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Lexilogio

Humanist funeral

I found myself at another funeral yesterday, for, in my family, the last of my Grandmothers generation.

They were an interesting bunch, who had all stayed close, and all, bar one, had completely rejected religion. This aunt, in particular, had become an atheist, so her funeral service was a humanist one.

It was odd, the first time I've been to a humanist service. The chap running it was pleasant, and it flowed well. In many ways, for me, it missed something essential. But I completely respect the views of my late aunt, and particularly those of my cousins.
trentvoyager

Re: Humanist funeral

Lexilogio wrote:
I found myself at another funeral yesterday, for, in my family, the last of my Grandmothers generation.

They were an interesting bunch, who had all stayed close, and all, bar one, had completely rejected religion. This aunt, in particular, had become an atheist, so her funeral service was a humanist one.

It was odd, the first time I've been to a humanist service. The chap running it was pleasant, and it flowed well. In many ways, for me, it missed something essential. But I completely respect the views of my late aunt, and particularly those of my cousins.


Interestingly, as you know Lexi - I went to a humanist funeral earlier this year of a close friend, where I did a reading of the thoughts of the deceased - and I had the exact opposite feeling. I felt that I had at last gone to a funeral that reflected the wishes of the person; and not the dictates of some priest who had no knowledge of; or at the most a very passing acquaintance with the deceased - which has been my experience in the past.

Even with my parnters mother - who was a devout Catholic - there was no attempt made by the priest to reflect the person she truly was. Maybe that is just the religious services I've attended - but I find it sad that so many representatives of the Churches just seem to "go through the motions".
Ketty

Re: Humanist funeral

Condolences on the loss of your aunt, Lexi.

Lexilogio wrote:

It was odd, the first time I've been to a humanist service. The chap running it was pleasant, and it flowed well. In many ways, for me, it missed something essential.


The first time I went to a humanist funeral was that of pal who I'd befriended on a message board.  I travelled to London to attend her interment in her family grave, and the 'service' was held graveside by a humanist celebrant.   She'd been raised in a different religion and in her adult years had rejected all matters of faith, although we used to chat easily about all that 'stuff' and whilst she was alive (we knew at that point she was terminally ill), I gave her a copy of the NT which she'd never read before.

I felt exactly the same as you.  It was lovely, really lovely, very touching and moving, with poems and readings and music played on a CD player, but for me it was missing an essential something.  It felt sort of empty.
Ketty

Re: Humanist funeral

trentvoyager wrote:

I felt that I had at last gone to a funeral that reflected the wishes of the person; and not the dictates of some priest who had no knowledge of; or at the most a very passing acquaintance with the deceased - which has been my experience in the past.


Again TV, that has been my experience too.  But then again, if the deceased and the family aren't 'church goers' in that sense, what knowledge would a priest have of them?  That's not an excuse btw, because imho, the priest for hire should not be just 'going through the motions'.

trentvoyager wrote:
Even with my parnters mother - who was a devout Catholic - there was no attempt made by the priest to reflect the person she truly was. Maybe that is just the religious services I've attended - but I find it sad that so many representatives of the Churches just seem to "go through the motions".


Yes I agree.  In the sense in which we're talking the 'worst' funerals I've been to have been those at the local crem and conducted by 'hire in' ministers of the major expressions of church, ie the Cof E and the Catholics.  There is a hope (and a 'joy') because the deceased knew Christ, but the priests should not sit back on their laurels about all of that, and need to be aware that not all the people attending have that same hope.  And there's no excuse other than that of laziness, imho, for not accurately reflecting the character and life of the deceased.

My dad did not have a faith but it was my own senior priest who conducted the funeral.  He spent several hours with mum, talking about dad and learning about them and their lives together.  When he spoke, he spoke of dad as if he'd known him for years.  That is how he conducts all the funerals he supervises and I guess for me, he set the bar very high.
Lexilogio

Re: Humanist funeral

trentvoyager wrote:
Lexilogio wrote:
I found myself at another funeral yesterday, for, in my family, the last of my Grandmothers generation.

They were an interesting bunch, who had all stayed close, and all, bar one, had completely rejected religion. This aunt, in particular, had become an atheist, so her funeral service was a humanist one.

It was odd, the first time I've been to a humanist service. The chap running it was pleasant, and it flowed well. In many ways, for me, it missed something essential. But I completely respect the views of my late aunt, and particularly those of my cousins.


Interestingly, as you know Lexi - I went to a humanist funeral earlier this year of a close friend, where I did a reading of the thoughts of the deceased - and I had the exact opposite feeling. I felt that I had at last gone to a funeral that reflected the wishes of the person; and not the dictates of some priest who had no knowledge of; or at the most a very passing acquaintance with the deceased - which has been my experience in the past.

Even with my parnters mother - who was a devout Catholic - there was no attempt made by the priest to reflect the person she truly was. Maybe that is just the religious services I've attended - but I find it sad that so many representatives of the Churches just seem to "go through the motions".


I do agree that it very much represented the wishes of the deceased. And there was a great deal about her as a person.
But I have seen that at religious funerals too - I think it comes down to the celebrant - how much work they put into it, into finding out and showing this person.
Powwow

A few of my Aunts were taken back to the old Danish church my grandfather helped start and my uncle built when they came to Canada. Of course the pastors from the days that these ladies were living in the area and attending services were all long dead. So it gave me a weird sort of feeling when the pastors doing the funeral would announce to the audience that they didn't know my aunts.
For my dad the service was taken by a Baptist pastor, my cousin. He knew dad alot longer than I did. Mom's was taken by her pastor that knew her for 20yrs. It was so much better when the one delivering the service can also share their own memories of the departed. These services where done just as mom and dad would expect and demand the pastors to do. That is, don't you dare wrap the service up until you have preached the way of salvation!
Boss Cat

A funeral is a different for a believer.

For non-believers a funeral can end up as saying nice things about you to celebrate your life at the time when you are as far from your life as you can be.  I'd rather  friends/family remember nice things about me when they want a laugh together, not part of a formal duty.  Either that or I'd like to be around to hear the nice things in person, what a waste otherwise!

To a believer a funeral is quite different, it's about our continuing relationship with God.  A clergyman doesn't have to know anything about the person or like him or approve of him.  My cousin, a vicar, did a funeral for a man once whose wife said 'he was a bastard the day I married him and he got worse everyday after that'.  One of the sons came up to my cousin afterwards and thanked him for not saying nice and untrue things about his father.

How would a Humanist funeral have been for him?  A pack of lies or 'what a git' and that's it?  Would a Humanist celebrant do a funeral for someone they didn't like, or for approve of?  It doesn't matter for a religious minister, it's not important, neither is it for the mourners, it's something different.

Humanist funerals are for the living, and I don't despise the human need for ritual.  But one of the sticking arguments I have in favour of the Established Church is over funerals.  If you are found dead and alone and unidentified on the road you will get as meaningful a funeral as the Queen, if you are evil or despised you will get the same.  Funerals aren't only for the popular and respected.  And that enriches all of us I think.
Shaker

Boss Cat wrote:
A funeral is a different for a believer.

For non-believers a funeral can end up as saying nice things about you to celebrate your life at the time when you are as far from your life as you can be. I'd rather  friends/family remember nice things about me when they want a laugh together, not part of a formal duty. Either that or I'd like to be around to hear the nice things in person, what a waste otherwise!

Not a waste if, as you contradictorily say later on,

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Humanist funerals are for the living


*

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A clergyman doesn't have to know anything about the person or like him or approve of him.


Leading to the widely reported scenario of a clergyman saying patently absurd and palpably untrue things about a deceased that the mourners barely even recognise, which in the wrongness stakes is equivalent to giving me a religious funeral.

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How would a Humanist funeral have been for him?  A pack of lies or 'what a git' and that's it?
 

I suspect it would have been as true as tact and basic decency allows.

Quote:
Would a Humanist celebrant do a funeral for someone they didn't like, or for approve of?

It's their job. I assume so, though equally, as far as I'm aware no Humanist celebrant is duty-bound to take on any particular job: if they refuse, the family would presumably move on and find another celebrant, perhaps at the refusing celebrant's suggestion. I've heard of cases of religionist doctors who refuse to give any advice on abortion for example passing patients on to those doctors who don't mind. I should imagine that a similar sort of rule applies.

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If you are found dead and alone and unidentified on the road you will get as meaningful a funeral as the Queen

At the cheapest possible rate with, if the evidence I've seen is any indication, a handful of people there at the most as opposed to the multi-million pound, cream cake, bells and whistles affair lavished on some freeloading parasite dependent upon their accident of birth.
Boss Cat

I don't see that I contradict myself - it's a waste for the deceased.  That's who a funeral is for, for believers.  But a Humanist funeral isn't for the deceased it?  A non religious funeral is for the living.

I don't understand the connection in your comment about a clergyman saying patently absurd and untrue things about someone and saying that's wrong.  Are you saying my cousin did that?  Or what?

You are wrong about there being a handful of people at the unidentified person's funeral.  There will be one mourner, someone from the Council to represent all of us.  Not a handful at all.  How would you rather it were done?  You refer to the cheapness of a pauper's funeral - how much would Humanists spend on it? Is a funeral only valuable according to how much is spent on it.

For believers the pomp or ceremony or grandeur of the coffin don't matter; the funeral of a pauper or a murderer means as much as the funeral of an emperor or a saint.  But if you aren't a believer how would you understand that?

Of course, I like a good party after a good funeral, but we can all have that, believers or not.
Shaker

Boss Cat wrote:
I don't see that I contradict myself - it's a waste for the deceased.

Is it? Why is that? 
Quote:
That's who a funeral is for, for believers.

I must have missed that memo.  
Quote:
But a Humanist funeral isn't for the deceased it? A non religious funeral is for the living.

All funerals are for the living and none are for the deceased, given the (I would have thought) rather obvious fact that whether it's a Humanist funeral or the full bells and smells Catholic requiem mass, in both cases there's a slab of dead meat in a big box waiting to be fried or stuck in the ground to turn into soup.
Quote:
I don't understand the connection in your comment about a clergyman saying patently absurd and untrue things about someone and saying that's wrong.  Are you saying my cousin did that? Or what?

How the hell would I know? What did your cousin say?
Quote:
You are wrong about there being a handful of people at the unidentified person's funeral.  There will be one mourner, someone from the Council to represent all of us.  Not a handful at all.

Doubtless we seem to have different conceptions of what constitutes a handful of people.
Quote:
How would you rather it were done? You refer to the cheapness of a pauper's funeral - how much would Humanists spend on it?

No idea: ask a Humanist.
Quote:
Is a funeral only valuable according to how much is spent on it.

David 'Call Me Dave' Cameron or whoever made the arrangements for the not-quite-a-state-funeral-but bloody-nearly for Thatcher could give you a better answer on that than I could.
Quote:
For believers the pomp or ceremony or grandeur of the coffin don't matter

There go the aforementioned requiem masses, then. Catholic churches with them as well, thankfully.
Quote:
the funeral of a pauper or a murderer means as much as the funeral of an emperor or a saint.  But if you aren't a believer how would you understand that?

Quite right: I wouldn't. It's only dead meat being disposed of in one way or another.
Boss Cat

Yes I know you don't understand, that was the point I was making.

In all honesty, Shaker, it is impossible to answer your post fully because I have difficulty following your logic, and we would have to go into 'but you posted...no I didn't' (the tangle over my cousin's response to the unpleasant character's funeral for a start) and I haven't wanted to involve myself in that sort of thing for decades.

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear, but the only point I am making is that funerals have different meanings for believers and nonbelievers (and I know not all non believers are humanists, indeed not all humanists are non believers but as the OP was about a humanist funeral, wasn't it? of course I wouldn't expect you, a non humanist, to know how a humanist would respond anymore than I would expect you to understand how a believer might respond.  To be fair though, you do have strongly expressed opinions on believers' responses so it is not entirely unreasonable to think you might have some kind of opinion on how humanists might respond).

Of course for you a funeral is about a slab of meat in a box and  many people feel that way.  Many more feel that way in theory, or for themselves, but not for loved relatives or friends.

To be honest, I have sometimes seen a kind of backflip for some non believers when it comes to funerals or death.  The dead person and their personality takes on more importance than they would if they were really a slab of meat.  But I understand that; I see that ritual is very important for everyone really, incredibly important and it always has been.

One question, out of interest, because I am asking for your honest belief, which you don't have to defend or justify (unless you are trying to make anyone else think that way of course!); how would you dispose of the body of an unidentified, unknown, unclaimed pauper?  How would other atheists do it and why?

Also, doesn't it matter to you a bit?  you mention tact and decency and you also think it would be 'wrong' to dispose of you with any religious ceremony.  Why does it matter to dead meat, anyway, and shouldn't the feelings of the living be more important than the personality of a bit of meat?
Shaker

Boss Cat wrote:
One question, out of interest, because I am asking for your honest belief, which you don't have to defend or justify (unless you are trying to make anyone else think that way of course!); how would you dispose of the body of an unidentified, unknown, unclaimed pauper?

Cremation. It saves on ground space and since the passage of recent legislation relating to the emission of toxic gases, cleaner than it used to be. Burial isn't the 'green' option that it's so often cracked up to be.

Quote:
How would other atheists do it and why?

No idea - other atheists would be able to tell you that.

Quote:
Also, doesn't it matter to you a bit?

Disposal of remains? From an environmental point of view, certainly.   

Quote:
you mention tact and decency and you also think it would be 'wrong' to dispose of you with any religious ceremony.  Why does it matter to dead meat, anyway, and shouldn't the feelings of the living be more important than the personality of a bit of meat?

No they shouldn't - not when the bit of meat whilst alive left clear instructions about their wishes with regard to their death and funeral, no. I'm not a Humanist in the sense of belonging to the BHA but they do provide secular celebrants and I've left clear written instructions with the nearest and dearest (there won't be many left) that I want an entirely secular funeral, partly because given my not exactly swept-under-the-carpet views on religion it would be absurd for me to have a religious funeral but largely because I don't want to be seen to be supporting any religious ritual in any way, shape or form, not even as a corpse.

As I've said before on many occasions, a bog-standard C of E funeral is still largely the default option in this country: it's what happens when you do nothing and the wheels are set in motion and the death professionals take over. I know this is a fact because it has happened in my extended family - people who barely set foot inside a church in their lives die and then the relatives get the duty call from the local vicar (whom they'd never met) to try and scrape together something to say about them. There's an automatic assumption that anybody who didn't obviously belong to a different religion or didn't make explicit their requests gets the default option.

This is not entirely a bad thing since many people - perhaps most - in the immediate wake of a bereavement (most people are cremated or buried within a week of their death) don't want the added burden of trying to arrange a funeral and are probably glad that somebody else steps in to take that particular weight off their shoulders. It sits ill with me, though, that somebody who was by any yardstick not a Christian, knew nothing at all about Christianity and never gave it a moment's thought in their entire lives gets a Christian funeral. It rankles in exactly the same way that it pissed me off and still does that my elderly aunt, who knows absolutely nothing whatsoever about the most basic tenets of Christian belief, still put 'C of E' on the last census form. You wouldn't give a Jew a Catholic funeral or a Muslim a flower-strewn pyre next to the Ganges and the full Hindu bit, so why is it deemed acceptable to rope nonbelievers into the fold? To me it all reeks of some of the things that I despise most: laziness of mind, lack of thought, unquestioning adherence to tradition.

For me it's also partly a matter of statistics. In 2009 (the most recent year for which I could find figures) there were 176,600 Anglican funerals in the UK representing 38% of all deaths. Like all other C of E figures this, of course, is on a downward slide - it was 46% less than a decade earlier in 2000. Concomitantly, as people take a much more personalised and individualistic, less tradition-bound view of funerals, there has been a steep rise in secular funerals (helped along in part by the secular funerals of some well-known and well-loved celebrities). I'll be a corpse and in no position to complain if I were to be giving a full requiem mass with all the bells and smells, 40-strong choir singing William Byrd and the lot; but quite apart from the fact that everyone present who ever knew me would be left thinking how unbelievably inappropriate it would be, funerals are also a matter of national statistics and even in death I want to be and be seen to be part of the statistics for secular funerals and not religious ones. I take the view that every secular funeral is a tiny but real step towards loosening the hold of the pernicious and still prevalent idea (albeit mainly in the older segments of the population) that a religious funeral is 'the done thing.'
northernstar

I just want to be burnt in the cheapest box going, should take all of five minutes, no eulogy, no hypocrisy, just dispatched as quickly as possible. Better make sure I write a will, don't want a religious service at all!
Boss Cat

Thanks for the reply and I should have made it clear the 'what do other atheists think' bit was intended for them, not for you to answer for them.

I think you have given an honest answer and it does make sense to me;  I don't share it, but I understand it.  Except if there were a situation where your next of kin needed a nod to God, a hymn or a prayer - would your commitment to non religion override their pain even if, being dead, it would affect you not a whit?

Also, with the pauper, would it be a simple autopsy and into a furnace with no ceremony at all?
Shaker

Boss Cat wrote:
Thanks for the reply and I should have made it clear the 'what do other atheists think' bit was intended for them, not for you to answer for them.

I think you have given an honest answer and it does make sense to me;  I don't share it, but I understand it.  Except if there were a situation where your next of kin needed a nod to God, a hymn or a prayer - would your commitment to non religion override their pain even if, being dead, it would affect you not a whit?

Not in the slightest. If that was the next of kin's stated wish, that's their wish and should - I would say must - be honoured. This sort of thing works both ways: if I expect my wishes to be respected, the same applies to others who feel differently.

I'm not arguing against anybody who wants one having a religious funeral, incidentally: rather, I'm arguing that funeral wishes ought to be a matter of conscious and deliberate choice rather than the default option faute de mieux. The barrier here would be that some people don't want to think about their own death and what comes after, in the way that some people apparently have a superstitious resistance to making a will, but really that's something that grown adults just have to get over. One could argue that those who truly and sincerely believe in an afterlife should have less resistance to this sort of planning ahead than those who don't.

Then again, following this line of thinking, it could be assumed that the religious - or rather, those who believe in an afterlife - should die more easily and peacefully than those who do not, yet I've seen evidence which runs directly contrary to this.

Quote:
Also, with the pauper, would it be a simple autopsy and into a furnace with no ceremony at all?

I think it would be good to have a ceremony of some sort - wouldn't have to be a religious one - to mark the ending of a life in some fashion or, as I would prefer to see it, to celebrate the life itself. I've seen documentaries - A Life of Grime is one such although there was a documentary about funeral directors shown on the BBC not too many months ago, whose title unfortunately I can't remember - about what happens to people who die alone, sometimes violently, sometimes as a result of drink and other drugs, where there's no family or at least no known family. Sometimes people lose touch with whatever nearest and dearest they might have had: if that's not by their own choice then that's very sad, although sometimes people do deliberately choose to live this way in which case I can't see it as equally sad since they've elected for it to be like this.

In such cases funerals are tiny affairs - generally speaking there are a couple of people from the funeral company and somebody from the local council and that's about it. These people can't be said to have known or to remember the deceased in any meaningful sense because they will be the people who only enter the scene once a body is found in a filthy flat, more often than not. I still think it's a nice idea for somebody to be around to give somebody a send-off (even if it is on the cheap, as such funerals always are) and I think it's a particularly good idea for it to be the people who take over and deal with the deceased after they've died. Whatever the deceased did or had or knew in life, these are the last people who can do a nything for him or her. An entry in a book of remembrance, even if it's only a name and dates and a few words, is a nice gesture. It's not completely implausible that the deceased might have family or friends or acquaintances out there somewhere who might at a later date try to trace the person whose died and who might well feel, on top of grief at bereavement, some sort of comfort at a small and simple gesture of this kind - it does happen.
Shaker

northernstar wrote:
I just want to be burnt in the cheapest box going, should take all of five minutes, no eulogy, no hypocrisy, just dispatched as quickly as possible. Better make sure I write a will, don't want a religious service at all!

I know I'm not exactly Mr Man of the World but I'd like to think that if a funeral is a commentary upon a life lived, mine might take just a little longer than five minutes.
Boss Cat

Thanks Shaker I thought that a lovely and sensitive reply.

Oddly enough I don't really mind how long my eulogy - five minutes would be more than enough for me but my children's thoughts would matter more than mine I think!  As long as I have the service - preferably with decent hymns I'm OK.

Do you remember Adam, that African boy whose murdered body was found in the Thames?  I think we are all (particularly believers -in anything) diminished by his story.  But I think we are all richer because the police and other authorities made sure he had a proper decent funeral.

Oddly enough, you refer to the end of life, I came across some research about death and what is called deathbed phenomena I think.  It seems to be a peaceful experience for most of us.  I am kind of changing my view on the afterlife, although I continue to be agnostic on that one.  I have tended to think it's not important in the past but I am beginning to shift - just a bit.
ELEVENSES81

My own philosophical position is existentialist, and unaligned with either atheism or humanism or any other position for that matter. I am open to whatever the mystery at the centre of my life chooses to reveal.

Not being long for this world, my daiughter and I have already composed my secular funeral. I really enjoyed doing it. We wrote the obituary and wrote a piece each to be read out by the celebrant. Music was chosen to match the themes of our individual pieces. Having been bored rigid by the usual lazy funeral of trite prayer and hymn so many times, I think those attending will be genuinely moved by the event.

Pity I won't be there to enjoy a quiet sniffle myself..ha ha ha.

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