Another Problem with Religious Funerals March 19, 2008

Another Problem with Religious Funerals

Last week, Tobasco de Gama had an issue with religious funerals.

This week, Summer Squirrel gives us one more reason to dislike them:

The weirdest, most glaring problem I noticed was the minister didn’t know the deceased. At all! Also, they didn’t take the time to ask personal questions like how did friends and family refer to the decease when she was alive. My aunt was known by her middle name and yet this minister kept calling her by her first name, which I didn’t know until Sunday. He also read from notes that I think he obtained from her obituary and he got those wrong or perhaps just misread them. What’s sad about this scenario is that he was at the wake before the funeral and could’ve asked more questions about my aunt. I suppose he was busy feeding his face.

That’s not the only issue, but it’s the most glaring.

How disrespectful of a pastor to treat the deceased that way.

For shame…

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  • Karen

    Oh my, that’s awful. 🙁

    Tobasco de Gama

    Ya gotta love that name.

  • although it doesn’t seem like the problem is exclusively due to religion.

    just bad preparation, and lack of effort in honoring the deceased.

    they should let him know, hopefully he’ll realize it in the future.

  • I’m not set to toss the blame on “religion” for the failure for this particular ceremony. The same thing could have happened at a secular memorial.

  • QrazyQat

    I doubt the same would happen at a secular ceremony, at least nearly as often. A secular ceremony would be, I think, more likely to be conducted by someone who knew the deceased personally, or who would bother to find out what the deceased was like and not impose their own values on them. OTOH, imposing values is what preachers are all about; it’s their job. Each week they do a talk in an attempt to do it.

    I had that experience at my dad’s funeral. It was funny — at least that’s how I took it. Another fumbling preacher pontificating on something he just doesn’t really know about. But then he does it every Sunday, as he confidently tells everyone what lies in store for them after death. Ignorance begets confidence, and confidence promotes ignorance. It’s the circle of life.

  • Ron in Houston

    I think part of the humanist creed should be compassion for the suffering of all humans.

    Death is very hard for people. I think in the funeral context, compassion means tolerance of the need to fall back on superstitions.

    I don’t mind religious funerals.

  • What a horrible experience. At my mom’s funeral a couple years ago, the pastor lady, who I can’t stand, actually did a pretty nice job. She sat down with the surviving family members and gathered stories about mom and tied them into the service. A little religion here and there, but less than I anticipated. I still think the pastor is a bitch for other reasons, but at least she respected out family enough to conduct a nice service.

  • I suspect a believer might respond, the deceased should have gotten to know her pastor a little better while she was in this world. It’s your funeral, as they say.

  • QrazyQat

    Well, the funny part about my dad was that he was not religious, AFAIK. In fact, I asked my mom after his death what his religious views actually were and she said they’d never talked about it. That may seem like it must be deflection, and that’s possible, but knowing both of them and their fairly matter of fact way of dealing with things I think it’s very likely true. But my dad did know the previous preacher very well, since he did a lot of volunteer work that was done at the church, like running a seniors’ meals program for years, or going down to the big city with that preacher to evaluate vans since he knew something about mechanics. And driving the van at times. But he gave no sign of actually believing in or participating in any religion.

    The new pastor didn’t know him. But he talked about him anyway. That’s stupid, and prideful. I think at least one of those is against some sort of edict from god, I hear, supposedly highly valued in Christian religion… supposedly.

  • My Grandpa died of cancer last year. His pastor spoke for a good 45 minutes. For the first 15 minutes, it was quite clear that he had taken some shoddy notes from some of my family members and tried to roll them into a relevant memorial speech. I’m convinced he mixed up his facts with someone else’s grandpa or was just Making Shit Up because he said something about “whenever the Nintendo was broken he’d open it up with the grandkids and see what was wrong” — they had an NES, but the damn thing was the bane of the man’s existence!

    However, the last half-hour of the eulogy didn’t even mention a damn word about him, just that Grandpa was a Christian and believed in Jesus and we have no cause for mourning because we will all see him again in Heaven, but that all of us need to make sure we have Jesus in our hearts or we’ll go to Hell.

    I suppose from the pastor’s point of view, for some of the people he was speaking to this would be their only chance to “hear the Good News”. I, on the other hand, just wanted to remember my grandpa for who he was and the good times we had with him, not sit through a lecture on Christian soteriology.

  • When my Great Aunt died, I was disappointed in the service. The pastor spoke a lot about Jesus and not a lot about the wonderful woman that my aunt was. When her sister, my Great Grandmother, a spectacularly kind and loving woman died, I actually counted the number of times people were mentioned during the service. Jesus: 18. Great Grandmother: 6. I was so thoroughly disgusted that in the 20 years since I have not attended the service for any of my relatives.

    I understand that funerals are for the comfort of those who are grieving for the loss of their loved ones but, come on, can’t you do better than that?

  • laterose

    The first funeral I ever attended was my grandmother’s. The pastor mispronounced our family throughout the service. He didn’t bother even attempting to talk about who my grandmother was as a person. It was all very impersonal.

  • Drew

    cmon. That’s not a problem inherent with religion, but with unprepared people. It’s simply that in a religious ceremony, it’s more possible for the minister or priest or rabbi to not know the deceased, whereas in a secular one, it’s likely run by a friends.

    There’s plenty to diss religion on. This isn’t.

  • The Reverend

    Similar experience.
    I was asked to deliver a eulogy at a funeral being held at a local fundy church. Most of the ceremony went well with some people standing up and relating an experience they’d had with the deceased and it was a very nice secular/religious service. Until the fundy preacher got up to put in his nickel’s worth. He sounded not unlike a stereotypical used car salesman, sans polyester. His hellfire and brimstone sort of took any good vibes to the ground and he basically said the dearly departed was not heading skyward.
    For a ‘brother loving christian’ he doesn’t have much of a heart.

  • Joseph R.

    I agree with some other posts that religion had nothing to do with the crappy preparation that was done on any particular eulagy.

  • geru

    I had my first funeral of a close relative, my grandfather, last fall and the ceremony was quite a disappointment, even for a christian ceremony.

    It was quite apparent that the priest, a woman probably in her 40’s, knew nothing about the deceased, and as a bonus she said the wrong name in the part where they bless the deceased to rest. Well, at least I and my closest family members felt that this was a bit of a comic relief, since the misspelling of our family surname was pretty common.

    Our surname is one letter short from the name of a vegetable, and I actually got my X-Men subscription under this name for about 5 years, because the company had misspelled it, and I never bothered to correct it.

    But the disturbing part of the ceremony was the both of the priest’s speeches, at the Church and at the event after it. I was surprised and somewhat disgusted that the priest said almost nothing about sorrow or about how to carry on after the death of a loved one etc. The speeches were more like a marketing speech for the christian faith, Jesus this and God that. Like something you’d probably hear at a christian youth camp.

    I wondered what the point of all that was, knowing that almost none of our family is a least bit religious, none that I know of. Maybe the whole ceremony is just an awkward tradition, something that no one really wants, but we do it anyway because that’s the way it has always been done.

    It also kinda shows how outdated it all is. Someone dies, and the church gets a half an our of free marketing time to sell their product.

  • aran

    Ya, have to agree with everyone who said this has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with poor planning. Not to mention that immediate family members should have attended to the details. Can’t blame the pastor, and if the pastor didn’t know the woman, perhaps she wasn’t particularly involved in the parish. Everything isn’t “religion’s” fault. A very outspoken anti-religious type at my office just screwed up (to the tune of several tens of thousands of dollars) the billing for one of our accounts. She’s an atheist who’s disorganized and made a mess of a simple task. Does that mean atheism sucks and is responsible for her actions?

  • Jen

    I think the reason it would happen more often at religious funerals is simple: religious funerals are the default in America. Therefore, there are more religious than non-religious people performing them, leaving less time to get to know the deseased. Also, a person who has made it clear they want a non-religious ceremony has probably had a hand in the arangements, whereas religious people don’t necessarily have to, because there is a pre-done popular version no matter what flavor of religion they are.

  • I had the same experience with both of my grandparents, at the same Presbyterian church, at different times. One of the pastors was new, and not the regular person; I don’t know about the other. It was clear that the people who oversaw the potlucks afterward knew my grandparents better.

    My grandpa went by a nickname, which the pastor got wrong every time he said it, as he was relating stories that he’d collected from the family in the previous day. My grandma’s pastor claimed she’d worked hard to make a custom eulogy, then rattled off an almost entirely generic speech with entirely generic Bible verses that set off my Forer Effect alarm. I blogged about the latter after it happened, and decided that I’d ensure a very different funeral for myself, hopefully in the distant future.

    It may not be a problem with religion; I don’t know, I’ve only ever been to religious funerals, and by and large they’ve had the same problems: eulogies given by people who didn’t know the deceased (or didn’t know them well), telling stories to people who knew them better.

  • Hound Doggy

    As an ex-funeral director, I can say this situation happens A LOT. When you meet with a family, often, they don’t know who will speak. Sometimes the deceased hasn’t been to church in years…so they just say “ummm, I guess the minister at the Methodist church?” That guy doesn’t know the person, doesn’t know the family, doesn’t know anything. Also I have spoken with a lot of ministers. Funerals are at the bottom of the list of fun things to do. They didn’t really think about that when they signed on the god bandwagon. I mean, weddings are fun…they are a blast! Ugggg, funerals…not so much. They don’t like them, therefore, they tend not to be real good at them. (Don’t get me wrong…some people are great).
    There is so much to do in the couple days you have to prepare for the funeral. Many times the pastor comes over for an hour or so to talk with a family. You really can’t accomplish much in that time. And it is hard for the family, at that time, to remember all of the wonderful things about their loved one.
    Sorry for the long post, but one more point. Religious services seem to be same thing over and over and over again. Welcome, obituary, In The Garden, prayer, comments, Amazing Grace, Thank you for coming.
    Secular services seem to be a little bit more off the cuff. The people planning these are a little bit more open minded and tend to do some different more meaningful things.
    If folks would plan their funerals ahead of time or at least have some idea of what would happen, it would be better for all involved.

  • Darryl

    I was somewhat perturbed with my mother who decided to have the “family minister” lead the ceremony before my Grandmother’s burial. He had known my grandmother for decades, and he’s a good man, but I felt that the ceremony was off the mark. He preached a gospel message and used my Grandmother as a pretext for doing so. I dislike these occasions being hijacked by ministers for their agendas. Subsequently, when my Aunt died, her family asked me to deliver the eulogy. It was a wonderful service and meant a lot to my Uncle. I was respectful to everyone regardless of their beliefs. Atheists can be sensitive and dignified on these occasions, and fill these moments with meaning. Anyone with a heart is qualified to deliver a eulogy; you don’t need to have an education in myths.

  • When my grandfather died, the minister had only been in my grandparents’ church for a few weeks or so, but he did the service. Interestingly, the funeral director’s parents had been friends with my grandparents, and my grandparents had known the funeral director since he was a kid.

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