11 March 2013

Reflections After A "Humanist" Funeral

In the middle of the busiest time of this year, I found myself having to attend a funeral and finding, once there, that it was to be a Humanist funeral, rather than the multiundenominational ceremony I had expected.

I was pleased to find that the Crematorium chapel had not been denuded of its crucifix, and, being Catholic, with rosary in pocket, was able to focus on the image of Our Lord and ask his Mother to intercede with Her Son for the dead person.

I didn't pay much attention to the "service" - it must have been one because we were handed an "Order of Service" - but I listened hard when the person (taking the service? leading the ceremony? celebrating?) at the front started off by telling us what Humanism is.

After a bit of "Hello sky! Hello flowers!" we got down to business: humanists believe that this is the only life we have and live it to the full here on earth; humanists don't make judgements about the different choices each of us makes about the way we will lead our lives.

It may have been that the celebrant hadn't thought it through, or it may be that the humanists haven't thought it through, but I kept thinking about Harold Shipman, especially being in a place in which the only rites celebrated are about death: do humanists really believe that Dr Shipman's were just lifestyle choices, and that his decisions to rid the world of, basically, people older than him into whom he could get to stick a needle, were simply his, and that the rest of us should not intrude on his right to make that particular choice?

I'm sure that none of them do, and that the celebrant was trying to make a different point, and was simply failing spectacularly, but I was left thinking about what happens when you start cutting away at the guy ropes.

The fact is that as Catholics we are absolutists; our Faith has a lot of blacks and whites: certainties, if you like. Some things are right and some things are wrong. You need something as bracing as a humanist service to realise that any compromise with things that don't belong to our Faith is wrong.  It would be nice to think that that sort of wrong-headedness would be alien to any Catholic.

During the funeral service I kept a straight face when one of the deceased's favourite songs was played: "Morning Has Broken": it was an opportunity for God's Grace to creep into a few places which weren't expecting it.


Lazarus said...

Interesting that this explanation of humanism seems to be part of all humanist funerals. I went to one and was surprised by how long the celebrant went on about how wonderful humanism was. It seemed to be very little to do with the deceased and very much to do with raising humanism's public profile.

Richard Collins said...

"Hello sky, hello flowers" - the officator was not Fotheringhay-Thomas by any chance?

Mike Cliffson said...

Interesting.Aint what you say the truth!
I remember feeling something similar at a teachers' function with wine(good) and cheese(not)before we could get noshing where the local head of education spoke of the recent death of a teacher who was evidently in on something, maybe unios, whatever, evryone knew her except me, in utterly nonchristian terms : the eulogy was pukeworthy and could have ben given in Stalin's rusia, poor woman, and we were told how should would be watching us pig ourselves in a few minutes "from another dimension.
Poor soul , she probably had just had a decent catholic funeral a day or so before.
I've never been to a humanist funeral, but I feel there's more excuse - you gotta body, whether or no, after all -than for the secular "first (non)communion" which the present crisis has rather put the kybosh on in Spain, or those post birth "naming ceremonies" for nonbaptism, which I associate with Barcelona but of course if bolshevists didnt start them Im sure they popularized the idea.
I have dim memory of the fifties that whilst you were supposed to get the Bishop's permission to attend any noncatholic ceremonies ,after all, at coronations catholic clergy were in a sort of portaloo on the grounds but outside the abbey fabric, and the dukes of Norfolk had a sort of historic dispensation.Nonetheless You could just plain go to a noncatholic funeral - I suppose on the grounds that you're not giving any countenance to anything untoward or more probably by the time you got a reply ......
Even in the fifties, some dioceses took seriously asking for permission to send kids to non-catholic schools, others already got suspicious of anyone who did in fact so ask! The Spirit of Vaticantwo cast some of its shadow before the event, as twere.
As you hint , for the sake of others' souls , catholics gotta stand out like black silhoutes agin somehow.

HilaryL said...

As a humanist celebrant I am often asked to hold a ceremony for lapsed Catholics, so maybe the "absolutist Faith" of Ttony is not for everyone. And trying to equate an ethical stance for non-religious people with Harold Shipman or any other murderer is sheer fantasy and very offensive.

Ttony said...

Hilary, I did say that neither the celebrant in particular nor humanists in general actually believed the thing that the words meant, but the question of how a relativist approaches absolutes in morality is one which I've not heard a humanist address satisfactorily.