Saturday, August 11, 2007

A grotesque memorial

My best friend's mother died last Monday, and the memorial service was today. During the past week it's been a pleasure for me to be there for her, just being supportive, and driving her the 40 minutes from Austin (a couple of times actually) to Seguin to be with her family.

My friend isn't Christian, nor is she atheist. She's kind of in that waffly in-between area, but it doesn't come between us. (Indeed, she asks me lots of questions and agrees with most of my criticisms of religion.) But her uncle is a Baptist minister, and the memorial service was held at his church. It was probably the first time I've walked into a church in about ten years, and I couldn't avoid a little of the feeling of being a sheep among wolves. But mainly I could chuckle at that, as I was, once again, just there to support my friend. I don't think anybody noticed or cared that I was the only guy remaining seated during prayers.

Apart from a nicely-assembled slideshow at the beginning, and my friend's own eulogy, I was surprised to find myself as appalled and offended by the memorial service as I was. I expected, of course, a formal eulogy, some songs, prayers, and that sort of thing. You know, the funerary routine; touching, sweet, and above all, respectful. But the pastor also saw fit to offer what amounted to a standard-issue church sermon. This had the effect — which I'm sure only I noticed, since I wasn't viewing the whole thing through the veil of faith — of disrespecting my friend's mother on a couple of levels, not the least of which was that the whole affair suddenly stopped being about her and started being about God. When a quartet sang "Amazing Grace," and the pastor followed it up with an obligatory, "Praise God!" I wanted to blurt out, "Oh, silly me. I thought we were here to praise Carol."

Part of the reason I find Christianity so vile is that, no matter in what context it decides to inject itself — a funeral, a tragic accident, even just a bunch of right-wing families at a high school football game in the deep south — it ultimately boils down to spiritual used-car salesmanship, hawking the invisible space daddy and his catalogue of false hope to the punters. Never mind all the cracks and seams we've Bondoed over.

The stupidest part of the sermon came when the pastor veered into a misology theme. We were reminded that while all the most brilliant scientists and philosophers in the world have been pretty doggone smart guys, figuring out a bunch of useful stuff, ultimately all their knowledge hasn't worked out what we were told is the most important issue, which is, according to the pastor, what happens to us when we die. I thought that issue was pretty well worked out: our bodies organically decompose. But of course, the pastor was talking about "souls," I suppose, and so we were cheerfully reminded that Christianity did provide that answer that has eluded the great minds of our time. And what's best is that you don't have to be some brilliant intellectual giant to understand it! The Bible makes it simple!

How handy is that? Yes, keep it simple, above all. I mean, most people can't figure out how to set the clocks on their video players, so doesn't it make sense that the answers to life's most penetrating questions ought to be even simpler than that? Just take all of those profound conundrums about the nature of life and the universe to which scientists and philosophers have dedicated their entire lives over the past several millennia, and boil it down to "Goddidit!" See? Simple!

Okay, this is all just boilerplate Christian anti-intellectual silliness. But when you realize that people by the millions are getting slammed with this moronic message every Sunday — "Hey, education is okay and all, but it hasn't got the real answers, and you'll get those today, and the best thing is they're as easy as pickin' your nose while sittin' down!" — then is it any wonder that we live in a country where something as retarded as the Creation "Museum" can actually be built? When religion hands ignorant people a bunch of wish fulfillment fantasies and then tells them they're smarter than "brilliant scientists and philosophers," it's an act as essentially cruel as the drug dealer giving a third-grader the "first one's free, kid" spiel.

But the worst part of this sermon is that my friend's mother was a schoolteacher, working with learning-disabled children, and was deeply dedicated to her vocation, even spending her own money on teaching materials when whatever school she was at was too cheap (or, to be fair, underfunded perhaps) to provide. And here's this jerk giving a sermon that completely devalues education, thereby devaluing my friend's mother's life, and pronouncing that old delusion, "faith," as infinitely preferable and more valuable than knowledge.

I'm pleased I was able to be there for my friend in her time of mourning. But it saddens me that all I got out of the service was a bleak reminder of why religion is such poison. What should have been a tribute to her mom's life turned into another gross sales pitch for Christianity, and a stomach-turning exercise in misology that demeaned the legacy of the woman it should have honored.


  1. I sometimes forget which blogs I've posted what to. But I went to a funeral for a baby, a twin, no less, recently. What could be more tragic than this? (I'm sure there's _something_, but the death of a baby twin leaves a pretty big _hole_ in a family).

    Anyway, the memorial was set awhile after I'd been dialoguing with an apologist at another board about POE. This is rare, because I normally don't argue POE--as it isn't the angle I prefer; but the topic and discussion were already going, and I felt a desire to make a few points that I thought needed to be made, and I did so. Someone else posted some encouragement, basically saying they thought I'd done well. The response from the apologist was a pathetic dodge of trying to redefine evil as "the pain we feel when we work out." I don't think anyone missed the bait and switch there.

    So, I was REALLY interested to hear the eulogy and how they'd discuss what could have possibly been god's point in giving this family twins (their first children), and then killing one (or allowing one to die) three months later.

    Well, I wish I could say I wasn't disappointed, but I sure was. The answer, it seems is that "we just don't know the answer"--almost a verbatim quote from the priest (it was a Catholic ceremony). He then added that if he thought god had anything to do with it--he'd take off his vestments and walk out of the church and never return.

    Interesting. I thought that the Bible said a sparrow doesn't die without god knowing about it. I thought god was up on _everything_. So how could god NOT have had something to do with it? He either killed the child or he opted to not save her life. This is the all mighty Catholic Jehovah god here. He can do anything. He built the universe. He knows all, he has all power--but somehow this baby's death got past him?

    Whereas your preacher offered that the Bible answers all the deep questions science can't. I got a priest saying that his god really had no response to this death. And in fact, science does--as this child died from SIDS. Babies die.

    What I found funny about your post was that Xianity has the answer to death, whereas science does not. All we can observe is the decomposition of the matter and the dissipation of the energy. That's death. You noted:

    >But of course, the pastor was talking about "souls," I suppose, and so we were cheerfully reminded that Christianity did provide that answer that has eluded the great minds of our time...

    Humorously, Xianity also provides the QUESTION--not just the answer. Because without Xianity, the question of "what happens to the soul" doesn't even exist. They created the problem out of thin air--then create the answer out of thin air; then tell you they're really giving you something here.


  2. This was an excellent post, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. You should submit this one to a carnival or two.

    The phrase "spiritual used-car salesmanship" certainly rings true. It is so transparent how they thrive on exploiting human weakness, and yet, they receive praise for it rather than condemnation. What an upside-down world!

  3. The same thing happened, when my dad died. Only around a third of the funeral was about him, the rest was nothing but God and Jesus. I was glad when it was over.

  4. I went to a fundie baptist wedding of an old friend. In the middle of the service the preacher asked that all bow their heads and pray, Then went in to a full blown sermon. Me and my friend Bob sat in back with our heads up watching spectacle of the sermon when the preacher announced he would be saving souls right then and there, all those who wish to come up front and be saved raise your heads! Me and Bob ducked our heads and began praying like hell the preacher didn't see us.

  5. I like the drug dealer analogy. The pastor was giving the faithful an ego-boosting drug of Christian anti-intellectualism. It needs to be administered at every opportunity.

  6. I recently went to a memorial service of a friend who deserved to have a whole day of eulogies dedicated to her. Her life was so rich with many, many friends who loved her dearly. The room was packed with more than 2 hundred people. The service was 45 minutes long and only 15 minutes was used for celebrating her life. The rest was for Jesus. I was beyond being pissed for being held hostage and wasting 30 minutes of my valuable time. How many ways can a person say "You must accept Jesus as your savior to get into heaven?" That is exactly what this minister did and most of the crown ate it up. Sad.

    Unfortunately, we really can't avoid going to these events nor can we voice our opinions about them at the time.


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