Advertising Jesus

Charles Cowling


We’re always struck here at the GFG by the vilification which the unchurched can heap upon those in holy orders. It never seems to happen the other way round. Almost all secular funerals are notably inclusive and hospitable towards believers.

Now that we are living in a multifaith society where any funeral audience is likely to span the spectrum of beliefs, do faith groups have a duty to take cognizance and adjust? 

Here’s some vilification. The writer is describing her grandfather’s funeral:

Let me start by saying that I understand the role of religion at a funeral. I understand that the idea that death isn’t real and permanent is a comfort to a great many people. I’m not one of them, but I won’t begrudge solace to those who are.

That said, I despise, with all I am, the time at a funeral that is spent on advertising Jesus instead of on the dead and the survivors.

The pastor was perfunctory in those bits of service that are actually service to the mourners. He read the bits of Revelations that deal with heaven without much attempt to string them into coherence. He did not, thankfully, try to pretend that he knew anything about my grandfather.

For whatever reason, the pastor wasn’t content to simply reassure those of us who believed that my grandfather and grandmother were together again in heaven–or would be together after the resurrection. He was clearly up on his theology but uncomfortable getting that specific with us; he hinted instead. No, the pastor poured his energy into exhorting us all to believe as he did.

There were bits and bobs throughout the service, but the worst of it came as a sermon after the eulogies. It was very much an “Enough about the dead; let’s talk about Jesus” moment.

Me? I had to sit there and bite my tongue… And I had to do it at my grandfather’s funeral because selling Jesus to us all was more important than focusing on those of us who were mourning.

It was the single most selfish moment I’ve seen at a funeral, and the pastor didn’t have the excuse of being distraught.

Full text here.

26 thoughts on “Advertising Jesus

  1. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Michael, you’re still not getting it are you? Unblinker those eyes, read the above and see who is insulting and who is debating.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Richard Rawlinson says “sorry if I’ve insulted.”

    IF !

    A more acceptable apology would be to say he was sorry for his insults.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Gloria, I love you!!! 😀

    To others, sorry if I’ve insulted. I criticise and expect it back. But never any hard feelings.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    Easy up, there, good people!

    Richard and I agree on very little, but he would, I’m completely certain, never reverse the season’s greetings in such barbaric measure, nor threaten hell-fire as a recruitment tool – and another thing is also certain – he is not a dickhead! He also introspects – read his other posts and follow-up comments!

    These matters raise hackles, but behind every post on the GFG is a lot of careful thought and sincere feeling.

    Let’s argue, not insult.

    (Richard, does that get me off a day or two in Purgatory…?)

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Bruce Gorton

    Reading the thread Richard is, to put it bluntly, one of those guys who took “Merry Christmas” and changed its meaning from one of general good will, to “F**k you.”

    He is the exact kind of guy who would give a funeral for someone who has committed suicide, and focus on how that somebody is going to hell.

    And then wonder why everbody from all denominations refers to him as rickhead. All this evil PC, I mean, what is freedom if it is not to use someone’s grandfather’s coffin as a handy soapbox?

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    [blockquote]The unchurched do indeed heap vilification on the religious in a way that is rarely returned in equal measure. [/blockquote]

    This is serious? Every study/poll done on the matter shows atheists to be the most disliked, most mistrusted, least likely to be voted for, unacceptable marital partners for one’s kids, and so on and so forth. Of course, a bit of blog nastiness is [i]so[/i] far removed from what you likely experience in the real world that I guess I can see how you can perceive atheists as being ever so mean and nasty, but you should at least attempt to have some introspection.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Jason Thibeault

    What I don’t get is “unchurched”. What about those of us who were thoroughly churched and deconverted after intellectual soul-searching and research into the religion in question? Why do we get short shrift and are merely “unchurched” or “atheistical”?

    (psst– it’s “atheist”, which is ironical 😉 ).

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Jafafa Hots


    Captive audience.

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Stephanie Z

    Hello, Richard.

    “Bitter, selfish granddaughter” here. I’d like to thank you for not heaping any of that vilification on atheists–or I would, if that’s what you’d actually done at any point in your comments.

    Did you read my post? If so, I’m confused by your assertions that I wanted the pastor to leave out a vital part of the ceremony, which was not a church ceremony, by the by. I noted that the music was chosen by my grandfather (though this was the only part of the ceremony that was; he wasn’t lucid much of the time near the end). I specifically noted that talk of heaven is service to the mourners. I did not object to prayers, although I didn’t participate in them.

    The only thing I objected to was the pastor proselytizing specifically to nonbelievers. Now, perhaps there is some cultural confusion here, but is this considered a necessary part of a funeral where you are? It isn’t here in the U.S., despite our reputation as a fervently religious country.

    If this is deemed critical where you are, perhaps you can also explain to me why that is. As I mentioned, my objection is that it serves neither the dead nor the mourners. My grandfather certainly never requested any such thing. The believers listening don’t need an exhortation to believe. Nonbelievers are distracted from their remembrances and–because we are not actually selfish–prohibited from engaging in an exchange of ideas on the topic on any sort of equal basis.

    So why would a funeral service be considered not just an appropriate but a necessary place for proselytization?

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Simon Ferrar

    Newbie on the block.

    First impressions on the topic.

    Self-important,religious and secular hijacking.

    First impressions on the posts.

    Don’t appear to have as much time………..

    Vituperation – like it – triple word score?!

    Jonathan – Concise

    Charles – I love you.

    Rupert – I’m with you.

    Richard – Saturday night (for heaven’s sake)!!!!!

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling

    You go to a church because you want religious ritual. If you want atheism, you don’t have to go anywhere.

    You go to a funeral because you respect the person in the box.

    What the fuck’s religion or atheism got to do with a funeral?

    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    PS The initial question was: Now that we are living in a multifaith society where any funeral audience is likely to span the spectrum of beliefs, do faith groups have a duty to take cognizance and adjust?’

    There’s a difference between multicultural society and pluralist society. In society, cultures do not all mix as one homogenous whole but they should be able to coexist peacefully with their different cultures respected by others.

    In the same way, I’m not sure a multifaith funeral can ever toaly appeal to all, especially if one sector is talking about the duty of the other to adjust. Sure, some things can adjust on both sides to find common ground, but there will always be some things on both sides deemed too important to compromise.

    This has been the case with decades of ecumenical conferences held by different Christian denominations striving unrealistically for unity on key issues.

    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson


    I’m not being offensive at all. Yes, I find some atheists overly aggressive to theists, and I find some liberals ironically censorious when it comes to debate. Not all though. And I’ve been neither aggressive nor censorious.

    Civil funerals are great for some as are religious funerals for others. Balanced enough for you? The debate here is about making the religious ones appeal more to the non-religious. I’ve simply pointed out a few obstacles, perhaps to be overcome through discussion.

    A religious funeral is not religious in order to “sell” religion to those forced to listen. That is simply incorrect. It’s religious because those arranging it booked a priest whose job it is to do religion.

    If anyone doesn’t want a religious funeral they are free to book a civil celebrant who can more readily adapt the service to individual wishes. Many do this brilliantly. My phrase ‘consumer-driven market forces’ was misleading, as these unsung heroes demonstrate intelligence and compassion, and for little financial reward.

    I’ve made this clear enough. It’s now time my words weren’t twisted and selected out of context simply because I’m discussing from a Catholic perspective. I stand by my main point. I agree some priests should be more accommodating of multifaith congregations, but they cannot tamper with sacred liturgy and reduce the presence of God in the service.

    If that’s the expectation, better not use them and stick with the civil funeral service.

    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling

    I am a tolerant soul. Non combative by nature and I don’t want to gang up but Richard, you are delivering offensive offal from a golden platter. If you are going to be offensive, let’s have it – honestly and directly.

    And if you’re not meaning to be offensive to those of us with differing views, then you got it wrong.

    Any person who is privileged enough to be involved in the great rites of human passage has a duty of honour to his fellow man. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to bury a man. It isn’t a one man road show. The minister/vicar/celebrant/ auntie doing a eulogy/uncle doing a poem are all involved in this ritual. And no, it is not a place for ego or for sales pitches about buying into an ‘imaginary friend’ club. Ministers have no more right to impose their God on the congregation than an atheist has to impose their disbelief to the congregation. If the family choice is a religious one that’s fine but good manners should prevent the minister from pompously and arrogantly delivering his/her beliefs as factual. Far better surely to say ‘this is what we believe – there may be those of you who don’t.’ Just out of politeness if nothing else. Since when were good manners dilution of beleifs? For a minority group, the God squad have some brass neck.

    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Charles, a clarification: when I said above ‘godless event’ that was not intended in a derogatory way. God is love, in our hearts and everywhere. What I meant was that a civil funeral, by an atheist celebrant and primarily for an atheist audience, is unlikely to be as spiritually nourishing for a theist as a religious funeral by a priest. The theist may witness God in the atheists’ hospitality, love and compassion, but the God-centric liturgy is absent. That same God-centric liturgy is what might offend atheists at a religious funeral.

    In my first blog here I wrote:

    “…the civilised approach is liberal in the true sense of the word – generous and broad-minded to others regardless of personal concepts of orthodoxy.

    “When such acceptance is a given in the context of funerals, we can dwell on the common ground of grieving for the deceased, and celebrating their life. However, just because one is not a meddler in the affairs of others doesn’t preclude holding firm views relating to oneself. When the Pope talks about ‘moral relativism’, he refers to the existential blurring of good and evil in society, not the fact that cultural differences result in a rich variety of beliefs and practices among decent, law-abiding folk”.

    This premise clearly becomes more challenging when discussing how one funeral can be inclusive of many faiths and none. Yes, we can all love each other, but I don’t see how divisions can be healed without compromising ritual, and I don’t see how compromise can be achieved without diluting it.

    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    james showers

    Your initial response to this post, Mr Rawlinson speaks volumes about your views on civil celebrancy. It is your use of language: ie “performance” ….. “water it down to be palatable …” and the implication that a civil celebrant is driven by “consumer market forces”.
    Such strong and unacknowledged belittling from your smiling face jars with my sense of ‘fun’ in this debate.
    And, I do hope you do not cloak the time honoured and continuing multiple acts of atrocity that have been conducted in the name of religion as ‘revisionist propoganda’?

    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Hi Charles

    Could there be more vituperation among unbelievers towards priests when conducting funerals than there is at weddings because of the very different natures of each ceremony?

    Unbelievers witnessing the marriage vows of a couple may find aspects of the sacrament baffling but it’s nevertheless a happy occasion. Could the traumatic nature of confronting death perhaps lead to less tolerance towards the priest with his duty-bound focus on an afterlife with God? Some may object to being served what they perceive to be false hope of eternal salvation if this is deemed irrelevant to their lives, and their grieving and loss.

    I’m not only blaming negative audiences though, there are indeed clergyfolk who fail to be sufficiently inclusive, who could do more to accommodate unbelievers as they turn up to show their respects to the deceased and support others present. Showing love and compassion and being true to your calling are not incompatible.

    There are ways a priest can add personal words to the service without corrupting the prescribed liturgy, or turning the ceremony into a godless event. I think some, in common with humanist celebrants, do invite the congregation to prayer or silent contemplation.

    At the end of the day, the degree of civil and religious in a funeral is the decision of the deceased and his/her family. A religious guest may find one too civil, and an unbelieving guest might find one too religious. Perhaps some celebrants get the balance spot on, but I’m sure it’s a fine line.

    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling

    One or two reflections, Richard.

    First, priests do not attract this vituperation when they conduct weddings. Indeed, unbelievers make a bee-line for religious nuptial rituals and seem much more able to close their ears happily to what they might term theobabble. I wonder why this is so?

    Second, you say that ‘the invitation, ‘Let us pray’ would descend into farce if a clause was added reminding atheists that, instead, they could perhaps contemplate the life of the deceased’, but at a humanist funeral there will generally be a period of contemplation and an invitation to people of faith to do their own thing – in their heads. It’s a structured prayer-opp.

    Third, your analogy with the ROH is inexact. People go there for posh music and hanker for nothing else. People who go to a religious funeral are there not necessarily because they want to attend a religious ritual, but because they want to pay their respects, send off the dead guy and support the others present.

    I can see no good reason why, out of respect and good manners, and in acknowledgement that God’s children find all manner of ways home, a priest should not offer hospitality and tolerance to all – qualities likely to have more proselytising power than ignoring them and cracking on regardless.

    To repeat for emphasis: the great majority of secular funerals go out of their way to be welcoming to everyone. To deplore their lack of spirituality speaks ill of the self-regarding subjectivity of the deplorer and with wholly insufficient respect for the faith choice of the bloke in the box.

    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    Most clergymen I’ve heard officiating at funerals, do see it at least partly as a sales opportunity. And why not? They have a (usually) receptive audience, listening at what is for most of them, a time of thought and reflection.

    If the family chose a religious service, then provoking thought about the chosen faith of the deceased is all part of the farewell. As a funeral director, I keep an open mind about all faiths and none.

    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Rupert Callender

    Market forces? Consumers? Ugh Richard.

    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Hi Gloria

    Good to see you here too. Allow me to clarify a couple of points that jarred with you. I appreciate secular celebrants are fulfilled by fulfilling a need, and that financial reward is not the motivation of their service to society. By market forces, I mean many consumers demand a secular funeral, and celebrants adapt their service to their wishes in a way that liturgy-bound priests cannot.

    Second, we part ways when you say sticking to the prescribed ritual is more ‘concerned with recruitment’ than showing ‘love and compassion for everyone in front of him’. I needn’t expand on this point as it’s addressed above.

    Finally, I didn’t compare militant atheists with Islamofascists because they’re murderous terrorists. I’m referring to those who seek to censor opposing views and defame with lies in order to advance their own agenda.

    There are plenty of loving and tolerant atheists and theists – whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian. A small minority let down each category.

    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Hi Charles

    What fun to be debating with you! I agree it’s hospitable to acknowledge one is addressing a diverse audience of believers, non-believers and inbetweeners. It’s also a pragmatic act that’s likely to make all leave feeling they’ve been included in the send-off of the deceased known to them.

    I believe many priests do this already when they’re addressing the congregation in their own words before embarking on the liturgy: in their welcoming introduction and homily.

    However, the priest has been called on to celebrate the mass, presumably by the deceased and his/her family who believe in the power of prayer and salvation in Christ. As you acknowledge, it would be sacrilegious if he abused the actual liturgy. It’s a given we can’t appeal to nihilists or pagan cultists with sacred words such as: ‘Almighty God, may this sacrifice cleanse from sin the soul of your servant [name], who has gone from this world, and so may he receive from you forgiveness and everlasting rest’.

    Even the invitation, ‘Let us pray’ would descend into farce if a clause was added reminding atheists that, instead, they could perhaps contemplate the life of the deceased. Nor do they need to be told this by a priest.

    Good manners, making people feel comfortable, stem from love for all mankind, but God’s holy sacraments cannot be diluted, just as the Royal Opera House doesn’t offer a pop finale for those who prefer Madonna to Mozart. Reaching out does not mean accommodating all if truth and beauty are destroyed in the process.

    Good manners are expected of the guests as well as the host, too. A religious person attending the BHA-accredited funeral of an atheist friend or family member might be quietly saddened by its lack of spirituality, but must accept that it’s the wish of the deceased, and that it might have brought comfort to the majority of the bereaved.

    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    In that case Charles, please do so regularly, since you write so humanely, calmly and sensibly.

    I’m surprised at Richard describing someone who was deeply upset as “bitter and selfish,”and her anger as “atheistical,” as though that were a different sort of anger, perhaps a less worthy sort? How would you feel if you felt, rightly or wrongly, that a family member’s funeral had been distorted and railroaded?

    It seems to me that you slightly miss the point, Richard, which Charles captures rather well- the lady might have been fine with a religious ceremony, because it was her grandfather’s choice, if the minister had been able to attend rather more to the gasthering and the dead person. That doesn’t mean he has to let go of his spiritual function.

    And just for the record, many secular celebrants I know are not driven by “consumer market forces,” that’s actually pretty condescending. We’re doing it because it’s needed, and because we find it intensely fulfilling. How many times do we have to write and say: the pay is crap. Market forces would drive me to another way of earning some pocket-money. It is possible for other than religious people to be driven by an ethois of vocation and service.
    And from the family’s point of view, it is not some trivial consumer choice (let me see, Mac or PC this time?) it’s very often a choice that is just as driven and thoughtful as the choice of a religious ceremony.

    Faith, hope and charity, and the greatest of these is charity. (Not, of course, Oxfam, but – Love.) Yer man puts it above faith, we note…if a minister can’t show love and compassion for everyone in front of him/her, but is more concerned about recruitment, maybe he/she should stand aside.

    And your comment about Islamofascists is distasteful. Far as I know, no atheists have planted bombs on Spanish and British trains..Anyone with an understanding of 20thC history would do well to pause before chucking the word “fascist” around.

    As Charles says, charm is also good….

    Having written all that, yeah, I’m fairly pissed off with the intolerance of a percentage of atheists.

    Charles Cowling
  24. Charles Cowling

    Hi Richard – thanks for dropping by.

    You say that a priest has a duty to conduct a prescribed religious ritual, and I hope no one would dispute that, if only because it is indisputable. Every club has the right to set its own rules. But that priest has, as he/she knows well enough, sitting in their congregation on the occasion of a funeral, a great many non-members who are there primarily for the dead person, their family and close friends and who may be, variously, adherents of New Age cults, pagans, thoughtful agnostics, empty-headed don’t-knows (let’s not knock ’em), atheists and members of either other religions or other Xtian sects. They may form a significant proportion of the attenders (called these days, for no good reason, attendees). Does that not confer a duty of hospitality on the presiding priest, a duty to reach out, welcome and accommodate as an act of love? Is it not possible to do this without going off-message? Might there not be value in openly acknowledging them and their beliefs, and explaining that at certain times and in certain places you’re going to, sorry chaps, feel outside what we’re doing, but this is the way we do things, you see?

    When I worked in prisons I used to say to other workers, God loves us all equally, so we must do the same. Then I used to add, You don’t have to believe in God to believe that. And I do believe it; it is one of my central beliefs. Not that it ever won me many converts in our retributive world.

    I suppose I wish that priests felt the same. I know from a long relationship with the Anglican Franciscan friars at Hillfield, that some priests do.

    Charm and love, Richard. Is there not a place for these? I know you to possess these attributes in abundance!

    I’ve had a glass, I admit it.

    Charles Cowling
  25. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Having read the full text, it seems to me the conflict of interest might be a combination of a poor communicator in the Lutheran pastor, and an bitter, selfish granddaughter venting her atheistic anger on a religious funeral chosen by her grandfather.

    The unchurched do indeed heap vilification on the religious in a way that is rarely returned in equal measure. People constantly libel and slander the Church out of willful ignorance and hateful bigotry. Child abuse is a distinctly Catholic evil that is less likely to occur in families or other religions. The war-time Pope was a Nazi sympathiser. The Crusades and the Inquisition demonstrated quintessentially Catholic cruelty. The Church is anti-science. All tiresome nonsense, of course, to anyone who has bothered to research in order to discover the fact-based truth, and moved beyond the revisionist propaganda.

    But moving to the interesting discussion point you raise: ‘Now that we are living in a multifaith society where any funeral audience is likely to span the spectrum of beliefs, do faith groups have a duty to take cognizance and adjust?’

    If a priest is requested for a funeral, he is duty-bound to conduct a religious ritual involving God and our spiritual salvation. Sometimes, he will be a good communicator who will still offend anti-believers, sometimes he will be poor even in the eyes of believers, just as civil funeral celebrants vary.

    If someone doesn’t want a religious funeral then they can book a celebrant who is not in holy orders. Choice is good. Civil celebrants are free to adapt their performance on demand, whether it’s to talk to the atheist majority in the congregation/audience, or water it down to be palatable to those with faith. A priest cannot do this as his service is not driven by consumer market forces.

    Anyone demanding otherwise has an agenda to harm religion out of disrespectful resentment to its grip on billions of decent people, peacefully holding onto their faith without responding to their increasingly intolerant detractors. Why is it that so many atheists seem to have more in common with Islamofascists than anyone else?

    Charles Cowling

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