an outside entity, rather than attributing it to the person who accomplished them... if nothing else, without the vessel for God's joy, that joy would not be spread; we should be celebrating the one who brought forth the joy, not the supposed entity that whispered it in their ear, ya know?

In this model, we, as individuals, are ultimately unimportant; it is not the choices we make or efforts we put forth, it is only God that matters in the end. I can't say that I can agree with this model. Individual contributions are important, just as they are with real world groups and efforts. An individual contribution may be small, but without them, a movement has no traction or force.
Ankhanu on Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:18 pm
I must admit, this would make me angry. They are supposed to be celebrating the person's life. I am glad that all bar one of the funerals I have had the displeasure to attend have not been at a church, and the one that was, was all in Greek which I don't understand.

I did go to a wedding once and the preist took the opportunity to sermon about how "arrogant" atheists are... how that relates to a wedding I'll never know, and if it wasn't my cousins wedding I would have loudly walked out - maybe that's why they do it, because they have a captive audience. It is very disrespectful.

Sorry to hear about your grandmothers.
Hello_World on Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:29 am
I had a an uncomfortable experience at my aunt's funeral, although it was probably nothing quite as offensive. My aunt was not a religious person at all, and so it was somewhat offensive to me that the focus of the funeral was still religious, in particular I remember the religious songs. I don't suppose it was a big deal, but I remember thinking that she wouldn't have wanted religious songs at her funeral. But I suppose if I'm dead I won't really care what songs they sing. It just seemed like it was selfish of people to sing religious songs at her funeral. I know I'm probably being insensitive to look at it that way, but I remember I didn't like it very much.
SpaceInvader75 on Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:34 am
Gah! Necromancy!
I kid, I kid! It's fine to resurrect old posts, especially when the content is relevant Smile

Yeah, the whole treatment of the dead thing is an interesting topic. If I'm right and there's no afterlife, I suppose it doesn't really matter how we're honoured (or not) in death... Though for we living, there is value in honouring our memories of the people who were important to us in life, and honouring who/what they were, which I think implies a certain degree of consideration of what their wishes might be. Ultimately, it is we living who are left to remember, grieve and move on as we are capable and while there's value in remembering the departed with their dispositions and outlooks in mind, we need to cope in a way that allows us to move on. That may involve religious ceremony for those people, even if the subject wouldn't have wanted it... ultimately, it's our selfish need, not that of the dead, that drives how we conduct a funeral.

Our selfish needs recognized, I really do think the memory of the departed should be approached with their context in mind ahead of our own. (though, ultimately it doesn't matter)

Man, I hope that wasn't too rambly Wink
Ankhanu on Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:33 am

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