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.