The memorial service was at a church in my small New England village. I have driven by it at least twice a day for 15 years but I had never been inside it until today. Even though I am an atheist, I like churches. I feel peaceful in the quietness of a church, and I understand that it is sacred to believers. Somehow that means something to me even if it isn't logical.
This one was simple in design, having the basic pews, pulpit, and crucifix on the back wall. Being a Congregational church, it did not have the padded-kneeling-fold-out-thingies that I've seen in Catholic and Episcopalian churches. It had the obligatory bibles and hymn books on the backs of the pews. I was fascinated by the huge pipe organ being played by a solemn-looking elderly gentleman.
The service was in a basic Christian format, complete with hymns, a homily, random group prayers, the 23rd Psalm, and the Lord's Prayer. I grew up in an atheist home, but even I have heard the 23rd Psalm many times. I respectfully stood when I was supposed to, held the hymn book when I was supposed to sing, and closed my eyes when the prayers were being said. I felt like I understood how this is comforting to the living, yet I looked at it all from an outsider, an observer.
The pastor/minister/reverend/whatever did a good job of relating the deceased's art to creating an artwork out of life. This is a reasonable man, it seems. These are everyday people, not religious nutcases. Somehow, the fundamentalist, evangelical whack jobs of the world seem to find me, or I seem to find them. I forget that some Christians just have a basic belief but their religions doesn't take over their lives completely.
It seems that what was important to me is that my friend's mother made something of her life, and her friends and family are now comforted by the belief that some part of her lives on. What theists don't seem to understand is how packaged and simple their beliefs appear to be when looked at from outside their faith. Is it not just as easy to make meaning out of people's lives without having to have it all placed in the context of how the person related to God while he or she was alive?
I walked away from that service with a personal challenge to get busy accomplishing some things I need to do in my life. I wish it was all as easy as the pastor made it sound: just do the best you can, believe in Jesus, and have eternal bliss when you die. It sounds nice, but I cannot believe unless I let go of a good part of my ability to reason, It seems all there is left to do is live this life the best I can in a way that has enhanced the lives of others, Isn't that good enough?