Positive Atheism Forum
Secular Rites Of Passage
September 26, 2000
If anyone has some suggestions as to where to find formats for secular rites of passage, or, better yet, wishes either to suggest their own or help us dig out some actual services, that's the main gist of this question.
Since funerals mean very little to me (and always have: I've been to two and didn't spend more than two hours of my life with either person), I am the wrong person to ask about how to conduct a secular funeral.
Perhaps those who lead groups who have had to conduct memorial services for atheists would be willing to let us know what their groups do. Or do like I did and let us know whether such rites mean much to you as an atheist.
I'll post what I get that's good, be it about funerals, weddings, or other rites of passage that people celebrate.
I would like to see a story or suggestions relating to funeral for atheists in the newsletter. I've seen ones about weddings but never funerals.
A group in Europe was soliciting ritual formats for atheistic and humanistic rites of passage. I don't know whatever came of that project. The Humanist organizations do have some material on this. Also, I am sure that any funeral home would present a humanistic or atheistic service if asked. This is their business, and I'm sure they get a lot of requests for nonreligious services. We are, after all, at least ten percent of the population.
The main concern that I have is that since the only rite that concerns you that you really have no say or interest in how it's done is your funeral. And rightly so, because your funeral is not for you, it is for the survivors. (All I ask is don't keep me in a box over the fireplace. At least stick me under a bunch of old clothes in the closet if you really have to keep me around.)
Thus, if I had a religious spouse, I would not wish to deny her the dignity of being able to conduct my funeral in such a way as to meet her needs. I certainly have no more needs at this point! If I had a group of atheistic friends, or was a member of an atheist group, I could see them holding their own toast to my memory -- with or without the religious spouse. And I'm sure that my singing buddies might sing a few songs, and my radio buddies would definitely do a special radio program (or, as has been known to happen), an annual event. (That's it! Put my ashes in a chocolate syrup jar and keep me in the box of records that you bring to the show each week! I would make a great maraca!)
The point is that death is a traumatic experience, but only for the survivors. The deceased, as far as we can tell and to the best of our knowledge, experiences nothing beyond that final moment of consciousness, and remembers nothing as well. So, when my former partner Tamara died, I had to process that in my own way (I found out about it months after it happened). Likewise with my buddy Gary: nobody told me, so when I eventually found out, I processed this tragic loss for about a day, and then let loose the angriest rendition of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" that anybody's ever heard. After that, I was done with it.
I think a better option than to try to come up with a collection of suggested formats would be to describe real memorial services that have been held for humanists and freethinkers. I don't know if Isaac Asimov or Gene Roddenberry or Carl Sagan had services or toasts or the like, but I'd like to get the script for any of these toasts. This is not farfetched, as Robert Ingersoll's Works contains many of his memorial orations, most notably that for his brother.
In fact, I'm sure with some hard work, someone could come up with a fine collection of funeral orations that have been conducted for atheists and freethinkers and the like -- if this has not already been done.
My immediate family has tended not to have services at all. Either the bodies get interred or the ashes get scattered (or don't get scattered), but no ceremony or gathering is staged. This is how our family does it.
It is very important, I think, for friends and family members to be willing to discuss, matter-of-factly, one another's wishes. Then we can at least have an idea about how so-and-so would have wanted it. But the most important thing to remember is that the funeral is not for the deceased, but for the living. This is why I do not feel squeamish at all at the thought of somebody holding a religious service for me. It's for them, not for me, and if hardly anybody understands me while I am alive, I can be certain that no attempt at memorializing me will be any closer to what went on. My life is mine, and when that's done, it is no more -- and neither am I. What's left are people who must deal with the loss as well as with the remains. The loss of a friend or loved one is too traumatic for me to be concerned over their feeble attempts to deal with it.
So, if someone wants to hold this or that kind of service for me, or no service at all, you've heard what I think about it, and don't need to wonder if I would have wanted it this way or that.
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To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Fwd: Charlotte's Web/Secular Rites
Date: Friday, September 29, 2000 5:04 PM
In a message dated 9/29/00 4:03:18 PM Pacific Daylight Time, TDavittcor writes:
Unitarian Universalist congregations have many secular humanists and atheists among them, and usually are very prepared to deal with these events in a none traditional yet thoughtful way; those ceremonies are often called Celebrations of Life, rather than funerals.
We do have congregations in many parts of Oregon, such as Portland, and Eugene.
Let me know if you'd like more info....
Theadora Davitt-Cornyn, Conejo Valley UU F'ship, 1000 Oaks, California
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"<email@example.com>
Subject: (no subject)
Date: Friday, September 29, 2000 4:37 PM
Hi Cliff Walker:
I'm a member of Charlotte's web and am writing in answer to your request for funeral services, etc.
I disagree with you in that I think a funeral is for both the living and the dead. If a dead person does not want a preacher praying over him he should be granted that wish. In Michigan there is a law that states that you must follow the deceased person's wishes. If old John wants to be buried in Michigan you cannot drag him off to Indiana for the burial.
Now to your problem. I did an atheist funeral service for a lady who I knew for several years. I went to Ingersoll's 12 volumes and used much of the material in his books. He has several memorial services throughout his 12 volumes.
Another source for funeral services is a book by a lady who lives in England by the name of Willson. You can buy her book from Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY, 14228-2197. Not as good as Ingersoll in my opinion.
Another source for funeral services is a book by Corliss Lamont. It is published by The American Humanist Association, 7 Harwood Drive, P.O. Box 1188, Amherst, NY, 14226-7188. It is a "classic." Pretty good, but I still like Ingersoll better.
I will be happy to send you a copy of the memorial service I put together for my friend a few years back, based on the writings of Bob Ingersoll if you send me your address. It can easily be modified to fit most freethought occasions!
I would suggest you always have a detached person to do the eulogy. My friend ask me to do the one for his wife, who's end we knew was near. Since she was also my friend of many years it was emotionally hard for me to do. I got through it OK but looking back on it I should have passed and ask him to get a more distant person.
Also I at one time did about 30 marriages. I believe I still have the two services I used. One for believers and one for non believers. I will send copies if you so desire.
To:"Positive Atheism Magazine"<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: FORUM: Secular Memorial Services? (Also: Death Threat ReportedTo Authorities)
Date: Thursday, September 28, 2000 5:21 AM
Prometheus books has a nice little book out called "Funerals Without Gods" by Jane Wynne Wilson.
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