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Colin Johnson’s blog

Non-religious Funerals&#8212not just for Bloody Heathens

I’ve been thinking back to by mother’s funeral on the occasional of the one-year anniversary, and particularly thinking about non-religious funerals. In fitting with my mother’s atheism (or “being a bloody heathen” as she put it), I of course organised an entirely non-religious funeral, which acted as a joyous celebration of her life and included lots of her favourite music and readings, as well as giving family and friends a chance to talk about her life.

I was talking to someone about religious funerals last week, and they were saying that at the last religious funeral they attended, the service consisted of one-and-a-half minutes of talk about the deceased, and 28-and-a-half minutes of talking about Jesus.

Occasionally, usually on the kind of “and finally…” type slot that Trevor McDonald used to do at the end of the news, we here about someone who had a themed funeral relating to an interest that they were passionate about&#8212Elvis, or windsurfing, or whatever. Lots of people find this kind of funeral rather undignified and naff.

Yet, when we have a religious funeral, even for someone for whom religion was only a small part of their life, the religious aspect dominates completely. Perhaps we should find this just as naff. Why do we allow this one aspect of a life to dominate so strongly at the celebration of a complex and rich life? By all means, have the religious-themed funeral, much as we allow the Elvis funeral, for the deeply committed. But for the average punter, who has a religion as just one part of a complex life, why not represent this by one small token in the ceremony, and celebrate the remaining aspects of a life well lived in the remainder?

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