Funeral for a Friend

A much beloved man in the community died quite suddenly, to the shock of everyone who knew him. I do not do well at funerals, but I decided to go. I’m glad that I did, but I’m glad for everything except the funeral service – the line of colleagues and friends that stretched out of the funeral home door, the conversations, the people that I met, and the people that I got to know a little better.

I don’t do well at funerals often because of the funeral itself, but it depends: funerals that include lots of music and memories, that incorporate stories about the deceased, that give people permission to mourn, I really appreciate.

Funerals that exhort us not to be sad, to stampede toward the conclusion of an afterlife, and – most jarringly – that include commands for us to “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” at a Bahai service really hit a sour note with me.

What happened was this: a relative of the deceased got up to speak, and identified himself as a Baptist minister. Then he said, “I know you were told at the beginning to turn off your cell phones, but now I want you to hold them up. I know it sounds strange. Hold them up. I know you’ve got them!” People chuckled and held them up.

Then he said, “You have your cell phones, but are you connected? If you do not have Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are not connected!” And I thought:

  1. No matter how folksy and funny this guy is, I just don’t respond well to authoritarian voices telling me, “Everybody do this!”
  2. Is this really appropriate for him to say this here? I know that he thinks he must, but…
  3. I’m really glad that I left my cell phone at my desk, charging! (Wouldn’t you know!)

I was already irked that I, too, had thought of reaching for my cell phone in response to a voice from a pulpit, telling me, “Simon says!” I immediately resented it.

I already do not understand religion; its language seems cold, its beliefs beside the point, full of gobbledygook. However, I really do not see the point of championing one religion over another, especially at a funeral that was supposed to be about the deceased. Frankly, I did not get the Bahai readings, either. I wish that there had been more stories, and less preaching all around.

From the comments that I have received over the years, people think that atheists are hopeless Debbie Downers, living meaningless, sterile lives. I know that the fact of my being a belly dancer shocked a lot of people, as if I was supposed to be a lonely old hag who never styled her hair or wore nice clothes, and who sat on the couch reading Marx and Nietzsche and becoming the size of a rhino. When I first started blogging as Amused Muse people online assumed that I was a man, of course, and even accused me of having a female sock puppet until I uploaded my pics. And people have told me that I only “think” I’m an atheist, that I would grow out of it (I’m now 49), or change when I had children (I never wanted them), or that it just couldn’t be so, since I was such a happy, nice girl.

They simply cannot understand why I don’t have “meaning and purpose” in my life. Yet, I am left wondering, what meaning and purpose can there be to dehumanized, high-falltin’ sounding scriptures that not only divide me from believers, but even believers and family members from each other?

I am left wondering if this man’s relative actually thought that this gentle, kind, talented performer is in hell, and if that is not why he got up at a Bahai service and turned it into a revival meeting.

All religion is the same to me (although I will criticize some more than others for their actions), but this strikes me as a message in direct contradiction to my friend’s life. He was never about divisions, and I do not wish to be.

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