Atheist Funerals

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Atheist Funerals

Post by costrel on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:17 pm

Over on "that other board," SG asked some thoughtful questions about atheists and their thoughts about funerals and ritual. I tried to post there, but since it is nearly impossible for me to post over there any more (for some reason, the site freezes up every time I try to make a post Tantrum ), I decided to post my response here.

As an atheist, I currently don't care what my family might do concerning a funeral for me. If my culturally-Catholic relatives want to go all-out and have a wake, a Mass, and a rosary, that's fine. If they want to have a small memorial gathering at the funeral home or some other place, that is fine too. Perhaps I will feel differently when I'm older, but right now, I'm not really concerned about any kind of a ritual or other form of remembrance for me.

What I am currently concerned with, though, is my burial. I want my remains disposed of in a green and economical manner. What I don't want is an expensive burial costing thousands of dollars and consisting of embalming and interrment in a supposedly "air-tight" coffin that would not allow my body to decay naturally but instead turn it into a putrid pile of decomposing ooze, in a grave with a concrete or plastic grave liner (so that the ground above the grave remains flat for aesthetic and lawnmowing purposes), and a gaudy headstone marking the spot. In fact, I would prefer my cremains scattered in some natural place that I loved rather than buried in the Catholic cemetery. I have been interested in cremation ever since I lived in Japan and attended two Buddhist funerals there, and have pretty much decided on cremation after my grandmother's funeral a few months ago (though she chose cremation with her cremains buried beside Grandpa's casket).

P.S. -- I hope you are keeping safe in spite of all those terrible fires, SG!


Last edited by costrel on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:19 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Spelling error!)
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by gillyflower on Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:58 pm

Thank you so much for posting this. When my cousin died, he was not Christian and his wife caved to pressure finally and had a Christian burial for him. It really bothered me for him. Perhaps he wouldn't have minded either.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by MaineCaptain on Mon Aug 06, 2012 2:06 pm

I am not sure about actual ceremony. but I want a natural burial, put me in a plain pine box or even better a biodegradable sack and plant a tree on top of me. I would be happy to have that. Give me back to nature.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by costrel on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:09 pm

gillyflower wrote:Thank you so much for posting this. When my cousin died, he was not Christian and his wife caved to pressure finally and had a Christian burial for him. It really bothered me for him. Perhaps he wouldn't have minded either.
When my grandmother died a few months ago, some of my family members who, so far as I know, are at least cultural Christians (though I don't think they attend a worship service very often, if at all) found the gathering at the bar after the wake and the potluck after the funeral Mass to be the most relevant and meaningful parts of the funeral services. To me, this is what funerals really are all about -- the gathering of friends and family to remember the life of the deceased person.

The religious ritual that often accompanies these gatherings seems to be mostly empty show done out of tradition, out of a desire to "keep the peace" among family members, and as a way of honoring the life of the deceased (and in some cases, to aid the deceased's postmortem journey in a spirit realm -- Catholic Purgatory, Buddhist Bardo, etc.) though I'm sure it has the potential to be relevant, and probably is for some people, and probably was relevant in generations past. According to my Japanese friends in whose company I attended those two Japanese funerals, they didn't find Buddhist funeral rites relevant at all, and actually found them boring (in addition, they couldn't understand the archaic Japanese that the monks used in their chanting).

The only time I was really concerned about any ritual for my funeral was over a decade ago when I was still a Christian and going through a very depressed period in my life, and I would fantasize about what my funeral would be like.
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by gillyflower on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:10 pm

I would like to be cremated and yes, dumped in a hole and have a tree planted.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by allthegoodnamesweretaken on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:16 pm

Cremated.

Dead is dead, if others want to cry over me, they can go ahead.
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by costrel on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:20 pm

MaineCaptain wrote:I am not sure about actual ceremony. but I want a natural burial, put me in a plain pine box or even better a biodegradable sack and plant a tree on top of me. I would be happy to have that. Give me back to nature.
I like that idea, MaineCaptain! If I were to have a body burial instead of a cremation, that is the kind of body burial I would prefer: a very simplistic box (perhaps like the ones that Catholic monks still build and use), or a biodegradable sack, and some long-lived plant, such as tree or a rose bush, above me. (And of course, no embalming.)
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by costrel on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:26 pm

allthegoodnamesweretaken wrote:Cremated.

Dead is dead, if others want to cry over me, they can go ahead.
I have read that one of the reasons why people in the West are supposedly so resistant to cremation is the idea that people need to view the bodies of their loved ones in death in order to properly grieve. I suppose this may be true for some people, but it certainly isn't true for me. I was quite comforted seeing my grandmother's urn that housed her cremains surrounded by flowers at the front of the church during the wake and the funeral Mass, and didn't feel any need or wish to view her dolled-up corpse.


Last edited by costrel on Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:28 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : grammatical reasons, of course!)
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by MaineCaptain on Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:05 pm

My grandparents were terrified of death. My grandmother would not have dreamed of being cremated. Of course she was old school Catholic. But she seem to think, (an impression, not spoken) that god would not be able to resurrect her if she was not complete.

I don't know what my grandfather thought, except his terror of death. Makes me wonder what they had done in their lives to warrant such fear of meeting their maker.
Anyway, they had tradition American Catholic funerals, big metal casket, the works.

I would never want any of that. I love the woods, and forested areas. I want to give back to mother earth for all she has given me. Planet fertiliser sounds like a good thing to become. I 'll make pre- arrangements so they do not embalm me. When ever the time comes. Hopefully not for a long long time. But you never know, do you?

As for ceremony, if there is anyone to come, I want them to have a party. Smile With ice cream Razz

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by gillyflower on Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:25 pm

costrel wrote:
allthegoodnamesweretaken wrote:Cremated.

Dead is dead, if others want to cry over me, they can go ahead.
I have read that one of the reasons why people in the West are supposedly so resistant to cremation is the idea that people need to view the bodies of their loved ones in death in order to properly grieve. I suppose this may be true for some people, but it certainly isn't true for me. I was quite comforted seeing my grandmother's urn that housed her cremains surrounded by flowers at the front of the church during the wake and the funeral Mass, and didn't feel any need or wish to view her dolled-up corpse.

Part of it is different interpretations about Jesus raising the bodies. In the mountains, I ran in to people who would not dream of anything but burial because they were going to need their bodies. I heard one lady say she thought that people who were cremated were trying to hide from Yahweh.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by Davelaw on Mon Aug 06, 2012 10:39 pm

just throw me in a ditch or a bayou filled with gators
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by John T Mainer on Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:01 am

My father has asked to be cremated and his ashes put into the Coquilhalla river. He wants to be remembered in life, not as he was when he died. He is an athiest. His one true desire in life is to put every single priest up against a wall and shoot them, before they can put any more blood on the hands of idiots that listen to them. Considering how many dead idiot children he had to stack up in his carreer, and how much of the money that was buying the guns and funding the mercenaries being arrayed against our troops, was coming from churches in our own nation, it is hard to argue his point.

Funerals are for the survivors. Grave goods are to symbolically support the dead, and need not have a corpse to work. Funerary rituals that celebrate life begin healing, while those that focus on the death are little more than organized masochistic masturbation led by pious professional mourners who neither knew nor cared about the deceased. Lots of cultures go for that model, so it must work for them. I don't get it, and it really doesn't work for me or mine.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by sacrificialgoddess on Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:38 pm

The wildfires are crazy!! Stay out of OK, my friends! We have a firebug adding to the problem, and two towns, Luther and Glencoe were virtually destroyed!

http://www.news9.com/story/19201360/luther-looks-to-rebuild-after-devastating-weekend-of-wildfires

http://kfor.com/2012/08/04/wind-still-fueling-fires-in-oklahoma/

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by Beribee on Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:59 pm

Stay safe, SG!!!!

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by Gorm_Sionnach on Fri Aug 10, 2012 12:36 am

I have a certain perspective on funerals and funeralization; but then again I have a vested interest in them (both professionally and religiously), so my posistion is not without its inherent biases...

Funerals, by and large, are as much for the dead as the living. The period between the death and the disposistion (be it burial, cremation, entombment, excarnation, sea burial, etc.) has always occupied a liminal space in just about every human culture. As such, the rites and ceremony associated with the funeral are for the purposes of helping the deceased transistion between this world and the next. The physical remains are often seen to still tether the dead to this life, and so the proper care and placing of those remains is a necessary part of the process, so to speak.

In regards to humanistic funerals, of course the significance of liminality is more of a cultural holdover than an accepted reality; the individual is just as dead at the moment of death as when they are burried or cremated, and so it makes little difference in that regard. There is no need to assist something which does not exist, and so the liminal space is then occupied more by the transistion from living in a world where ones loved one was alive, to one in which they are not.

Funerals, in their myriad forms, have become a component in the grieving process, and perhaps always have been. I mentioned it elsewhere, but Irish funeral customs, wakes especially, traditionally happened before the body was burried, and often over a period of days. The raucous nature of the wake, the often rowdy games, drinking and dancing were as much a celebration of life, as a vessle for an outpouring of grief, as a means to reinforce the importance of the community. Religious aspects of funerals tended to be right near the very end, when the funeral procession would arrive at the church, or church yard and hand things over to the priests. The wakes were a decidely secular thing, and for this reason are generally understood to contains traces of a much older tradition, a more storied symbolism and ritualized form of catharsis, from a time only remembered in folk tales and legends.

As to the psychological value in actually seeing the deceased as they are, and not as they were, again there are arguments for both sides. It has been my experience, however, that even when family members say "I don't want to see him/her", they almost innevitably do. If nothing else, actually seeing their dead loved one aids them in accepting the reality of the loss. This is one of the reasons people search for so long, and with all that they are when a loved one goes missing, is killed in a disaster, etc. Having something, anything, provides at least a quantum of solace, an ounce of closure which is unobtainable without those physical remains.

At the end of the day, when a family comes back to you and thanks you for the service, for the compassion and support, even at a cost of thousands of dollars; there is a genuine outpouring of graditude for simply having been there to offer a kind ear, friendly word and guiding hand, at one of the darkest periods in someones life.

I often remark that we are "not merchants of death, but rather profiteers of death", and I am comfortable with this idea. Some people are able to be surrounded by the dead and the grieving day in and day out, I happen to be one of them. I do derive employment, and thus a living, from the death and suffering of others, even if I am not directly (nor indirectly) responsible for either. I accept that, and am as comfortable with that idea as I am with the pysical prescense of a dead person, in any number of states. I am able to empathise without taking their grief on; afterall their grief is not my grief, their loss is not my loss and there is nothing tackier than a weepy funeral director.

Many see exploitation, which I am sure happens (or happened) with a degree of consistency; for example the board which governs my professional activities exists to protect the public from me. Some see extravagance and waste, which is fine and certainly happens, and they are free to choose alternatives. As many have already pointed out, alternatives not only exist, they are becoming more common. Yes, the industry tends to be a lot slower on the uptake with change, but it will get there eventually.

So there you have my take on the issue; take it for what is it worth.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by allthegoodnamesweretaken on Fri Aug 10, 2012 8:02 am

Gorm, if you buy a car at a dealer, they try to sell you all kinds of "upgrades". Funerals are no different.

I do wish we had the option of doing it ourselves though.
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by Gorm_Sionnach on Fri Aug 10, 2012 8:17 am

This is true, but of course options are optional. One can have a simple casket, or no casket at all. Again because the legalities tend to be at the state level, what one can do is going to be different. Here (in Ontario) families are allowed to hold their own funerals.

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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by allthegoodnamesweretaken on Fri Aug 10, 2012 8:36 am

Of course options are optional, and of course ya'll have to give the option (it's how you guys make your money after all. Nobody demonizes the data entry processor for entering data....)

I think the state of Nebraska might have a problem if I decide to build a pyre for a loved one, or be wrapped in a sheet and buried in the woods.....
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Re: Atheist Funerals

Post by MaineCaptain on Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:25 pm

Sorry I missed this SG. Be safe my friend.

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