Funeral for a Cracker

american, back view, burialMy family had a funeral to attend recently, and it was a Catholic one. My husband, who was not much of a churchgoer growing up, expressed surprise at how much of the funeral mass was–well, mass. The nonstop Jesus talk, the same repetitive prayers, the call and response, the sit-stand-kneel, then a homily and prayers that had more to do with the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist (holy communion) than anything else. The deceased was barely mentioned, except to talk about Catholic teaching on heaven, hell, and salvation. This was not in any way meant to memorialize the person, only to send them off to heaven.

We found ourselves wondering, is this how we’ll be commemorated when we die? We hope not. The opportunities for true morning and community, for remembering the deceased, were constantly interrupted to instruct on church doctrine regarding death.

The most personal moments that we found the most touching occurred at the wake, where relatives shared photos of the deceased and talked about their memories of his life. This was a somewhat estranged relative in his later years, so we also talked about how that estrangement occurred, and together we came to terms with it.

But my uncle, who did the funerary arrangements, also made sure we had a priest come and do some speaking and ceremonious prayers at the wake, and that cut the personal commemorations short. Suddenly we were being preached to. Preached at, even. I know the salvation talk is comforting to religious people, but to me it was downright jarring. I wanted to hear more about what little we knew about this relative’s childhood and earlier life. This relative fought in World War II. What was that like?

After the prayers, my aunt mentioned she hasn’t been to church in a while but wanted to start going again. Death does that to people, and the church makes sure to be very present during these moments when we’re reminded of our mortality because it claims to offer a way to live forever. I’ve talked about this before: belief in an afterlife is a coping mechanism. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to do it, but it is one way humans deal with their mortality.

The way we morn is also extremely unnatural. We prep the body to make it look better, and to preserve it long enough for relatives to stare at it for a couple of days. My relative had cancer and was very thin in his final days, but the embalmer had done something to make his body look healthier. We spend so much money on viewing a body. So much energy. As human beings, we’re very bad at facing the realities of what death means. We don’t like to imagine our relatives decomposing. This got very morbid but it’s true. I think there’s got to be a better way for us to come to terms with the end of someone’s life.

Do you have experiences with death and mourning in a religious or nonreligious setting? Were there any traditions that you thought helped the families especially?

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!





Sense of Purpose and Longevity

I’m a big fan of informational videos on YouTube, and this is one that I found particularly interesting because I see a connection in it to religion and atheism. Check it out at the link here:

The video discusses an analysis of multiple studies that found that a sense of purpose “reduces the risk of death from all causes by 23%” and additionally, “reduces the risk of heart attack by 19%.”

What connects this video to religion or a lack thereof is the way in which the researchers defined the phrase sense of purpose, calling it “A self-reported sense of meaning, direction, and a feeling that life is worth living.”

It reminded me of a dinner I was at a year or so ago, when some conservative friends of my parents began discussing one of my neighbors:  a boy around my brother’s age, who does drugs, drinks heavily, and seems when one converses with him to have very little hope for his future.

As the video points out, for some, a sense of purpose is derived from religion. Thinking along those lines, one of my parents’ friends immediately said of my neighbor, “That boy needs God in his life, and it’s a lack of God that’s causing him to be so troubled.” Nearly everyone at the table agreed, but I, who was already considering atheism, said “Not necessarily. Maybe God will be what works for him, but he just needs some sense of purpose. That can come from a lot of things.” If he could find something he was passionate about–a goal worth pursuing, for example–that might be enough for him. Just because religion is all the purpose some people need, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.

That’s why I appreciate this video so much. They talk about other things that can lead to a sense of purpose, three of which apply to me:  wanting a successful career, a family of your own, and to do something creative. Those are all valid reasons for living. Wanting to worship a God is not the only valid one. In fact, I personally see something more positive in the more personal goals because they do not come from an external source, like a religious community. Instead, they come from the individual.

The devout Catholic culture I grew up in valued a strong sense of purpose mainly when it was derived from faith and devotion to God. That’s probably why on religious retreats, I would frequently see people like The Addict (mentioned in a previous post) that claim to have found Jesus to be the solution to their addiction. They often don’t even mean what they’re saying (or think they do in the moment but aren’t willing to put in the work to actually quit,) and fall right back into using after the retreat euphoria wears off. What they’re doing in that moment, when they stand up and testify about Jesus, is using the crowd’s pro-Jesus mentality to gain acceptance from the group. It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside because a community is welcoming and loving you, but without a sense of purpose driving you to change, it is likely not going to help you much.

It’s good to know that having a sense of purpose–including a nonreligious one–can help increase the odds of living longer. It makes me hopeful for humanity. The world is a pretty big place and there’s a lot to learn and do and see. There is a plethora of possible purposes out there.

What do you think? Do you feel like you have a sense of purpose? Is it religious or nonreligious? As usual, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

And purpose finding!