FUNerals show that “spiritual, not religious” is no improvement over “organized religion”
When people critique the many and manifest flaws and failures of the church, I look to see if their alternative brings something better. The classic example is when someone just out of freshman year disses the church because of “all the religious wars.” OK, then, did western religion’s three biggest replacements - the Enlightenment, Leninist/Maoist varieties of Communism and Fascism - do better at building a peaceful world? No, in fact they spilled more blood, increased the capacity for global death and created lingering world tensions that ensure conflict for generations to come.
Just bumped into a human interest piece called “Putting the ‘fun’ in funerals.” As you might imagine, it takes broad swipes at the church while hymning the next new thing:
Allen, who died at age 81 of cancer, didn’t want a “traditional, sad funeral,” said his widow, Ellen, who described him as spiritual but distanced from organized religion.
Wanna know why church funerals seem sad to so many? Because there’s nothing joyful about handing over to God some person, albeit a very nice person, who never understood, embraced and lived for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am glad that folks who don’t believe the Gospel are choosing to do non-church funerals. I know I speak for many clergy when I say that I get a sinking feeling when I get a request to “do a funeral” for some person who wasn’t part of the church. If the Gospel means nothing to the departed or the family, a Christian service will of course seem ponderous and sad - because the death of any person apart from Christ is just that.
But on to some compare and contrast stuff:
Allen’s memorial “shouldn’t be morbid,” said his longtime friend and golfing partner, Bubby Klotter. “He was a very gregarious person. It’s pretty consistent that he would be remembered this way…
Christian burial (and Christianity generally) is faulted for emphasizing afterlife over this life. A hard core non-believer would go on to say that Christian burial is an exercise in what Freud called an illusion - anesthetizing our pain and fear with made up stuff about an afterlife.
Do the “spiritual, not religious” do better?
No. They practice plenty of denial and myth-making themselves. This usually gathers around phrases like the golf buddy’s quote above: it’s about how we are remembered.
I was at a seminar with a hospital grief counselor. He did a simple exercise with our group of about thirty people. He asked if we remembered our parents’ names and what they did for a living. All the hands went up. Then he asked the same about our grandparents. Way fewer hands. Then he went to great grandparents and maybe one or two hands went up. His point was that our lives are largely forgotten within one or two generations. All the blather about “leaving a legacy” and justifying our life by “the memories we create” is empty.
“...A lot of that [non-religious funerals] is being driven by the baby boomer spirit,” said Chris Hammon, executive director of the the Louisville-based Wayne Oates Institute, which trains ministers in integrating spirituality, health and ethics.
“We seek to embrace life a lot more than death — even in death,” he said.
So the “spiritual, not religious” are saying, “We need to do something that makes us feel good in the face of death.” Any honest pagan should say “Hey, wait, that’s even worse than what those Christians do. The Christians grieve the death and seek comfort in an illusion of afterlife. These ‘spiritual, not religious types’ are even in denial about the grief part.”
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise since it’s the “baby boomer spirit” driving this. My self-absorbed generation binged on divorce, abortion and sundry other dysfunction from which our surviving offspring are still in recovery. Everything comes down to “me feeling good,” and the FUNeral as a self-medicating space that can’t admit to grief or God’s judgment is an expression of that neurotic disposition.
Am I being mean and harsh? Not really. The “spiritual, not religious” are the ones painting the work of the church as “sad and morbid.” I am simply asking if they offer a better way. And by any honest appraisal of the ways humans navigate death, they ain’t.
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