Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mirror, Mirror


As a non-Christian, I have never understood the need some people have to indoctrinate others, or to try and force their own views on them. When this sort of thing takes place during a time of grieving and mourning, such as at a funeral, it just makes it even worse.


I have to wonder what they think, the people who arrange funerals and memorial services. Cheerful subject, I know - but do they assume that everyone who would come there is by default a Christian? I think they do. I think they just sweep aside all considerations of diversity, and figure that well, if anyone doesn't like it, then they don't have to be there. Too bad if they knew the deceased, or cared about them.

When people attend a memorial service for a dearly departed friend or family member, one would expect it to be about the person whom they have lost, not so? Their history, their achievements - and perhaps little nuances about their daily lives with those who remain. I find it extremely annoying and totally inappropriate for the occasion to be effectively hijacked and turned into an opportunity to pound people on the head with holy books and doctrine about how people should live their lives in order to be "perfect", like the deceased - who now resides in "heaven" and smiles beatifically down on the rest of us "sinners", or saying "I told you so". 

I attended several funerals this year, of close friends and relatives - and while none of these were conducted in a church, but in the format of a private memorial service - each one was laced with Christian platitudes and sermons. The question I need to ask is: Why?

It's not as if the event was held in a regular church on a Sunday, or during a scheduled Sunday service. Nor were those in attendance part of the ordinary congregations of the deceased's church - in fact, one of the deceased was a friend of mine who was an agnostic with atheistic and even Pagan tendencies - and yet a local minister was called in by the family to perform a very religious ceremony, which created the impression that the dead person had been a good Christian, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Is the memorial service then, to honor the memory of the deceased, or is it there to honor the image of the deceased as they wanted them to be?

It seems to me that the memorial service is not for the deceased, but is like religion, chicken soup for the soul, which is there for the sake of those left behind. It is a bouquet of flowers for the dead, a bundle of sentiments that should have been given to the deceased while still alive. Is it not then simply hubris and sentiment heaped upon those who are dead and can no longer be affected by perception? 

I'm not sure where the saying comes from anymore, but I remember it goes: "Change is for the living". No matter how we twist the facts or color the truth about the deeds or life of the dead, we cannot make it true, or undo that which was done. What is done is done.

A ministor or pastor gets drafted by relatives to officiate at the memorial service, gets a brief run-down about the life of the deceased, and then has to talk about someone they have probably never met, and about whom they know only a little about. I suspect then, that the sermon part is then made a little longer in order to compensate for this glaring gap in the program? The gathering is then treated to a half hour of blah, blah, the wages of sin is death, waffle, waffle, no-one comes to the father but by me, blah, blah, fish-paste. And if you get a very bland, traditional Methodist minister for the service, who goes through the same sermon three times to make his point - you're in trouble.

Yes, I can appreciate that a Christian person would want the appropriate burial rights - but as far as I am concerned, these do not include lecturing and preaching at those gathered to pay their last respects and to mourn their passing. It makes about as much sense as forcing people to all close their eyes while someone says grace at a working dinner.

Think about it. Uncle Buck or Cousin Amy bites it, and people come from all over the place to attend their memorial service. It's not held at a church, but in a chapel at a funeral home. 

The people who attend are as diverse as they come, not just members of the church Uncle Buck or Cousin Amy went to, but people who worked with them, played bridge with them, were friends with them, or who are distantly related to them. Some are Christians, yes, but some are not.

One could even wonder why a funeral home would have a chapel with a cross as a permanent fixture beside the lectern at the front of it? Hmm? Surely a funeral home should cater to everyone - because you know, like - everybody dies, right? This is simple enough to do, by keeping an interfaith chapel without any permanent symbolism. Or do they restrict memorial services solely to Christians? I haven't asked them about that yet, but I might.

People should, in my humble opinion, ask themselves why they attend a memorial service. Is it to honor the memory of that person? Is it because they have suffered a loss - and, while grieving, feel the need to express their sorrow or support to others who share that grief? Or is it just another excuse to enforce a religious viewpoint on anyone who attends the event?

Is it an occasion specially intended for the memory of the departed - or has the idea of a memorial simply degraded to the point where it has lost its meaning and become a pointless ritual marking the significance of a human life viewed within the frame of hollow religious tradition?

When I attend a memorial service of a friend or relative, I don't expect to be brow-bashed by religion and dogma, or bored by platitudes about "eternal life" when they are so obviously dead, or insulted by the assumption that I am Christian "like everybody else is, or should be", and that "us" Christians are such wonderful, "saved" people who are better than anyone else who is not. Therefore, when this sort of thing happens, I do not appreciate it.

Ordinarily, I do not attend Christian religious events or services. Of course, I don't have to attend my friend's funeral or memorial service - nobody is forcing me to - it is something I want to do out of a sense of family honor, or loyalty to that friend - and so, putting up with the religious rhetorical nonsense is the part I have to compromise on. However, I think it is exceedingly thoughtless and selfish of those making the arrangements to exclude those who would take offense to being expected to attend a memorial which is little more than a religious occasion - representing a religion of which they are not part - and who make use of the opportunity to take cheap shots at non-Christians who do attend.

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