Friday, 19 November 2010

Why I Couldn't Be a Humanist

I have a paper to write on the subject of funerals, so like all diligent writers, obtained some material from other sources in order to make an honest and informed comparison. I bought and paid for the Humanist Association book on 'how to do a funeral', and the title on the cover typifies the very reason why I have something of an issue with them as an organisation:

'Funerals Without God' - it is called. Now, I can accept that some people cannot confess a faith in a deity, and as such I am at peace with that. This title, though, is odd. I am guessing that most Humanists don't believe in Flying Green Elephants or tooth-fairies (one assumes), so a book entitled 'Funerals Without Toothfairies' or 'Funerals Without Flying Green Elephants' would seem equally odd to me.

I took a toddle throught the pages of this noble work, whose strapline is 'A practical guide to humanist and non-religious funeral celebrations' (I am also a little flummoxed as to why 'non-religious' automatically translates into 'humanist' which is, after all, a belief-structure with texts and dogmas, like a religion); anyway ... some quotes for you.

"In circumstances rather less extreme that a climber's death [high up on a Himalayan mountainside] there may be no Humanist officiant conveniently available" (p3) - just us Christians, then, who are available at all times and in all weather

"There is an intimacy about a ceremony that is organised by those immediately involved, which cannot be achieved when it is conducted by an outsider" (p3) - not true, according to the mourners whose loved-ones I have despatched to Heaven

"Perhaps after the success of your 'Do It Yourself' ceremony ... you'll decide to join our ranks" (p4) - join us, the B&Q of funerals - here is your orange apron - anyway, all dignity and class flew away with 'Do It Yourself' ceremony

"Five or six minutes is perhaps the minimum time for a meaningful and dignified ceremony" (p4) - especially if ...

"...on the rare occasions when the relatives are quite unable to come up with any pleasant memories at all, because there was no loved lost between them, or because your subject was clearly a bad-tempered, selfish, unkind or thoroughly unpleasant person!" (p17) - sorry aunty, but you had a beard too, and your kisses were all slobbery. 

"There might be a cross and candles up in front and also prayer or hymn books set out on the pews. These are inappropriate for Humanist ceremonies, as indeed they are out of place for many other funerals. Crematoria are public buildings and do not belong to the churches, so we have a right to ask that the cross be removed by the staff before the ceremony starts" (p13) - welcome to the world where most people don't seek a DIY funeral

"Where there is no cemetary chapel in use ... there are a number of alternatives:
...a church hall ... ...a hotel..." (p14) ...though only the bravest would make those phone calls to book them

 "At the graveside ... if an aeroplane or some other outrageous noise drowns your voice, simply wait until the sound subsides" (p15) - I am wondering where outrageous planes fly too, making their outrageous noise, outrageously [speak up, love, they are 30-odd thousand feet up]

I could carry on. My beef is not  that they are Humanists, but that as Humanists they are not being humanists, but rather an anti-religion lobby. Their agenda seems to be set purely to counter us faithful folk and what we believe in, and even as an expression of atheism, it seems odd. I chose the picture above because it seems to illustrate well what I mean here. As a person with a belief in God, and in the context of that diagram, I would argue that I have faith (and largely no proof) that a white triangle is at the centre of the picture. I claim this because I can see its effects on other things. Humanists would spend all their efforts telling me that there is no triangle and, actually, they will spend all their time devoting effort to telling you not to believe in the triangle that isn't there. If I were an atheist, I think I would be focussed on the things that are there, the circles and the lines. The end result is this: if you have Christians, Humanists and other non-Humanist Society atheists, you would have two of the three groups talking about God. The third is just isn't interested in the subject matter.


  1. Surely that white triangle is a homeopathic triangle (just the impression of it left after the real triangle has been diluted).

    Sorry, couldn't resist it.

  2. Speaking of effects on other things, I have a friend whose father died recently. She was raised RC but says of herself that she is no longer a believer. But when he died, she got in touch with me and said that she was comforted by the idea that he would join her mother in heaven, and when I told her I would say his name at the altar on Sunday, she not only said thank you but gave me his whole name so I'd get it right. Sadly, one of the reasons she cites as no longer believing is because she was raised to believe that God is a grumpy guy up there on a cloud with a calculator, toting up your sins.

  3. Indeed we are at times our own worst marketting agency!

  4. I once had a conversation with a nonagenarian late-Vicar's wife about just this. All she had to say on the subject was, "I'd love to see their faces when they get to the Pearly Gates and suddenly realise how wrong they were!"



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