My mother's funeral is Wednesday, 4/23/2014 and I'll be giving at least a part of the eulogy.

A little help here...and maybe an opportunity for discussion in general on the subject.

What is an 'Atheist Eulogy'?  What can my differing view of death bring to the table at a Wake?

I know it is totally inappropriate for me to try and convert the audience...I just wish Christians would give me the same respect.  Having God on your side is no excuse for being rude...but then, the Christian God is a projection of their own hatreds and fears, so fuck them.

I hate Christians...I may have mentioned that during the Things I Hate discussion, if not then add it to my list and pretty near the top of it.  Going into a roomful of them when I am under stress is like throwing a cat into a dog kennel.  If you haven't realized it yet, I shoot from the lip and take no prisoners.  My wife knows me better than anyone and she just shrugs and says "Hope you don't mind if I just walk away."  She's an atheist as well but has terrible social anxiety.  We've learned a lot from each other over the years.  She's an anchor without being a ball and chain.

So this is a double question:

What does an atheist say at a funeral?

And how should I respond to people who say 'she's in a better place'?

Views: 828

Tags: death, eulogy, funeral

Comment by Steven Dorst on April 20, 2014 at 11:44pm
While I confront people who assume that their beliefs will comfort me often, I don't at funerals. People need to find their comfort where they can. I say "I'm glad that belief brings you comfort as we remember , but I don't share your belief and choose to draw my comfort from fond memories of the times we shared."
Comment by Philip Jarrett on April 21, 2014 at 12:07am

I appreciate your input, Steven.

But this is my mother and with her death I can speak freely without worry about how it might reflect on her.  I will be polite solely to honor my mother.  This is all that is important to me.  

But know this, once I throw the dirt on her coffin I'm going to war.

Comment by Ari on April 21, 2014 at 12:08am

If I were to say something at the funeral, I'd want it to be like "Let's give the loved one(s) who have died the eternity they deserve by keeping them within our memories". I'm sure I wouldn't be able to actually have the gall to say that but I'd want to. As far as the people who say she's in a better place, I suggest just letting them think that. The only issue with the whole "they are in a better place now" is that shouldn't the people at the funeral be happier than ever? This would mean that the person who has died is roaming around in an unimaginably beautiful landscape for eternity without any care about anything. What's the point of being sad, if that is the ultimate goal that Christians all seek to achieve. You'd think that any religious person who believes in this stuff would be zealous about death. But this just goes to show you that lies has to be pounded into people's heads for them to believe in this stuff and they don't realize that those tears are actually reflecting the genuine emotions of real experiences. I think realizing this fact is what is important.

Comment by Philip Jarrett on April 21, 2014 at 12:11am

"Let's give the loved one(s) who have died the eternity they deserve by keeping them within our memories".

That's beautiful, Ari, thanks.

Comment by Unseen on April 21, 2014 at 9:27am

All I can tell you is how we handled my father's funeral.

At my father's funeral, my younger brother represented the siblings and he recounted instances of my father's generosity, kindness, tolerance, and love for his children and our mother, who had become paraplegic and largely unable to care for herself.

He was a standup guy and we wanted everyone to sense our love and admiration as well as our debt to him that can only be paid by passing it on.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on April 21, 2014 at 9:38am

What does an atheist say at a funeral?

Here are some suggestions from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. If I may, here are two that I especially like:

Excerpt from Unweaving the Rainbow  by Richard Dawkins

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. [...] we didn't arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn't burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we gradually apprehend our world, rather than sudddenly discovering it, should not subtract from its wonder."

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss:


And how should I respond to people who say 'she's in a better place'?

Give a patronizing smile. Say thank you, but I don't believe in an afterlife. If they persist, drop the smile and say your mother's funeral service isn't the time and place to discuss their religious beliefs. If they still persist, frown and ask them to leave.

"I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse." -Issac Asimov

Comment by Ed on April 21, 2014 at 10:48am

Ask yourself what your Mom would of been comfortable saying at your funeral. 

Comment by onyango makagutu on April 21, 2014 at 11:09am

I don't know. Sorry for your loss. I would celebrate her life, a moment to talk about those things that you found important, that you would miss plus what the others have said. And for further inspiration, Ingersoll made a final oration at his brothers funeral I can't remember which volume it appears in though. 

I have always liked this address

Comment by Andy Hoke on April 21, 2014 at 12:32pm

Hi Philip,

I am very sorry for your loss. It's difficult to lose someone so close.

With the chance of seeming glib, maybe your task is really very easy. Relate the wonderful things about your mother - the things that really had nothing to do with religion. IF she was religious, she was doing the best she could with how she made sense of the world. I don't think you need to point out the disparity between your beliefs and hers however.

Just think big, bigger than God. Think of the miracle of life and the wonder of love. In a world where so much is mysterious, you can take this time and let people see how wonderful she was to you, what a wonderful life she led, we should all be so fortunate and her legacy and progeny go on.

Comment by Mike Cole on April 21, 2014 at 10:30pm

My mom was just diagnosed with leukemia and she's 68 - not a good combo (I'm also a physician).  I'm struggling with this very topic right now myself.  I keep wondering about asking everyone to send prayers and "positive energy" and the like, because that is NOT me, but it IS her.  I want HER to be happy and content.  I want HER to make decisions and face her hurdles.  Her priest/chaplain can help her over them (I cannot).

I was born and raised Catholic and my Mom doesn't yet know I'm an atheist.  I'm worried she might think less of me or worry about me if she did know it, but I also have a pretty tolerant family (they didn't bat much of an eye when I came out as gay in 1995 - a military doc to boot).

I think, and I'd like to imagine, my eulogy would go something like this: "Thanks for coming today, my Mom and Dad definitely appreciate all of your support.  Mom was a wonderful human being who always expected the best of others and yet accepted them for their flaws.  She was generous in her support of me and my brothers and enjoyed learning new things about life as we grew and experienced life together.  I know she is no longer with us, but she is no longer suffering or wondering when her last day/meal will be.  The uncertainty is gone and for us, that is both a distressing feeling, and a comfort.  Thank you for your support in all its various forms for the past few weeks and in the coming challenging times.  We love you all."

I still don't know how to respond to someone that wants me to pray with them or for my mom.  New experience (I avowed as an atheist about 3 yrs ago - before that i was a "reformed catholic", sigh...)

Thanks for posting this.  timely for me.



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