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Funeral Dilemma

A friend of mine died recently. When I first met him, he was a Christian. However, he also had a strong analytic mind and so it didn’t take long for him to research the questions I posed to him. As a result, he de-converted. He told me once or twice about his really religious family. He was also gay and worried about how they would react to that reality. Now my friend is dead and his family was planning the funeral.

Even though he made it clear that he was a Secular Humanist, I had feared that his funeral would be religious. I asked Brother Richard from Friendly Atheist for advice on how to deal with such a dilemma should it have arisen.

In my mind there are essentially two ways I can think of to response should the funeral be religious (although there may be more). The first is that I could be respectful and not vocally object. The second is that I could vocally object, call attention to the rudeness of disrespecting my friend’s Secular Humanist values, and for using the situation to reinforce their religious beliefs.

Brother Richard advice fits in with the first and at the funeral that is exactly what I did. Every situation is different and in my particular situation, part of me wishes I said something. To say that the funeral was religious would be an understatement. In fact, the pastor (who was a non-blood relative) actively tried to convert non-believers. He made a point to insult my friend’s Secular Humanist values too. The family didn’t seem to know my friend and they didn’t seem to want to know him either. Except for one of his aunts who came over to us (his friends) afterward, the rest of his family just wanted to pretend he was someone that he was not.

There were two big musical numbers both of which were super-religious in nature. The pastor cut short the time his friends could speak about our beloved friend so that he could preach to us and talk about how our friend had a God-shaped-hole in his heart. I did get a chance to speak and I talked about our conversations about religion and humanism. But I didn’t really speak out the way I wanted to. I really bit my tongue (metaphorically speaking).

There was a repass scheduled for after the funeral service to gather and talk. I had originally intended to go to that so that I could talk to his other friend about him and remember him better. But it was clear after the funeral service that I would almost certainly have been vocal about how insulting I found the funeral. It turns out that his other friends didn’t really want to go either so we decided to go out for lunch together to talk about all the good times we had with our friend. So once again his family squandered the opportunity to get to know him better through his friends.

I really feel that his family engaged in a form of psychological/religious bullying and it was really inappropriate, disrespectful, and insulting. Part of me wishes I would have been more vocal about my outrage at the funeral, but I just don’t know if that would have been the right thing to do either. I do know that the aunt who was dancing in the isle yelling, “Praise Jesus” every few minutes was not the right thing to do.

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  • Anonymous

    As we learn by experience, [hopefully], if a similar situation arises again, you may decide to act differently.

    Causing a scene is, in general, probably best avoided: though in some circumstances that may be the best option.

    So, rather than biting your tongue [and doing violence to your spirit], you might in future choose to speak more authentically. Although you might prefer to tell only some of the truth, not all of it. Other mourners will doubtless relate to what you say: and some at least will be glad that you’ve said it.

    I’m currently faced by a possibly rather more delicate problem: not a funeral, but a marriage. My brother and his partner of over 15 years, both atheists, are getting married next month: in a church! For the sake, I believe, of her mother and grandmother. How much ought I to say, on the day, about the hypocrisy of this?

    [Ordained minister, First Church of Atheism — http://FirstChurchOfAtheism.com

    • Anonymous

      Well, this is a little different, because while a funeral is supposed to be about the only person who can’t give an opinion, a wedding is about two people who have every right to opine and decide. By all means discuss with them the matter BEFORE the wedding and even gently suggest they keep it as soft-focus and non-holly roller as possible. However on the day of the wedding you should, within reason, do as requested by your brother and future sister-in-law. It’s their day, and they have a right to decide how it goes through, even if you rightly see it as a sham.

      Save your protest vote for when they decide to baptize the kids or send them to Sunday School.

  • Anonymous

    I’m fairly sure that I can count on my wife to make sure this doesn’t happen when my cancer claims me. OTOH, if she goes first, I don’t know who I can trust with handling my final arrangements.
    It’s a quandary. I don’t what what happened to your friend happen to me (not that I’ll know or anything).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WJUNJ5ZK2HEC4M6BEQDGLZVPSU Cher Kissell

    I’m sorry you lost your friend and I do believe you should have spoken up…he certainly couldn’t.

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