Another month, another death


Joan and I had been casual friends for twenty years. Her funeral today was at Wesley where she served as lay minister. We never talked about religion, so she didn’t know of my antipathy for it (I’m truthful with anyone who asks, but I rarely initiate such conversations). Joan and I shared a bond because she had been in chronic pain since being hit by a school bus in 1964. We also shared a dark and wacky sense of humor and a better than average knowledge of literature. She had a smile that could make me glad I got out of bed even on a bad day, and if she ever met a person who didn’t like her, I can but assume that there was something wrong with that person.

The last time I visited Joan, her doctors had given up on treating the cancer that had spread from someplace unknown and settled in her bones and lungs. I had never seen her despondent, and I was curious about whether she would be now. I was surprised to find her in good spirits and seemingly full of energy. She told me almost casually that, thanks to the prayers of people from around the world, God had cured her of her cancer, and she was feeling better than she had felt in years. I glanced at her husband, expecting to see him looking at the floor and shaking his head, but he simply nodded matter of factly as if the cure was a done deal and hardly worth discussing. A few weeks later, Joan appeared on the local TV news, and told people for a hundred miles around about about her healing. Two weeks after that, she was dead.

“The prayer of faith shall heal the sick…” James 5:15

So, what happened—despite giving his word, God said no to her prayers, yet remained silent as she trusted in his promise and praised his mercy to thousands?

The TV news didn’t report the death of their ”faith-healed” cancer victim, and the newspaper obituary made no mention of her misplaced trust. Nor did Pastor Anne allude to it during the funeral, although if Joan had really gone into remission and died ten years from now of unrelated causes, Anne might have considered her “miraculous healing” of 2012 worthy of mention.

I can think of three reasons for going to a funeral: to show respect for the dead, to comfort the family, and to be comforted oneself. I do what I can with the first two, but since I believe that everything I’m hearing about God is a fabulous fiction, I’m not only un-comforted, I’m downright annoyed that every non-Christian in the audience is being excluded from the community of mourners with every sentence spoken. Does one funeral really need five hymns, five prayers, three lengthy Bible readings, and one sermon about God’s comforting presence, plus a eulogy? It’s not the presence of religious references that’s hard for me—after all, Joan was a committed Christian—but the fact that that’s all there is, and everyone is expected to participate. Imagine that you’re sitting in an audience for a good ninety minutes, and nearly everything you hear—and are told to do (“Let us now stand as we join in prayer,” “Let us now recite from the Word of God,” etc.)—represents to you a belief system that, in the name of The Prince of Peace, has inspired two millennia of violence, oppression, and genocide.

Okay, so none of the scores—if not hundreds—of religious funerals I’ve attended were held in my honor, so I’m understandably stuck with other people’s choices unless I prefer to stay home. I accept that at the level of action (that is, I still attend religious funerals), but atheists are like everyone else in that they want to feel a sense of belonging when they’re grieving instead of being reminded that they live in a society that holds them in the same contempt that it holds child molesters.

I must admit though that my regard for religious faith—though not every religious person—isn’t much better, because as I sat in that audience today with those hundreds of other people, most of them from Joan’s church, I felt like I was in an asylum. I knew that most of the people I was among were probably quite reasonable in other areas of their lives, but as for what they were participating in right then, I considered it dishonest for some, delusional for others, and downright monomaniacal for a few. Despite the fact that I spent a great deal of my life in just such a setting, I was as overwhelmed by the irrationality of it all—especially in light of Joan’s misplaced faith—as if I was witnessing some barbaric ritual for the first time.

For many years after I left the church, I would feel nostalgic for those same hymns we sang today (I probably hadn’t heard “Wonderful Words of Life” since I was a teenager) along with all kinds of other things such as dinners-on-the-ground, being asked to preach short sermons, helping to serve “The Lord’s Supper,” and the smell of a new red-letter Bible with finger tabs and linen pages edged with gold. Maybe I’m done with that now because all I felt today was repugnance. Yet, I can truly say that it’s not religious people I’m against (there are too many good ones, and I absolutely adore those among them who continue to read this blog); it’s the mean things that their belief in that which is rationally indefensible causes millions of them to do. Once proof and logic is deemed inferior to faith, anything can happen.

35 comments:

Beau's Mom said...

Joe and I will be immediately cremated. (I hope they're sure I'm dead first)

We have had two of the sweetest Mormon missionaries visiting us for about 6 months. We liked them. We enjoyed watching their joy and enthusiasm. We took them under our wings and made sure they had food to eat, and new clothes. (they literally were in dire need of clothes).

Here they are, doing work for their religion (getting butts in the seats) and without any support during their "learning to serve" two year period.

But guess who DID care enough to help. Yes. The very two people who "religious people" not sit next to.

The problem came when they kept insisting that ONLY Mormons go to the highest plane of heaven, and ONLY Mormons can remain married after death....and SO MANY asinine claims of knowledge.

Joe said "We can accept your beliefs, if you will accept ours"

Thus ended the visitations when Joe stated that he won't allow - or tolerate - the attitude of elitism.

Even within religion, it's a "we are superior" fight to the finish.

The rest of us just keep our mouths shut unless ASKED.

The Elephant's Child said...

I am so sorry for your loss. And am left wondering how bereft her husband must be feeling with the loss of his wife in a way which I would think would put strains on his beliefs.
One Christian funeral I went to left me angry on three counts. I was angry at the waste of life which led my friend to her death, I was angry that her parents had arranged a Christian funeral for their daughter who was an outspoken non-believer, and I was angry at the exclusion you spoke about of me and many of her friends.

OneOldGoat said...

Well your post makes my head explode (out of stuff to think about). I am very sorry to hear that your friend died. Funerals, death, hate, war, crime, rape, abuse, illness etc. and the relationship with religion are among the millions of things with which I struggle to understand as a fledgling religious person. I don't know that I would ever or will ever be able to give some explanation because I just don't know. Really I don't know much about anything but one thing is for sure. No one should be excluded especially in a funeral. My cousin died last year and his was the best funeral because all kinds of people with all sorts of beliefs or not, came together in the church where all of us had grown up. Much of the family including me are hicks so you can imagine the potential there. But it was great because everyone had a chance to join in because aside from the great care my cousin's sisters took to include bits of Phil's own life along with that of his family's, everyone was able to participate. I've never seen such a great funeral. Anyway, sorry to hear of your friend and I'm sorry to hear that you had a crappy experience that probably made you feel worse that you would have if you hadn't even attended the service.

Snowbrush said...

"I was angry at the exclusion..."

So, it's not just me. I didn't think it was--I even wondered how many of the people who were there yesterday might have felt as I did. I knew one of them to be a Jew (by birth and by faith), so I assumed that he at least might share my sentiments.

"My cousin died last year and his was the best funeral because all kinds of people with all sorts of beliefs or not, came together in the church where all of us had grown up."

I believe you, of course, but it's very hard for me to envisage this after having my two best boyhood church friends--among others--write me out of their lives because of my atheism. I was able to retain but one friend from my religious days, and she died during hernia surgery of all things. I'll never get over being rejected by people who speak vaguely of love but put all their energy into dogma. My father's father was a Church of Christ preacher like his father before him. Beyond that, I have no knowledge even of people's names and where they lived. I wonder sometimes whether my beloved grandfather, if he were still alive, would also reject me. I knew you were a Christian, of course, and I thank you for being here. I know I must sound horrible at times, but because of people like you who I really do care about, I ask myself about every statement I make whether it is essential to what I'm trying to communicate, or whether it is merely a gratuitous outpouring of anger. I'll give one example from this post. I wanted to entitle it "Nothing Fails Like God," but I soon realized that such a title would fail that very test. I never seek to alienate people; it just happens sometimes when I express thoughts and feelings that I consider important for other people to know about. I often try to represent a worldview that is essential to whom I am and to whom many others are, yet is poorly understood by most people.

"Thus ended the visitations when Joe stated that he won't allow - or tolerate - the attitude of elitism."

When you see yourself as doing God's will, and other people as going against God, there's no possibility of mutual respect in that area of life, but didn't you and Joe not yourselves feel at least a little superior to your Mormon friends? I know that I would have considered my thinking superior in the area of religion, whereas I would regard theirs as downright bizarre (even other Christians tend to regard Mormons as bizarre).

kj said...

snow, i am sorry you have lost a friend.

my feelings aren't as strong as yours, i don't know why. i go to ceremonies and events that honor someone or some diety or some event that i have no part in, and perhaps think very unwise or unhealthy, but i most of the time respect the ritual. i will say i would not feel that way if it were a john birch meeting or a rick santorum rally, and that is probably your point. to have to listen to one side of wrong and not to voice your own side of right is pretty damn uncomfortable.

my friend willa died. she was jewish and her funeral service was held in a church autotorium. anyone who wanted to could say anything they wanted to. some people sang, played instruments, told stories. about 12 people said willa was their best friend, to my utter shock because willa was MY best friend!! i had no idea so many people felt so close to her like that.

i think in time of death many fall back on childhood religious beliefs and rituals. at the very least i hope joan's husband and family was comforted.

xoxo
kj

Beau's Mom said...

We didn't feel superior. That's not in our programming. But we did experience a lot of dismay at the ability of so many people to "swallow" before thoroughly investigating what they are ingesting.

That corgi :) said...

I think you summed it up well with your description of funerals and why one attends one (or doesn't). I think families plan funerals in just the same way, not really knowing or honoring the wishes of their dearly beloved departed on what they want represented or not. I can tell you with the two recent deaths in my hubby's family, the sons had really no idea what the parents might want in any of the arrangements (partly I think because parents were in denial that perhaps they actually would eventually die) so the sons floundered and threw together what they thought would be something to honor their parents, which they did a great job, but was it what truly was in the wishes of their parents? Maybe we need to get realistic and truly acknowledge the fact we are "doomed" to die and plan our own funerals and services (or lack of them) before we actually pass. Then perhaps our true wishes, whatever they might be, will be carried out by those we love and those who loved us.

So sorry for your loss of a dear friend, as well as the loss for her family.

Interestingly, not that I'm superstitious, but MIL passed 11/16, FIL passed 12/16 and a cousin of theirs passed today, 1/16......

take care of yourself!

betty

The Bipolar Diva said...

He didn't ignore her. He took her home where she is cancer free and whole. I know you don't agree with me, but I do know you respect me and I love you for that. ♥

The Blog Fodder said...

Sorry for the loss of your friend. It was sad to read that she "believed" she had been cured. And sadder still that you felt excluded from the ceremony.

Too many fundamentalist churches use funerals as an opportunity to hammer home the "message of salvation" to the captive godless in the crowd. I hate that. I hate where some of those who attend are deliberately or otherwise made to feel left out.

For some reason God "answers" prayers for things where belief is optional. But as you and many others have pointed out, lost limbs etc are never restored and as I know only too well terminal cancer is never cured. Maybe Bipolar Diva is right. At least I hope so.

C Woods said...

I'm sorry you lost another friend.

As I child, it seems I spent an inordinate amount of time at funeral homes, so as an adult, I have chosen not to attend funerals unless one is impossible to avoid. I often offer to make food for the after-funeral reception or stay at the family's home (thieves read obituaries to discover when people will be away from home during funerals, then break in.)

The last one I attended was my mother's. She had left a detailed list of every prayer, Bible verse and hymn she wanted for her funeral. I could have ignored her wishes, but went along with everything despite my belief that it is all hogwash. At least she did not want a viewing ---I hate those. I sent the minister a detailed account of my mother's life and asked him to choose what he thought was appropriate ---for one of my mother's complaints was that most funerals were so generic they could have been for anyone. I was pleased with what he said about her.

I want to be cremated and my ashes spread where they can help plants grow. I told my husband that if he allows anyone to convince him to hold a viewing or memorial service for me, despite my disbelief in ghosts I will find a way to haunt him.

Mim said...

The best memorial service I went to was for a dear friend - as per her wishes she was cremated, then we all gathered at a beach house, drank Becks beer and listened to Eric Clapton. Then walked her ashes into the ocean.

that's what I want!

Deb said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I was just going to say the exact same thing as The Bipolar Diva said... We think it's not fair, why is God doing this, and how can this happen? -- But we only see the small scope of God's huge plan for us. What makes someone lose their life suddenly to a tragic accident? While it's all a big mystery to us, try to keep the faith. Many times people lose faith due to something like this. It's just strange....... My condolences........

Strayer said...

When I was in the mental "health" system, many of my friends killed themselves. There was nothing to life. You got drugged up on psyche drugs and stuffed into hotel rooms and that was your great outcome. There was nothing to live for. Rob too had ended up in the mental system.

Rob eventually killed himself. His mom was an Adventist and he, like me, had been raised in that church. He claimed his mom bathed him until he was in his teens and only gave him pink things. He was a homosexual and so became outcast from the church. He became a hair dresser, studied his trade first in Europe.

After he killed himself, I went to his funeral. There were maybe 8 people there, graveside thing. The SDA pastor, only spoke briefly of Rob, making fun of his profession, with scoffs as he talked of him being a hair dresser, criticizing his life, then launched into an unrelated sermon. It was so disturbing I left about four outraged messages on the Corvallis Adventist church phone line. The pastor in his "tribute" to Rob was arrogant, self-righteous and cruel beyond cruel.

PhilipH said...

We simply have to accept other beliefs and faiths. We may, of course, think such beliefs and faiths are childish nonsense (as I so think) but as long as each finds some comfort in believing this religious claptrap then that is just fine.
What scares me is when the religious bigots in power, especially in the USA, use God in their speeches and in their seat of power as justification for their actions. GOD should NEVER come into the politics of any country.
There ought to be a law against it!
Keep RELIGION out of it! ALWAYS

Marion said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Snow. Sounds like she was a truly amazing person. I think your post is very insightful and honest. I admire your attitude, I really do.

I've known people (my husband was healed of ulcers with zero medical care...prayer only many years ago...when my daughter was 5 she had bleeding polyps and went in for surgery and they were gone...I saw them with my own eyes on the x-ray the day before, but we were praying for her also) who have been healed with prayer and others who were not. Mon Dieu, but I prayed harder than I've ever prayed in my life for our Renee. I so wanted God to heal her...but she died. I don't even begin to understand faith and healing.

We're under a tornado warning so I better shut down. Crazy Louisiana weather!!! Love & Hugs!! xo

ellen abbott said...

Well, I'm not an atheist exactly (I have an understanding of what lies beyond the veil that works for me) but I think you know my opinion of religion and especially self serving holier than thou types. If there is a god, everyone is equal in its eyes and everyone gets the same treatment or lack thereof.

Snowbrush said...

"He didn't ignore her. He took her home where she is cancer free and whole."

Since some of you found comfort in this, I'll share my own thoughts about it. A problem with religious faith is that it isn't verifiable, falsifiable, or in any manner subject to the same standards of proof that we commonly use in other areas of our lives. To the true believer, there is nothing that could possibly discredit his belief. He's beyond proof; he's beyond doubt. If God (i.e. the Bible) says he will do something, and then God doesn't do it, the fallback might be that His ways are inscrutable to us, or that the promise in question only applied during Biblical times, or that the promise (for healing, for example) was meant spiritually and not physically. Rationality is thus scorned in regard to religion because it is seen for what it is, the enemy of unverifiable faith. A nonreligious example of such thinking would be if I were to tell you that there is a ghost living in my garage. You might very well say that you neither see a ghost, nor do you find any evidence to suggest the presence of a ghost. I could sidestep every such objection by claiming that the ghost is invisible to everyone but me, or that it said no to your request to see it, or that you have to believe in it before it will reveal itself to you, or that it only appears to people of spiritual sensitivity, etc. In other words, I would NEVER run out of responses to your objection despite the fact that NOTHING I could say would give the LEAST credence to my belief. So it is with religious faith, the difference being that it wouldn't make any difference to the world if I believed there was a ghost in my garage.

Strayer said...

I hope to be cremated when dead and my ashes mixed into really good tasting cat food and then fed to stray cats. But I don't know how to make anything happen I might really want, in regard to my remains. I don't think my brothers, who are my only family, would honor my wishes, just do what is easiest. Guess I would not be present to express my outrage! Good thing. I like to think I could stay around and haunt people after I die, because that'd be a hoot, especially the people who so deserve to be haunted. But probably I'll just be dead, growing worms, or blowing out in the breeze as ashes that settle somewhere and grow something else. The circle thing, the indestructible matter thing. Nothing ever vanishes. It just becomes something else.

Strayer said...

Sometimes I wonder though, do particles, even the tiniest, even those that form me now, and separate upon my death, communicate or have a memory.

rhymeswithplague said...

Two things:

1. I do not hold you in the same contempt I hold child molesters.

2. If I ever do anything mean to you personally you are hereby granted permission to look me up and kick my Methodist behind.

Putz said...

bob b has a methodist bum

Phoenix said...

I think it's sad that the funeral services were so exclusive. After all, death touches everyone, and clearly, your friend didn't exclude people from her life based off their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, so... it's very self-centered for a funeral service to service only people of faith. Funeral services are meant to comfort everybody, I believe.

I had a moment of utter discouragement about religion the other day. Sometimes I don't know if it makes people better or worse.

I hope you are doing okay, and that you are feeling well again.

Myrna R. said...

I always enjoy reading your posts and today I read all the comments too. I am sorry you lost a friend. And sorry you felt so uncomfortable during the funeral.

I try not to even partake in discussions of religion, atheism, spirituality. Lately, I think I just have to find truth in my own way and that's work enough without trying to impose anything on anyone else. I don't feel uncomfortable with rituals, and beliefs I no longer hold. Some I still enjoy, mostly because they bring back memories.

I recently went to funeral of an acquaintance. I respected the service, but I must confess, it was too long and I was bored silly.

Rain said...

You can't both claim god answers prayers and then rearrange what it means at least not and convince anybody using logic and not mindless faith. I would care less about the mindless faith part if the people seeing it that way didn't also vote.

We are going to be cremated and for years have not believe in funerals. What we generally have done around graves is have a gathering to discuss the person's life, share stories, and then go back to a home for food and more sharing. The funeral I was at last summer just sounded like an advertisement. Not my thing at all. I do not know currently though where I want my ashes put. Hopefully I will have time at the last to make a final decision on that as my life then might be different.

Snowbrush said...

"I do not hold you in the same contempt I hold child molesters."

Better or worse?

"If I ever do anything mean to you personally you are hereby granted permission to look me up and kick my Methodist behind."

This will need to be notarized in triplicate, of course.

Rita said...

Most funerals are going to offend somebody. Even if there's a "non-denominalitional" service, visitors of various denominations don't like those either.

Myself, I believe in more of a source of all energy and it doesn't matter to me what label is put on it. God or The Universe or Allah is fine for lack of any good label for something beyond words. I believe all religions are kind of versions of the same concept with a lot of conflicting rules tagged on to them. I feel the outsider in most churches. Even the so called non-denominational churches have their own "normal" parameters.

I just expect that when I go to any church or temple...they are going to have their own ideas and rules about life and death. What's sad to me is when some living person overrides the wishes of the deceased to have the funeral their way. But then funerals are really for the living, anyways. Whether you believe there's nothing, a resurrection, or many more lives to live...whatever...I don't think the dead really care as much as the living--LOL!

But that is why I just want to be cremated, no ceremony, and the living can do with my ashes as they will. I'd prefer to be useful and scattered as fertilizer someplace, but it really doesn't matter.

Like you, I don't like anybody trying to tell me what to believe. I just tune them right out. But I never bother to argue with them. I can't change their mind any more than they can change mine. (I have a born again sister.) ;)

Snowbrush said...

"Most funerals are going to offend somebody."

I'm not always offended. It's just when it's so over the top that there's nothing there for me. I'm okay with diversity though. I went to a funeral a couple of months ago at which there were religious people and non-religious people, and I thought it went well. The religious did their thing, but it wasn't in a way that left me feeling drowned. I really don't want to squash anyone because if you're religious, a funeral would be a natural time to turn to your religion for comfort, and I want to honor people doing so.

"my Methodist behind"

We used to call you guys baby-sprinklers. By golly, when we baptized, we made sure the sin was washed off the WHOLE body and not just the head. No, seriously, the Church of Christ didn't (and still doesn't so far as I know) believe that the baptism of other churches counted even if it was done in the exact same way that we did it.

The Tusk said...

Thank you for writing this, I see why we stay friends. Its clearer to me now you have space in your hear of hearts for all. I will try to come back to read the responses. I have found so little time for anything but wake up, go to work, go to sleep, go to work, hang with the family at dinner or an event(volleyball), go to work.

rhymeswithplague said...

When I said that my behind was Methodist I did not mean to imply that it had been sprinkled.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Snow!

Robin said...

Oh Snow....another death.. you KNOW I can understand this...having lost three friends/colleagues - plus our beloved Vicki. Just today, I came back from a memorial service for my *boss* at the de Young ....dead at 55 on 12/30 of pancreatic cancer. It was not a Catholic Service, but I participated as best I could - and also said a few prayers (sotto vocco) for my other dead (and living) friends as well.

We have had this discussion before...and I really commend your love for this friend to attend her funeral service. I don't know any Atheists - except you - so I don't know what (if any) services would be held. As most funeral services are for the Family and Loved Ones of the deceased, I think it is only right they are conducted in the faith of the deceased. Everyone else should be there to honour the dead and comfort the family. It's a small sacrifice to make to surrender your views and be there to help a grieving family... If the dead person has no Faith or has changed/lost it...and their spouse/parent/sibling has a particilar faith....I think it is fine for them to what they want. The dead don't care.....to me, (your Catholic Girl), they are already in another plane...one without pain, evil and greed...

Ok..enough from me.....but this is still fresh on my mind. Here's hoping we both do not have to attend any more funerals or lose another friend this year!

Love,

♥ Robin ♥

kylie said...

snow i'm sorry you feel so alienated...

all i can say about the broader picture is that Christians are fallible, some more than others and i am sorry it puts you off Christ because he was a good guy.

also, real faith is not arrogantly right, real faith is humble and struggles for explanations

my best to you, honey
kylie

Just_because_today said...

It is always sad to see a friend die whether we know the cause of believe it is their time, it is sad.
i won't debate my faith on your blog or anywhere else, but I do read you. You are a great writer.

All Consuming said...

*hugs hon xxx

Ed Pilolla said...

religions are a thing of the past. don't you feel it? well, it's a dream of mine:) people need them. they need the structure of men with garments telling them what to do. the religions of today were erected after a noteworthy prophet was put away, and there's so much deviation from the recorded spoken words of the prophets and the rules of organized religions created in their name. and religion is so tied together with the state. it's all a rotten psychological prison system. at a recent presidential debate, one of the candidates invoked the golden rule, and the largely christian crowd roundly booed, becuz the golden rule can't possibly apply to brown people on the other side of the world. people want to believe that murder in the name of religion is a thing of the past, but it's a thriving business still. that's why our leaders want us to believe that muslims want to topple america and murder us becuz they hate western ways-- not that our foreign policy toward them has anything to do with the muslim unhappiness at the u.s. you are privileged to feel like an outsider at service, and blessed.