Coherence vs incoherence

Charles Cowling

More resonances with Rupert Callender’s post in the latest Chester diocesan newsletter. In it, Bishop Peter Forster talks about funerals:

I have been thinking recently about funerals – not my own, particularly, although having just obtained my bus pass (and other welcome perks) in idle moments that has crossed my thoughts.

My mind has been concentrated by another experience, which is becoming more common: to go to a funeral, only to find that the cremation or burial has taken place earlier in the day, and the funeral has become a celebration of the deceased’s life.

Why does this jar with me so much?

He goes on to give his reasons, which, because they are consistent with Christian theology, would seem to me to be blameless

Firstly, it easily gives the impression that our bodies don’t matter much, that the essential ‘me’ is a disembodied soul or spirit … We are not spiritual chips off some cosmic block longing to return home: we are sacred individuals, made in God’s image, body, soul and spirit.

Secondly, these new funeral practices can seem to put death to one side, to ignore or even deny its reality. Some poems read at funerals give the same impression: ‘I have only slipped into the next room’, etc. Some music chosen at funerals likewise seems out of place, missing the proper solemnity which should mark the death of a child of God.

He concludes:

For Christians, death is an intrinsic part of life itself. We are baptised into the death of Christ, that we might live his risen life … so we should not evade the central place our death has in our journey to God … When we organise a funeral we set out liturgically to accompany the deceased on his or her journey to God. That’s why funerals are so important, and why the person, in the form of their body, should be part of the ritual itself. Only then will a funeral also become a witness to the resurrection.

Over at the Times a Christian journalist who is also an idiot has this to say in response:

The bishop can’t seriously be saying that a funeral without a body in the middle of it isn’t valid … What business is it of his as to how family and friends deal with their grief?

She concludes: The loss of a loved one is hard enough to bear without the Church chuntering about how you say your farewells.

Amazing. Perhaps the C of E has only itself to blame for this cake-and-eat-it sort of member. I don’t subscribe to the Bishop’s theology, but I am always ready to deplore any trend which seeks to make death bearable by trivialising it and turning it into a bit of a laugh.

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Paul Hensby
11 years ago

As an atheist, my view of the arrogance of most religions is confirmed by the Bishop’s comment: ‘For Christians, death is an intrinsic part of life itself.’ All humans surely recognise death as an intrinsic part of life. Nor am I surprised by the pseudo-theological squabbling and insults. More valuable, I hope, are my interpretations of recent experiences. My squash friend, Everton, was killed three weeks ago in a road accident. He was a healthy, fit and vibrant man. I had no preparation for his death. Nor did his family, nor close friends. To trivialise his death by trying to… Read more »

11 years ago

Jonathan, I completely agree with Charles’s praise of your insights, especially the paragraph he quoted. And with your appreciation of this quiet, serious forum for discussion. Because the critical thing is distinguishing between that which is only your “accidental” (ie your useless dead husk) and your essential and, if anything can be, immortal nature. Without having this contrast presented to the senses and mind there can be no hope of being clear on this matter. One can then go on undisturbed in one’s pseudo-acceptance of death and “celebrate the life” alone. Cowardly, pathetic, pitiful death denial – where ever one’s… Read more »


[…] I think there’s a sentence in a comment Jonathan left on a recent post which will go the same way. The entire comment deserves another outing. If you missed it, enjoy and […]

11 years ago

Charles, by all means, and thank you for asking.

One of the reasons I comment on your blog posts is that I know I’m going to be heard and understood here. There’s so much clamour about funerals – well, about everything in our communication-stuffed world, with everyone shouting to be heard above everyone else – that to find a little corner like this, out of the wind, where people are having quiet intelligent conversation to try and move things on rather than just manoeuvre them round to their own advantage is not only a treat, it’s nourishing to the soul.

11 years ago

When I allowed myself to love you, and you me, we entered into an unspoken pact: that one of us would come to grieve the other, that it would be the worst possible experience to put a loved one through, yet we willingly agreed to do it to each other and to ourselves for the sake of our love. We may not have given it a moment’s thought, but we both knew, and we didn’t shy away from our inevitable pain then. So why do it now? Can you remember howling for lost love? Of course you can. So if… Read more »

11 years ago

Ironic that the the “I’m not dead, I’ve just popped next door, talk to me as you always did, I didn’t really die” rubbish was actually written by a Christian clergyman, was it not? A Canon of St Paul’s, no less. That’s not written in any hostility, I’m with the good Bishop, although not sharing his theological beliefs – he’s right, seems to me, death is a part of life, a body does matter (my own views on this point have changed over recent months.) The journalist is indeed an idiot, because the Bish doesn’t say such funerals are not… Read more »