This is my first post at Think Atheist, so bear with me. And also, hi there!
How do we draw the line at a funeral or memorial service where religion is present, welcome or not, between respecting the dead and the family of the dead, and standing up for our beliefs? Have you ever experienced a similar situation where your loved one's death was overshadowed by some pompous preacher? How did you handle it?
I've attended two funerals this year for friends, and was insulted by the pastor leading both ceremonies. One of my friends was a non-believer, the other was a Christian who was very supportive and non-judgmental of atheists. And yet, at both funerals, the pastor chose to project his own feelings about non-Christians onto those who could no longer speak for themselves. Both pastor's called out atheists in particular and called us "fools" for not wanting to be in heaven with our dead loved ones.
Clearly, no one wants to be "that guy" who stands up and causes a scene at a funeral. And both times, I simply swallowed my feelings until I could get home and rant to my friends. I don't want to make the funeral "about me" or further interrupt anyone else's ability to properly mourn their loved one.
I've ignored it to the best of my ability. A funeral service is not the time to fight an idealogical battle except in very rare circumstances. While I don't respect proselytizing to captive audiences who are also grieving, I respect even less those who would disrupt a service to object to certain things being said unless they were the people paying for and arranging the service.
My advice? Don't be that guy (or gal). Choose your battles wisely.
My dad was a pretty flippant atheist. My mom and my dad's family insisted on a preacher at his funeral. Myself, brother, and sister, all atheists, maintained composure and dignity; funerals are for the living, and the religious in our family deserved something, right?
Well, we did. Right up until the pastor lied absurdly.
[Pastor] "Michael was a friend to Jesus"
[Me, Sean and Nicole, and my now wife] Five minutes of unsuccessfully stifled ROFLCOPTER
I'm new here too. I don't have answers, but I'm looking for them. I think it's true that attending the funeral of someone you didn't know well doesn't pose a huge problem; whatever the family wanted would be okay with me, and I'd be quietly respectful. But what if the person who died was an atheist, I'm the next of kin, and it's my job to decide on the arrangements? Take this a step further and imagine that the dead person's colleagues are expecting a public funeral with full military honors and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Can I refuse to allow it, leaving all those who are religious and who expect this pageantry to think the worst of us all? It would be pretty hard to keep this quiet, what with all the patriotic fervor around dead "heroes." Among military families I know, I think less than 1 percent would understand that a dead body is just a dead body and all that pomp is a recruiting tool.
Scene in bar after a funeral in 1988 of a friend I knew to be a non -believer:
A stranger approaches me…..
Stranger: “Sorry for your troubles. He was a lovely man. He is in Heaven now with our Lord. I knew him for long time”.
Me: “Sorry, but I am not part of the family. They are over there. I agree he was a good man.”
Stranger: “You could have mentioned that to me earlier but not to worry. Jesus loves and forgives us all”.
Me (biting my lip): “Yes, Thank you I am sure he does”
Stranger: “There is no need for sarcasm young man. I am certain that Jesus will take those that love him to his heart in heaven yada yada yada”
Me: “Maybe but he can’t be there yet.”
Stranger: “Why ever not? He was a good Christian. He has gone to Jesus for his eternal reward. How could you say he is gone to Hell?”
Me: “I did not say that. I thought Jesus was going to have a Day of Judgement at the end of the world. He keeps an eye on us to see who has been good or bad and gives us our presents – I mean rewards – based on our state of grace and not just works alone. So how can he in Heaven now? I mean Jesus can’t be expected to carry out about 250,000 judgements every day – where would he get the time man. Also I agree our friend was a good man but it is not for me to judge him for I cannot see his inner thoughts –only holy god can do that as it says in Matthew 7:1”
Stranger: “Very good young man I thought for a minute you were going through that non believing phase. Yes it is all a bit mysterious but you know our Lord works in mysterious ways as the good book also says.”
Me: “Oh, which verse, I always thought that was a line from an old poem.”
Stranger: “The music is horrible in here isn’t it? Why is it so loud?
Me: His wife is playing it for him as he wanted it played after his funeral. It’s by Moterhead. It's called Stone Dead Forever. We have to do some Tequila after it as it is prepaid by him for his funeral party. He was a lovely man. Then 24 hours of Blues and Zeppelin. That should bring us close to god. Nothing like a good Irish wake!!
Ugh. Hate it when that happens. Am of the firm opinion that the funeral is supposed to be a dead-person fest. People go to them to hear stories, to laugh, cry, and just be surrounded by memories and and atmosphere dedicated to the person that is gone. People do NOT go to funerals to hear about 'hope of redemption' (as happened at my friend's dad's funeral: he was an atheist and he had committed suicide, making the sermon ESPECIALLY improper). It also happened at the funeral of a friend of my stepmom. The guy spent 45 minutes talking about Jeebus and the salvation and hope and grace and la di da... not a SINGLE word about the lady who'd died. All makes for a very unsatisfying funeral. Very! Hijacking is a crime as far as I'm concerned.
But then again - a word to pick your preachers carefully. Try not going for someone who didn't know the person at all. Then they've only got a small repository of material to choose from.
This goes for marriages too. A friend's dad got remarried the other day, and the pastor spent the whole sermon talking about the sins of divorce (having been briefed on the whole situation).
Not that I would recommend this tactic, but you may find Richard Tilman's eulogy of his brother, Pat Tilman, rather interesting...