The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away

Charles Cowling

Here’s an extract from the blog of a religious minister (clerk in holy orders, he terms himself). I like his rigour. Very bracing.

You wouldn’t expect me to enjoy humanist funeral services very much. Perhaps ‘enjoyment’ isn’t the right word for funerals anyway, but you know what I mean. I’ve been to a couple and always find them ‘thin’ compared to Christian funerals … But what I most dislike came in front of me on Wednesday. That afternoon I took a funeral service at the crematorium and noticed a folder on the table where I was putting my things. This turned out to be the notes left by the officiant at a humanist funeral earlier in the day. Usually humanist funerals spend the vast bulk of their time waxing lyrical about the heroic achievements of the deceased, but there was no trace of a biography in the notes, so I assume somebody else had read a tribute or something of that sort. Instead there was a passage from Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura and some heartwarming statements along the following lines.

For those of us who hold that the individual life concludes with death, it is nevertheless not the end … Arnold may be gone, but he lives on in your memories.

It is nevertheless not the end? Yes it is … As for Arnold ‘living on’ in his loved ones’ memories, no he doesn’t. They may have memories of him, but those memories are not ‘him living’, they’re a set of synaptic responses in the brains of those who shared some aspect of his life when it was a life which will themselves decay and come to an end.

What we have here is an attempt to accommodate through linguistic sleight-of-hand what the officiant believes, or doesn’t believe, with the perceived need to comfort Arnold’s family and friends with the thought that in some way he ‘lives on’. Shouldn’t atheists be brave enough to combat this weak-mindedness? Or perhaps it doesn’t really matter?

Read the entire post here.


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ArslanThe Good Funeral Guide – Are you a lightning rod?X.PiryCharles CowlingVale Recent comment authors

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Arslan
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Arslan

Hi, I would like to use the image of the dying flowers for my GCSE project. The image will not be printed and will only be seen by my teacher.

Regards.

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[…] The last time I directed you to the Hearth of Mopsus blog you were mostly pretty beastly about the writer, a clerk in holy orders who has the cure of souls in Swanvale Halt. Here’s what you said. […]

X.Piry
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Sorry I’m so late to the party – I’ve been away from cyberspace for a while. Interesting post,as always and interesting comments too. Just before Christmas, I attended a family funeral, conducted by a perfectly nice and reasonable vicar who did a fine job. But as we left, I said to the long suffering one that it felt a bit “shallow” to me. And it appears that the man of the cloth who wrote the original post felt the same way about what he read. Perhaps the problem is that he finds meaning in his faith, and I find meaning… Read more »

Charles Cowling
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Salve, Vale (I assume you pronounce yourself ‘Vah-lay’? There is much in what you identify as this cleric’s wishful thinking (arrogance some might say), for all that he is strictly correct in saying that, for all that we call the dead to mind, that which there is to remember stops at death. But it’s a quibble. Commemoration is more than just a comfort option. It’s also a duty. Further, to ask oneself what she would have done, what he would have thought, what she would have said, brings a dead person into the present and accords them due value. Example… Read more »

Vale
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Vale

Well in this brave new world of Wikileaks and the Telegraph we seem to be in an age where we relish having what must often be thought, but rarely said out loud, confirmed. My first reaction is that it seems charmless to riffle through someone else’s papers and graceless to sneer about what you have uncovered afterwards. My second is that even the religious these days struggle to be confident about the future that awaits us after death – if he imagines that at least some of his congregation are not also using his high words of hope and faith… Read more »

gloria mundi
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Thank you, Autumn Leaves, I very much appreciate what you have written – but Charles is actually doing his job. After all, he has drawn comments from the two of us, which would not otherwise have happened, comments which we both value! And I am encouraged onwards by what you’ve written. So no, Charles, none of us should shoot the mirror-holder. In any case, I am hopelessly thin-skinned; I need to get things off my chest, and then move on. So I’m not, fundamentally, discouraged, I just get a bit shrill for a short while! More importantly – how sad,… Read more »

Autumn Leaves
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Autumn Leaves

Four years ago a friend of mine, in her forties, died after a long and very painful time with cancer. She died horribly, bloated and unable to swallow. Her husband and four children were with her. Her eldest daughter had recently married young and was newly pregnant. Eighteen months earlier my friend and I were out one evening and she was telling me that she couldn’t die because she was sure she would have grandchildren and she would need to be there to rock them. Following her funeral at the crem we all went to her (Evangelical) church for another… Read more »

gloria mundi
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The word “some” can be useful in this context, can’t it? Though not, of course, as entertaining as a cheap shot such as: “Usually humanist funerals spend the vast bulk of their time waxing lyrical about the heroic achievements of the deceased.” I don’t find this rigorous in the least, simply because it bears no relationship to the kind of tributes that the humanists I know actually write. Unless they are writing about a hero. Infrequent, but has happened. That’s where “some” might come in handy – but it’s so tedious, isn’t it, to keep saying that some vicars are… Read more »

Jonathan
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Jonathan

I like him or her, too. I find it embarrassing to hear a congregation of mourners being fobbed off with that old platitude of ‘living on in your memory’, or having a ‘kind of’ immortality. Immortal means forever, not a moment less, and Weepingcross eloquently explains precisely why. Atheists conducting funerals are not ‘not brave enough to combat this weak-mindedness’; they’re simply aware that they wouldn’t get any more work if they said what they profess to actually believe, tempted as they evidently are – as I’ve just discovered, having had to pitch in at the last minute to cover… Read more »