Who is mimicking who?

Charles 5 Comments



Posted by Richard Rawlinson 

Two seasonal events coming up: the Nine Lessons and Carols is a traditional Christmas Eve ceremony, the most famous and widely broadcast being the service from King’s College, Cambridge; and Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, is showing for 10 nights in December at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. A rationalist celebration of Yuletide, this year’s line-up promises music by Jonny & The Baptists (pictured) and stand-up comedy by Alexei Sayle.


Of course, members of the British Humanist Association, a non-prophet organisation, might enjoy the former, just as Christians might enjoy the latter. You don’t need to believe in angels to sing along to Robbie Williams’s Angels. And a bit of incredulous mockery doesn’t do the faithful any harm.

Though from an era of more restrained comedy, I’ve LOL’d at Dave Allen’s religious gags. Attending a funeral as a child, he recalls thinking the priest was saying: ‘In the name of the father and of the Son and into the hole he goes’. More here 

There are a few gentle jokes about non-believers, too. What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with an atheist? Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason.

The there’s the one about a priest and rational sceptic both up for the guillotine. Asked for his final words, the priest says: ‘I believe in God who will rescue me in my hour of need’. The executioner then pulls the cord, but the blade of the ominous contraption of death suddenly stops just short of his neck. ‘A miracle,’ gasps the crowd, and the executioner lets him go free.

Next, the rationalist is asked for his final words. He doesn’t hear the question as he’s staring intently at the guillotine. The executioner asks again to which the rationalist finally replies: ’Oh, I see your problem. You’ve got a blockage in the gear assembly, right there.’

Now to the more serious question of who is copying who at funerals, the subject for which the Nine Lessons and Carols events were a mere prelude:

Are secular funerals still too closely following the ceremonial rituals and traditions of religion? Or is the trend among religious funerals towards emphasis on eulogy and celebration of life in fact aping secularism? Are they merging into one and, if so, should they define themselves more clearly?

 Footnote: more festive funeral humour 



  1. Charles

    Thanks for the humour, Richard. Its a shame that the ‘like’ button seems to have disappeared. (Charles?) I particularly like the ‘non-prophet organisation’.

    Its a very good question though, and one that I don’t even begin to know the answer to, although you have given me some ideas for my (hopefully upcoming) research into contemporary funeral ritual.

    Thank you!

  2. Charles

    Two seasonal events coming up? Shame on you RR for mentioning Christmas before Guy Fawkes has even been. You are as bad as the local Co-op selling mince pies inAugust 😉

    1. Charles

      Good to see you back, Evelyn. Your comment under Jenny’s latest is brilliant. Working in the media, I prepare December issues in September so my preoccuptions are premature. Happy 2014!

  3. Charles

    As a humanist celebrant I am always looking at ideas to ‘do something different’. However, the ceremony is about what the family or friends want. I have found reluctance even for something as simple as communal farewell words printed on the service sheet. Let alone the idea of separating the memorial from the disposal of the body to remove time pressure and other limitations of traditional venues.

    We mustn’t forget that many families WANT a recognisable structure (I get repeat requests for ‘what you did for Auntie Joan’..) and also want someone else to take responsibility off their hands. It’s not for the celebrant to tell them to stop being so conformist and prepare to dance round the coffin holding hands.

    Two highlights from humanist ceremonies for me: communal singing of ‘I Will Survive’, requested by the deceased young woman as part of her dying wishes – everyone entered into it and sang with gusto; and streaming facebook, projected on to a screen, and those who couldn’t be there asked to post messages at a prescribed time (when we played some mellow music). Poignant indeed.

  4. Charles

    Hello, Trevor — good to hear from you (it’s always nice to have a new commenter).

    Just love I Will Survive and the streaming FB.

    I have to confess to high-handedness in the matter of farewell words: I get them to repeat after me (no warning). I confess this may reveal nobbut arrogance, but of course I feel it does them some good.

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