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Religious funeral dilemma

...on serious topics that don't fit anywhere else at present.
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Thomas
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Joined: July 21st, 2007, 3:54 pm

Religious funeral dilemma

#1 Post by Thomas » November 27th, 2007, 7:33 am

You are pleased to be a pall bearer at the funeral of a cousin who was an atheist and to whom you were very close. You consider it to be a major bereavement. You hear that his ageing mother has arranged for a religious funeral service in a crematorium with a pastor from her local happy, clappy church. You know the deceased would have hated such a funeral. What would you do? Among the options are sitting through it and gritting your teeth, slipping quietly away after doing your duty as a pall bearer and missing the whole thing, ducking out of being a pall bearer altogether etc etc

By the way, this isn't my dilemma but one of an acquaintance of mine - a pleasant and mild-mannered young man in his twenties.

Fia
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#2 Post by Fia » November 27th, 2007, 11:11 am

Perhaps your friend, Thomas, could ask himself who the funeral is for - the deceased or the family and friends?

If we turn the dilemma upside-down - a religious cousin whose mother arranged a non-religious funeral - would your friend be so uncomfortable?

I think funerals are for the mourners, and the mother is organising and paying for the funeral, and working through her grief from her personal perspective. Clearly we disagree with her stance, but that's her prerogative.

In your friends shoes I would go and pall bear, treating the funeral like any other religious ceremony i.e. no singing, keeping head held high during prayers etc. Go to show respect for the deceased and support for the family, and some comfort may be afforded to your friend in being there on the day, depending on how good the happy clappy chappie is.

It's a bit of a heads-up to us all to discuss our wishes with our families.
And he could always organise a Humanist memorial ceremony to remember and celebrate the life of his cousin in a way he would feel more comfortable.

Phaedo
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#3 Post by Phaedo » November 27th, 2007, 12:28 pm

This is a question I've had to address many times for myself living as I do in a heavily religious part of the country and where all funerals are religion dominated. As Desmond did I turned the question around and asked myself 'if I were to arrange a Humanist funeral for myself how many of my religious family members or friends would not attend on religious grounds?'. My answer was very few, though I imagine a number of others would be mumbling prayers under their breath during the event.
In general, other than for close family, I don't attend the church service part of funerals but join the rest for the burial. Where it's close family I take the view that me standing on my principles would be excessive and cause undue hurt in an already difficult situation, which I would regard as Secularist but not very Humanist.
True lovers of knowledge are temperate and brave...
Socrates

Ted Harvey
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#4 Post by Ted Harvey » November 27th, 2007, 12:30 pm

Desmond that is a well thought out and reasoned bit of advice.

I can only ad that after the young man has acted with all due decorum and respect, it would be a valuable gesture if he found himself able to 'happen to let' some of the mourners know, very diplomatically and if the circumstances were right, that he was a 'non-believer'.

On the very few ocassions I managed this, it had a beneficial outcome inthat a few more people who were 'believers' came to realise that maybe the rest of us are not quite the cloven beasts of the devil.

Nick
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#5 Post by Nick » November 27th, 2007, 4:12 pm

I think it is important, as others have said, to have due regard for the cousin's mother. However, if the pall-bearer is a close relative, the service should be appropriate for him too. I think it would be perfectly in order for him to have a word with the minister, to tell him something about the deceased, and about the non-religious views of some of his close relations. With any luck, he might make the service more inclusive.

Maria Mac
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#6 Post by Maria Mac » November 27th, 2007, 9:02 pm

If he's one of those happy, clappy ministers he probably won't take any notice. I really feel for the young guy as I have been in his position and I came away feeling upset about the inappropriate funeral my atheist father had.

Religious believers are not excluded from a funeral ceremony that focuses on the life that was lived and the person who lived it but a ceremony that gives up time to hymns, prayers and scriptures does exclude non religious people for at least some of it. That might not matter so much if they paid a decent tribute to the deceased but so often they don't.

That said, I love my family and would always respect the chief mourner's - whoever it might be - right to have the ceremony they want. I can't imagine refusing to attend such an occasion.

I heartily agree with the suggestion that a memorial ceremony or get-together of some kind could allow those uncomfortable with the relgious ceremony to celebrate the life and say their goodbyes in their own way.

Dan
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#7 Post by Dan » November 29th, 2007, 10:09 am

Desmond wrote: I think funerals are for the mourners, and the mother is organising and paying for the funeral, and working through her grief from her personal perspective. Clearly we disagree with her stance, but that's her prerogative.
Funerals are for the mourners, I agree. But here you are saying that the interests of one particular mourner take precedence over anyone elses. Practically and legally that has to be true, since there is no law that says that a funeral should try to reflect the life and interests and beliefs of the deceased.

But ethically? Politically? I think not.

Your principle actually amounts to "funerals are for whoever has control over them".

In other words, the issue here is power.

Which isn't much of a principle, if we're looking for a principle.

There may not be much we can do to stop the hijacking of funerals by religionists, and perhaps it would be counterproductive to try, but surely the principle is that we should not be so complacent about the exercise of religious supremacy.

We should have due regard for the bereaved, at a difficult time for them, but we should also, as an ethical obligation, point out that a lie is being told, and that religious domination is being bolstered.

Respect for the mother of the dead is one thing, but we should also have respect for the principles we hold. And if I knew for sure that the deceased would not have wanted a religious funeral, I might still go but I would not be participating - certainly not as pall bearer.

And what real respect can we have for someone who shows us so little respect.

What is happening is that the irreligious are being deliberately excluded from this funeral. This point should be made.

What you do about it is obviously a very personal decision, and I'm not going to criticise whatever you choose. But religious supremacy shouldn't go unchallenged.

Dan

Fia
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#8 Post by Fia » November 29th, 2007, 7:31 pm

Dan wrote:
Practically and legally that has to be true, since there is no law that says that a funeral should try to reflect the life and interests and beliefs of the deceased.

Dan
There is no requirement in law to hold a funeral or memorial at all. As you understand, the practicalities of paying the Funeral Directors, Florist, Officiant etc ensure that the person paying has the last say, as all are contracted to that person or persons.

I wasn't really looking for a principle, merely a way the young man could say goodbye to his beloved cousin under the circumstances.

Perhaps Dan could consider whether potential religious mourners at a Humanist funeral should feel they are being "deliberately excluded"?

I attended a kirk funeral where the first thing the minister said was "We are all here to praise god." Although a part of me wanted to shout "No we're not", out of respect for the deceased and their family I did not. I hope for the same respect in return.

Grief is all-consuming, the bereaved are engulfed in an emotional and physical journey. Thoughts and actions lack the usual clarity. The mother in Thomas's case is on autopilot. Perhaps Thomas's friend, after some time, could gently talk to the mother about how he felt about the funeral. The mother may well have no idea of the consternation she caused. And if he organises a Humanist memorial she may be delighted to come...

People are people. Keep doors open and keep talking. Nicely!

I am not complacent about the exercise of religious supremacy, but I also firmly believe in right for all our fellow human beings to follow their own path. We think folk who follow religion are misguided, but it's their choice. As our choice is ours. There are plenty of areas of common ground, and these are the places where we need to work towards a better, fairer, and yes, Dan, a more principled, world.

Dan
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#9 Post by Dan » November 30th, 2007, 10:24 am

Desmond said:
Perhaps Dan could consider whether potential religious mourners at a Humanist funeral should feel they are being "deliberately excluded"?
I don't know about "should", but it's conceivable that they might, depending on what was said. In this case, the views of the deceased are being overridden, and that has clear implications for how those who share those views are being regarded by those concerned. That's why I'm talking about exclusion.

Given your point that funerals should recognise the possibly diverse opinions among mourners, I have decided that my funeral should not be a humanist one, but a completely secular one.

Although a part of me wanted to shout "No we're not", out of respect for the deceased and their family I did not. I hope for the same respect in return.
Well, yeah, but this is a bit of a silly example since it doesn't take huge reserves of respect to decide not to interrupt a funeral! I think respect might take other forms, such as not saying "we are all here to praise God" in the first place. I'd be tempted to leave the church if someone said that, since I wouldn't be welcome. Whether I would or not is another matter. I might just put up with it and say something to the thoughless minister afterwards.
Grief is all-consuming
I'm not sure that's universally true. Not that it matters particularly.
I also firmly believe in right for all our fellow human beings to follow their own path. We think folk who follow religion are misguided, but it's their choice. As our choice is ours. There are plenty of areas of common ground, and these are the places where we need to work towards a better, fairer, and yes, Dan, a more principled, world.
I too think that people should follow their own path. I also think people have the right to make mistaken choices. I also think that where there is common ground, we can work together.

But these are platitudes in this context. This is about what happens when religiosity insists on being supreme. A funeral might not be the best time to make the point, but the point should be made nonetheless.

Dan

Thomas
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#10 Post by Thomas » November 30th, 2007, 11:35 am

May I say what an immensely thought provoking discussion this has proved to be and I thank you all for your contributions. The funeral is today and when I spoke to him yesterday, he seemed to have arrived at a decision to go ahead with both pall bearing and attending the service. After the service, family and friends will gather at the deceased's home to for a religion-free get together where they will pay their own tributes and celebrate his life.
Dan wrote: Given your point that funerals should recognise the possibly diverse opinions among mourners, I have decided that my funeral should not be a humanist one, but a completely secular one.
That's an interesting comment, Dan. What do you perceive to be the difference? What might happen at a humanist funeral that you wouldn't want happening at your own.

Fia
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#11 Post by Fia » November 30th, 2007, 11:40 am

Dan wrote:
In this case, the views of the deceased are being overridden, and that has clear implications for how those who share those views are being regarded by those concerned.
Like I said earlier, it is clearly better to discuss these things with our families. I think it most likely this had not been done in this case.

I said: Grief is all-consuming

Dan said:
I'm not sure that's universally true. Not that it matters particularly.
I think in this case it certainly does. A mother has lost her son - probably the most awful place a parent can be.
I too think that people should follow their own path. I also think people have the right to make mistaken choices. I also think that where there is common ground, we can work together.

But these are platitudes in this context. This is about what happens when religiosity insists on being supreme. A funeral might not be the best time to make the point, but the point should be made nonetheless.
I'm delighted we have common ground! I was not intending to be platitudinous, but trying to understand where the mother is coming from. I'm unconvinced "religiosity insists on being supreme" here. I doubt any grieving parent can think straight, she is working through this trauma from her own perspective. I have suggested that a conversation can be had with the mother when she is less raw.

I agree a funeral is not the place to make the point, and am glad Dan has encouraged me to think through this, and remind us all to communicate with our families.

As for Dan's own funeral, I'm not sure I see the difference here between Humanist and Secular. Humanist funerals should have no "goddy bits" and include silent reflection where mourners can do what they want in their minds in private. To my mind that's inclusive of all without such blatant clap trap from the appalling minister in my earlier example. Do you think a "secular" funeral would be better so some secular preaching can go on? Perhaps you could talk this through with a Humanist celebrant in your area...

And I hope it will be many years before your family say their last goodbyes to you in a way that reflects your life :)

Fia
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#12 Post by Fia » November 30th, 2007, 11:44 am

Thomas wrote:The funeral is today and when I spoke to him yesterday, he seemed to have arrived at a decision to go ahead with both pall bearing and attending the service. After the service, family and friends will gather at the deceased's home to for a religion-free get together where they will pay their own tributes and celebrate his life.
My thoughts are with your friend and his family today. I am delighted they will gather to pay their own tributes in a way the deceased would have wanted. A great compromise.

Dan
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#13 Post by Dan » November 30th, 2007, 11:48 am

I said:
I'm not sure that's universally true. Not that it matters particularly.
Desmond said:
I think in this case it certainly does. A mother has lost her son - probably the most awful place a parent can be.

No, I agree with that. I meant it didn't matter to the line of argument, that it might not be universally true that everyone feels how you said everyone feels.

Dan

Fia
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#14 Post by Fia » November 30th, 2007, 2:15 pm

You are absolutely right Dan.

I should have said for most grief is all consuming.

Moose
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#15 Post by Moose » November 30th, 2007, 8:13 pm

I tend to agree with Desmond on this - if the guy was an atheist and if he was right that there is no God then, to put it frankly, he's not likely to give a toss about how he is buried. If it makes his mother happy then .. personally I would just grin and bear it. But then I guess I am an agnostic not a commited atheist so my opinion might not count :)
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain
Time to die

EF

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Alan C.
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#16 Post by Alan C. » November 30th, 2007, 9:02 pm

Moose
he's not likely to give a toss about how he is buried. If it makes his mother happy then .. personally I would just grin and bear it. But then I guess I am an agnostic not a commited atheist so my opinion might not count
First off, don't do yourself down, of course your opinion counts just as much as anybody else's counts.
But I must disagree with the first line above, having spent the best part of my life condemning the church[es] the last thing (excuse the pun) I want is a church funeral, yes I'll be dead and wont know, but I'm damned sure I don't want friends and neighbours saying (and especially the local vicar), "ah, he reneged at the end," I wear a dog -tag round my neck at all times that states my wishes.
It will be my funeral and you only get the one, I want it done my way, fortunately non of my family will have any problem with this.
Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.

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Alan H
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#17 Post by Alan H » December 1st, 2007, 1:10 am

Alan C. wrote:I wear a dog -tag round my neck at all times that states my wishes.
What does it say (if you don't mind me asking) and where did you get it?
Alan Henness

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1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
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Alan C.
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#18 Post by Alan C. » December 1st, 2007, 4:52 pm

Alan H
What does it say (if you don't mind me asking) and where did you get it?
It says,
Alan Crowe,
Secular Humanist.
D.O.B 07-06-1951 (required apparently)
following removal of donor organs
non religious cremation please. (Polite till the end :grin: )

It's a proper Dog-Tag, so there are two discs, one fairly large oblong and one smaller circular one, so you can get quite a bit of lettering on them.
I bought it at one of the jewellers in Lerwick, and they did the engraving as well. It's quite a nice thing really, fairly heavy Silver with one of those chains that are like lots of little balls stuck together.
Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.

Moose
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#19 Post by Moose » December 3rd, 2007, 8:50 pm

I've never heard of such dog tags :) Nice idea tho.

I dunno .. for me, I just don't care that much. I was not trying to run down people who genuinely do want to make sure that they get the type of funeral they want tho :). But as for me, if people want to sing hymns and say prayers, that's okay, and if they want to just sling me into the local river with all the abandoned shopping trollies, that's okay too :D
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain
Time to die

EF

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