Atheist at a Funeral March 12, 2008

Atheist at a Funeral

Tobasco da Gama (hehe) recently attended his grandfather’s funeral. He describes two eulogies that stood out, the first by a family friend:

… it talked about how my grandfather grew up in a poor neighbourhood, served in the Army, raised his kids and then grandkids. It talked about how proud he was of his grandkids, how he took care of all of us even into his old age. The eulogy talked about his personality, how he could be stubborn and crotchety sometimes but he still loved his family and was loved by them.

The other eulogy was read by a pastor.

That’s when Tobasco got angry:

He talked about how totally sweet heaven is. It’s “a million times better than Hawaii”, he said. Then he talked about how my brother talked my grandfather through a deathbed conversion. (My brother’s like that, even though he doesn’t attend church.) The pastor said it was the best decision my grandfather made in his life, “even though it came right at the end.”

All that stuff that actually mattered? Dismissed.

The conversion at the end? The high point in the grandfather’s life.

This is why I’m glad to be an atheist. Because I know that, when I go, there won’t be some asshole up at a podium using my death to push his agenda. Instead, my family will be there, remembering me for the life I actually lived and the things I actually did. That’s how I want it to be. That’s how it should be.

It makes sense to remember the life that was lived, not the fictitious afterlife that someone would like to see.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Mriana

    Yes, the preacher at my grandmother’s funeral preached on the “Path to Salvation” at my mother and aunt’s request as well as told my grandmother’s story of “turning her life over to God at the age of 4 at her mother’s knee”. Ironically even my mother thought the minister was going to have an alter call during the funeral. She didn’t, but it wouldn’t have bothered my aunt and mother.

    My aunt and mother wanted us to attend their church the next morning (Sunday) but I made the excuse that we had to get back and feed the cats. When my older son and I were in the car by ourselves I asked if I was speaking for him and if he wanted to go. He said, “NO!” Then calmed himself a bit and said, “No, I’m glad we aren’t staying for church.” It was pretty bad.

    At my step-cousin’s funeral, who committed suicide, they had the same sermon and my aunt was bragging about it because she believes they may have saved a few souls. 🙄 Meanwhile my step-cousing “could be going to hell”? It’s insane!

    My older son now understands why I want a non-religious service because he agrees that the person’s life should be celebrated and it’s less imposing on others who don’t share said beliefs. My son is also grateful that I never took him to any hellfire and damnation church before and hopes he never has to go to one again. I don’t blame him. It’s horrendous and IMO makes for a bad funeral, esp one where one commits suicide.

  • As if the being at a funeral isn’t fraught enough with emotion, then the stunned loved ones have to be insulted by having their loved one’s life dismissed in favor of what may or may not have been a conversion? Of all the places to further an agenda, a funeral should be somewhere at the bottom of the list.

  • Karen

    My mother was Catholic, and the priest who officiated at her funeral gave the usual garbage sermon about how she was a faithful servant of the lord (true), and she’d gone on to her Great Reward, and we must celebrate that and look forward to seeing her in heaven.

    It made my dad happy. I managed to keep my breakfast down with some effort.

    Dad was raised Lutheran, but hadn’t gone to church since he’d married my mother some 60-odd years before. So for his service (same funeral home, two years later) I agreed to let the resident pastor lead it. WONDERFUL man. We didn’t discuss it, but he figured out really quickly that I wasn’t into religious BS, and that I wanted my dad remembered for who he was. So this clever fellow inveigled ME into speaking.

    So, he led the service, and said the appropriate religious pablum to comfort the bulk of attendees, who were mostly Christian. (Funny, having been raised Catholic, somehow mainstream Protestant religious pablum annoys me far less than standard Catholic pablum.) And then I got up, and managed to give my dad a proper eulogy. I’m really pleased the pastor talked me into that. I wish I’d done it for my mother as well.

    Yeah, I got choked up a few times, and it was painful, but DAMN worth it. The take-home lesson is to never let some religious twit do what you really need to do for yourself.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Ok I completely agree with the atheist sentiments stated above. But look at this from the theistic perspective. What’s more important: the life just led on Earth in our physical form or the eternity as a spiritual entity for the deceased?

  • Obviously, Unbrainwashed, you’re right. In fact, a lot of people after the service went up to my brother and thanked him for “saving” my grandfather. I’m pretty sure I was alone in being offended, really.

    But… that’s kind of the point. There’s something sick about devaluing a human life in that way, to imply that none of it “counts” unless one says some particular magic incantation.

  • valhar2000

    Well, I’ve already decided that when I die I want to donate my organs; anything that some doctor can get some use out of can be taken, even if they only use it to feed the lab rats they test medicines on. I won’t care one way or the other, since I’ll be dead, and it will help other people more than having my body rot in the ground (or worse, be embalmed, at a huge expense, so that it does not rot).

    I also don’t want expensive funeral services, ostentatious flower displays, or anything else that may incur expense, except inasmuch as doing that would make my loved feel better. After all, I certainly won’t notice any of it, so why should they bother?

    When my grandfather died, I traveled to the US with my family to attend the funeral. We went to the local Methodist church where my mother’s family had all gone, and the church’s pastor gave a nice, if somewhat impersonal eulogy. Then, the man who had been pastor at the church before him, and friend of my grandfather, gave another eulogy, which was very good. After that, several people who had known my grandfather gave eulogies of their own, talking about why they had liked him and respected him, and why they were sorry he was gone.

    It was very good, and very moving, and though there was religious rhetoric in it, particularly on the part of the pastors, it never got in the way of remembering and honoring the actual man.

    I’ve gone to Catholic funeral services here in Spain, and I have been disgusted by the use the pederasts… I mean, the priests, made of the occasions to chide everybody for being bad nasty people who don’t go to church often enough. I tell you, every single time that happened I just wanted to walk up to the guy, tell him to “Proselytize this, motherfucker!” and then sock him in the eye.

    It’s a particular annoyance I should not have to deal with at times like that.

  • Alycia

    Karen’s post made me look up “pablum”. What a great word!

    My favorite aunt died in December after a long battle with cancer. My cousin, her son, wrote a beautiful obituary for her in the newspaper, so I was hoping for something similar for her funeral service. It was a long Catholic funeral with high mass and everything. Long. Very, very long. The only bit that mentioned my aunt personally was a poem written by her daughter and a few mentions about how much she loved her grandkids.

    That was it.

    My aunt had converted when she married my step-uncle, so when it came time for communion, he was the only one that stood up from our family to receive it. So pretty much we had to sit and listen to all sorts of words about heavenly kingdoms and a guy dying in order to receive eternal life when all I wanted to do was hear stories about what a tough broad she was and how much we’d all miss her. Most likely my cousins would’ve preferred that, too.

  • Danielle

    I’ve only ever had horrible experiences with pastors/priests at funerals, so I totally understand.
    At my Aunt’s funeral the pastor spoke of nothing except the suffering of christ … he compeltely ignored the fact that we were all there to mourn the loss of a beautiful woman who died too young. Her kids were really upset. It was just one more disgusting encounter with the church.

    At my grandfather’s funeral, the first preist who came to the wake started talking about the wrong person at first, which was just rude, and then he went on and on about heaven for about 10 minutes….and I think he was drunk. The priest at the church spoke of how my grandfather suffered in the end and this brought him closer to jesus…..which upset my mentally disabled aunt who proceeded to get up and start crying hysterically because she though her daddy had suffered, when in fact he actually didn’t and the priest was full of it …..
    Why do we put up with this crap?

  • Somewhere Dawkins said he might want to have his death videotaped so no one can make up a “deathbed conversion” story like they did with Darwin.

  • Betty

    I recently went to an extremely Christian memorial service in rural Alabama. Lots of prayer, lots of talk about God, quoting the Bible extensively, etc. I mean, the prayer had absolutely nothing to do with the woman who died; it was just ridiculous.

    Anyway, I wanted to share this experience because at this giant Christian extravaganza, there was a slideshow with wonderful pictures of the deceased woman. And attached to this slideshow were dozens of quotations about death, hope, motherhood, etc. A strikingly large number of the quotations were actually by famous atheists!! Evidently, someone just snatched some stuff off the internet without bothering to find out who these people were. No one noticed but me (as I said, it was rural Alabama…), but I have to say I was pretty amused (and shocked) by the whole thing.

  • shalini

    When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll make sure that there are *lots* of atheists around to ensure that nobody tries to preach about Baby Jeebus and rattle about a ‘deathbed conversion’. What could be worse than being known as an atheist who turned theistard/Christard at the very end?

  • Last two funerals I attended were done by the same Catholic priest.

    The first funeral was for a 27 year old friend that died of cancer. The second was a double funeral for a friend and co-worker and his wife that was killed by a drunk driver leaving two young children.

    He talked about god’s calling and other crap like that. Each funeral was about 50 minutes with 40 minutes of the funeral not even talking about the deceased.

    I found the whole thing unemotional and aggravating at the same time.

  • Horrible events like hijacked funerals are reminders that, as members of a misunderstood minority, we need to take responsibility for planning our own memorial services.

    Write your own obituary (update it annually) and file it along with your will. Document your wishes for a non-religious event, pick the person to deliver the eulogy, select your own secular readings and music, and clearly explain all these things to your family and friends. When you’re gone and they’re suffering from your loss, the last thing they need is an insult to your memory from some fly-by-night-friar-Tuck who thinks he can get the last word in because you’re no longer able to correct him.

  • Was it a true story? Deathbed conversions are notoriously hard to verify.

    Edit: Come to think of it, why does it matter if it was true? The rest of his life is way more important.

  • Julie

    That guy’s name is Tobasco. Couldn’t quite get past that part.

  • Marc

    This is why I’m glad to be an atheist. Because I know that, when I go, there won’t be some asshole up at a podium using my death to push his agenda.

    I guess you just can’t get any “friendlier” than that. LOL!

  • Valhar2000

    I guess you just can’t get any “friendlier” than that. LOL!

    I think that the blog you are looking for is “The Doormat Atheist”. This blog is not it.

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