Atheist funerals

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The secular magazine The European writes about atheist/secular funerals: "Yet – and it feels like heresy to write this – secular funerals, for all their sincerity, individuality, and mixture of celebration and mourning, lack something... What is missing is the power of ritual repetition.[1] See also: Atheism, rites and rituals

Atheist funeral eulogies

Giles Frasier

British Reverend Giles Fraser, on secular funerals, article in The Guardian:

And it was here, in this, the religious part of the service, that Cilla was not a celebrity standing before an audience, but a human being standing naked before God. There is a basic democracy in this aspect of religion that is often absent from the secular funeral...

In contrast to the religious funeral, the secular memorial service faces one massive problem. What if the deceased didn’t merit the effusive praise of the recently appointed biographer? What if they had done little of note? Or indeed, even more problematically, what if they had been a total sh*t throughout their lives and no one has a good word to say about them? The secular memorial service is generally based on the optimistic idea that the deceased was worthy of some sort of public commendation – which is why the whole idea of a secular memorial service for a paedophile or a mass murderer feels totally impossible. Would people really stand up to laud their achievements? Would people tell funny little stories about them? Of course not. I use this extreme example to make a point. The secular memorial service began as something for important statesmen and was then adopted by the increasingly Godless bourgeoisie as a way of celebrating their personal achievements. But it’s often poorly designed for those of us who are not a part of the great and the good.

And one unexpected consequence of the rise of the secular memorial service is that funerals are more full of half truths and evasions. Yes, the atheistic mindset is happy that the lie of God has been eliminated. Everything is more honest now, they say. Death is death. No more dressing it up. But things turn out to be far more complicated – for in the secular funeral this so-called lie about God is commonly replaced by another sort of lie, a lie about humanity. Or, at least, a lie about how good this particular person was.[2]

Penelope Nixon, The Guardian, letter to the editor concerning a Guardian article by the Reverend Giles Fraser:

Life tends to be short in east London, so I have attended scores of funerals in my 68 years. Secular funerals are often dominated by those with the loudest voices and the crassest anecdotes. They confuse the function of the funeral with the function of the post-funeral wake.

The one humanist funeral I have attended was well-ordered and polite but had to be followed by religious services for family who found the secular event lacked comfort. I am grateful to the Rev Giles Fraser for being so honest in saying what needed to be said.[3]

See also:

Atheist funeral songs

See also: Atheist music

Steve Major wrote at the American Humanist Association about atheist funeral songs:

Depending on how stringent ones standards are that their music not contain any references to heaven, Jesus, God, or angels, there aren’t a lot of choices left for songs that are still appropriate in both tone and content; at that point most sad songs tend to be about the end of romantic relationships...[4]

Religious aspects of the funeral of atheist Christopher Hitchens

Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens' brother, read from the Apostle Paul on hope, at atheist Christopher Hitchens' funeral.

Below is a description of the funeral of new atheist Christopher Hitchens given by the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail:

Religion was present, too. That was the most interesting part. Hitch’s brother read from St. Paul, on hope. Francis Collins, a devout Christian and former head scientist the Human Genome Project, admitted he was better at piano than speech. So he played a composition of his own, which he said was what his final conversation with Hitch had sounded like. They had spoken of an experimental gene therapy for cancer. Hitch had participated as a test subject, even though the protocol had come too late to save him. (He wanted to help.) Though he didn’t dwell on it, Mr. Collins suggested that the beautiful music came from God. Plainly, atheist funerals don’t mean exclusion of the faithful living.

But religion was perhaps most present in the memorial’s language. The readers spoke of spirit, transcendence, soul. These words are from faith. Their meaning is bound up with biblical poetry. Hitch’s great argument was that we must strive to see the sometimes hidden moral evil in those poems, going beyond them, to a beauty that lives much deeper. There, religion’s barbaric legacy can be stamped out so that love might flourish. Perfect execution of this may be impossible. (For Hitch, that fact necessitated “contempt for our own weakness.”) But like Robin Hood, we can steal faith’s gold, its unique terminology for some of the most mysterious human aspects.[5]

Controversy about atheist funerals relating to a supporter of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

The atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, founder of the American Atheists, had a public relations controversy when one of her supporters suggested that an atheist funeral was a contradiction. The supporter said it was best to throw the body in a hole and move on.[6]

Funerals in some Asian atheistic countries

See also: Asian atheism and Atheist population

See also

External links


  1. A Secular Funeral
  2. At a Christian funeral all are equal before God – even Cilla Black, The Guardian, Reverend Giles Frasier
  3. Secular funerals can lack the requisite dignity and fail to provide comfort, Penelope Nixon, The Guardian, letter to the editor concerning a Guardian article by the Reverend Giles Fraser
  4. Music Selections for a Humanist Funeral by Steve Major
  5. The spirituality of Hitch's atheist funeral by AIDAN JOHNSON, Globe and Mail
  6. Atheist funerals