Ritual

October 13, 2008

David Robertson mentioned (at the Is Faith in God a Delusion? debate), in response to a question about how atheists are religious, that we all have our rituals. Of course he’s totally missing the point, there’s a difference between doing something because you’re used to doing it and doing something because it’s written down in a magic book. But there are other kinds of ritual that are common between atheists and religious people (in the conventional sense); the kinds of rituals that celebrate the various stages of a persons life. I’m talking about things like weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals.

For many people, these kinds of ceremonies are the first point of contact with humanism. When I mention that I’m a humanist, people often say “Oh, my Uncle Bob had a humanist funeral, it was really good!” (well, they don’t say that if they don’t have an Uncle Bob, but you know what I mean). Just this Saturday gone I overheard an old woman who drinks at my work fairly often talking about a humanist funeral she’d been to, and when I mentioned that I’m a humanist, she said “so… you want all the ritual with none of the spiritual!” as if it were a bad thing, and I replied “Yeah, all the goodness, none of the bull!” I don’t think she realised that humanist organisations do a lot more than just bury people and marry them (not the same people you understand), but nevertheless the ceremonial aspect is important for a lot of people.

I was talking to a friend of mine about trying to get excommunicated from the Catholic Church (still no sign of my baptism certificate. Not being at home I can’t really go searching for it). She said that I shouldn’t do it because then I wouldn’t be able to get married at church. In reality this is one of the few things holding me back from making a real effort to find it and get ranting about it. Say I want to get married, and my future wife wants to have a church wedding, we won’t be able to and it’d be a great shame just because I didn’t want to be associated with the Catholics. But at the same time, is it not very hipocritical of me to keep my membership just for the associated benefits, when by any measure of the word I am no longer a Catholic? Undoubtedly it is. Perhaps I might go back to Christianity one day? I’m fairly sure that’s the reason my mother won’t hand over my baptism certificate. But even in the extremely rare event that some kind of proof of God is discovered, and I do turn back to Christianity, I’d never go back to Catholicism (too much human input to dogma), so it’s irrelevant.

I think I may be hunting out that certificate when I go home for Christmas.


December 23, 2007

Today I went to visit my friend’s grave. He died a little over a year ago in a motorbike accident, but today was the first time I went to his grave. I’ve never been one for gravesides or funerals really. Don’t get me wrong, today was absolutely appropriate; two of my friends and I went down, laid some flowers, stuck around and had a beer each in the mid-afternoon moonrise (stupid early nights :P), left him one on his headstone, remembered some good times, and then went on our way. It was nice.

But it’s not something I normally do. I have a lot of dead relatives; all my grandparents have died, as has my great aunt who I was close to, my great uncle and several family friends, all people I knew. But I don’t visit their graves. My adopted grandmother (long story) is buried right over the road from my house, but I still don’t visit her grave.

My main reason is that I don’t know what to do there. Obviously I don’t pray, so should I just talk to them? But I know they can’t hear me, so the only reason I’d be talking is for my own benefit, and I can do that anywhere, I don’t need to be near a grave. I suppose I could just do what I did today, but again I can do that anywhere, and I often have met up with mates for a drink in his honour, and remembered the good times. The presence of a dead body isn’t really a prerequisite. Nor is it desirable in most cases, hehe.

In any case, his death came as a shock to all of us, particularly as he was someone our own age. It was a very sobering reminder of our own mortality, and it provoked thoughts in me about my own funeral arrangements. I read fairly recently that in 2008, humanist funerals are expected to become the third most popular type of funeral ceremony in Scotland, presumably after Catholic and Church of Scotland ceremonies. But I don’t think I want a grave in some graveyard with a load of other dead bodies, where people will feel obliged to visit and feel awkward. I’d much rather have a bench or something, and a memorial service with my favourite music, photographs, hopefully decent holograms by the time I die, rather than the depressing death ceremonies that are so common. I decided a long time ago that if anything were to happen to me, all my organs can be donated to whoever needs them, and anything that’s left will be donated to science.

Something that always seems to confuse people when I tell them of my atheism is my beliefs about after we die. Lots of people I’ve met who don’t believe in God have told me that they like to think there’s something better afterwards, or that they believe in some airy-fairy kind of spirit or ascended being, that I don’t really understand properly. I think it’s important to face up to the fact that once you’re gone, you’re gone for good, and there’s no consciousness left over. The only thing that’s left of you is your impact and legacy on the world through people’s memories of you, and the influences you’ve had on them. Which is why it’s important to make the most of this life. It’s the only one you’re going to get.