Atheists at a Funeral: We Sometimes Marvel at People’s Priorities

Per the Friendly Atheist, I came across a great little essay by one “Tobasco da Gama” about his feelings about two different eulogies given at his grandfather’s funeral.  One celebrated his life… while the other was basically a used-car salesman making a pitch with someone’s grandfather as the bait.

Fair warning: it’s a little profanity-laden, and he even calls someone an A–wad.  But they totaly deserved it, so it’s okay.

I’ve often had the same experience at funerals.  When you think about it it’s really a very strange thing that we have these ceremonies at the culmination of the grieving process where people that know nothing about the person they are eulogizing purport to lecture an emotionally fragile audience about what’s really important about the life of a loved one.  And, surprise: it’s all about to what degree that person bought into this or that ideology that the speaker favors.
I mean, it’s really quite amazing that we as human beings think that what someone passively believes or believed is such a gosh darn important thing about their worth as a fellow human being.  A huge majority Christians seem shockingly comfortable with the idea that its the be-all and end-all of human life and something as decisive as one’s eternal fate.

It’s almost like a betrayal to find out that so many people think like this: that they say they celebrate free expression and freedom of belief in the here and now, but when it comes down to what they consider the most fundamental questions and fates of their fellows, it turns out that it was all just a passing pose.  They’re content, at the end, to imagine dire and eternal consequences based on something as ultimately and fundamentally trivial as what concepts and beliefs flitted through someone’s brain in whatever the final few minutes of their life turned out to be.

It seems as insane as a good childhood friend of yours standing up at the end of a playdate and stabbing you in the back because you once mentioned that blue is your favorite color.

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11 Responses to Atheists at a Funeral: We Sometimes Marvel at People’s Priorities

  1. pauljub says:

    Atheists have a difficult time accepting death (understandably), so they call a funeral a “celebration of life”. You’d have to be a Christian to see and feel the “celebration of death”.

    It has nothing to do with someone’s “worth” as a human being.

    A Christian NEVER has the right or the authority to condemn someone’s soul to hell. It’s all in the hands of the fair God. Judging is none of our business.

  2. Bad says:

    Atheists have a difficult time accepting death (understandably)

    Nonsense. As I wrote on another topic, I’ve seen no real difference between believers and non as to how prepared they are to face the death of loved ones or themselves. The reality is that things like grief are just something that everyone experiences, regardless of their beliefs.

    I understand the ideological obsession some Christians have with death and the afterlife. I just lament the way that obsession warps people’s priorities and moral character.

    It has nothing to do with someone’s “worth” as a human being.

    I don’t buy it. Saying that you care about someone is simply belied by the obsessive focus on the ideology to the exclusion of all else, as illustrated in “Tobasco da Gama”‘s post. And it is unavoidably an expression of someone’s worth.

    A Christian NEVER has the right or the authority to condemn someone’s soul to hell. It’s all in the hands of the fair God. Judging is none of our business.

    This is simply an act of moral cowardice. I suppose a similar sort of thought comforted Hutus during the genocide in Rwanda: this has nothing to do with us. Who are we to speak out against what’s going on? We told them this might happen. And so on.

    It’s depressing to think that ones friends and neighbors think like this, but this is basically the upshot of everyone Christian who believes in doctrines of judgment and eternal reward/punishment, and either considers it fair or just, or claims to have no business commenting. It’s a moral failing, and one that many modern Christian theologians have grappled with, and decided to overcome with doctrines of universal salvation and so forth. Unfortunately, for this courage and moral character, they are often branded heretics.

    • ludwig44 says:

      Exactly
      pauljub wrote “A Christian NEVER has the right or the authority to condemn someone’s soul to hell. It’s all in the hands of the fair God. Judging is none of our business.”

      People who believe in the doctrine of Christian salvation and damnation claiming they have no responsibility to make sense of the whole thing by “it’s not my job; it’s in God’s hands” type excuses = total cop-out. (Says someone – me – who used to do the same but always felt conflicted about it)

  3. PalMD says:

    “Celebrating death” is a disgusting cop-out. Believe that your love one isn’t a pile of slimy dust if you wish, but I find it comforting that my body will return to the earth to be recycled into more life. I find it comforting that people my have benefited from my life. I find no comfort in dying, however, but that does not mean I’m going to embrace your sky fairie.

  4. yourfootgirl says:

    Paul, you are clearly talking out your tushy…

    I have known theists to fear death a lot more than atheists, especially those that believe in such nonsense as hell.

  5. Matt says:

    What’s to fear about death? It’d be just like going to sleep if you happened to die in a non-violent manner.

    I find it really rather cool to think that the matter that my being consists of will break down and become part of the greater universe again. It may sound like poetic nonsense but we’re all made from bits of old stars and, eventually, a part of a star we’ll one day be again.

    Death is only something to fear if you believe in an afterlife of some sort. Which isn’t to say Atheists welcome death – you can’t experience new things, learn new things if you’re dead afterall.

  6. I understand the ideological obsession some Christians have with death and the afterlife. I just lament the way that obsession warps people’s priorities and moral character.

    As Robert Heinlein once wrote (as near as I can remember), “Soon enough you will know, so why worry about it?”

    Personally I happen to believe that the soul continues on in some way or another after the body dies. No, I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell in the Judeo/Christian sense, just in the concept that our consciousness continues after death.

    Do I live my life around this concept? No, but it’s a comforting thought, nonetheless. And if I’m wrong, I’ve lost nothing.

    But think about it: eighty years alive, and several trillion years dead. What a dismal thought that is.

    And yes, I know, I still owe you a meme.

    -smith

  7. […] It’s not my purpose here to argue that human beings really are irredeemable (in fact, I don’t see why the alleged perfect should ultimately be the enemy of the good, the acceptable, or even the depraved), but simply to insist that one cannot have it both ways. Supposed moral principles demand, above all else, consistency. The Christian story of salvation (and damnation, though not all believe in that half) provides none. Jehovah is vengeful to the point of insanity. Jesus, on the other hand, is essentially soft on crime. Likewise, we have the bizarre doctrine that humans are fundamentally incapable of being good… and yet it then turns out that they are capable of of it in what turns out to be the only thing that actually matters to Christian concepts of good and evil: whether people believe the correct things or not (something I’ve argued elsewhere is an inexcusably trivial matter and irrelevant on which to base ones treatment of others). […]

  8. Bad says:

    I’m content to merely HOPE there is some continuation of existence, but by and large, I’ve made my peace with the possibility that there won’t be: I don’t find it bleak at all.

    The lack of an afterlife would be disappointing, to be sure (though I wouldn’t be around to be disappointed), but it’s a finite disappointment: like not getting a longed for birthday gift. You get over it: perhaps even feel a little silly for demanding so much when you already have so much.

    I think that the desire to keep on experiencing things in some form is mostly born out of twin desires of a) resolution and b) curiosity.

    For the latter, it kills me to think that I may never find out all the neat stuff that humanity will one day discover: answers to questions long pondered, answers to questions not yet even conceived of. It’s like reading a great trilogy of novels only to find out that the author died before finishing, and you’ll never get to know the ending.

    But this is, in the end, an aw shucks sort of frustration. It would be great if I had a million dollars too: you can’t have everything (as Steven Wright says: “You can’t have everything: Where would you put it?” Some things will remain mysteries. That’s life.

    More scary, perhaps, is the larger issue of lack of resolution: resolution in personal relationships, in injustices, and so on. Hitler will never see the error of his ways. The people that slandered the supposed “Kidnapper” of Bobby Dunbar and called his poor mother a phony (the Dunbars claimed his as their own missing son: falsely it now appears) will never see that they were wrong, and never have a chance to reconsider their prejudices. That’s unfortunate. As human beings, we all have a very deep need for engaging people over such things, for finding resolutions in everything from the personal to the celebrity.

    But the reality is that if life were to go on forever, then it would only lead to more things that need resolving. And often things do not get resolved even if there is all the time in the universe to do it in. Lack of resolution is an inevitable part of life regardless of how long it lasts.

  9. pauljub says:

    Bad:

    You say: “Nonsense. As I wrote on another topic, I’ve seen no real difference between believers and non as to how prepared they are to face the death of loved ones or themselves.”

    You’re not sounding very scientific there.

    Also, please don’t use non-Christian examples to condemn Christians, that just doesn’t make sense.

    PalMD:

    Go on believing in your recycling bin. Sounds really comforting. As for my “sky fairie”… sure, you don’t have to embrace Him today… but tomorrow the Rock will fall on you. Political correctness out the window, to be sure.

    yourfootgirl:

    Theists who fear hell are one step closer to comprehension than atheists. Furthermore, they don’t detract from theists who don’t fear hell (we have faith in the One who saves).

    Matt:

    How can you be sure that you’re going to die in a non-violent manner? Without this assurance then, how can you not fear death?

    AND FOR YOU ALL, MY FUNERAL MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS ARE HERE:
    http://pauljub.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/recommended-funeral-hymn-for-an-atheist/

  10. Matt says:

    There is no reason to fear death itself. But there is a reason to actively avoid an unpleasant death, obviously. No organism that is mentally stable wishes to experience pain, be in brief or prolonged. It is unpleasant, even if it does end.
    You really do need to put more thought into your comments.

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