On funerals

Oh boy… Where do I even start with this?
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RIP1
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Recently, I went to a funeral for one of my wife’s relatives. I had never met the man in question, and my wife wasn’t very close with him either. Still, we (of course), came to pay our respects and see the family. But sitting there in church, listening to everything being said and done up by the altar; it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks:
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“Who in their right mind would want something like this?”

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Old traditions

Let me, as usual, back up a bit. I’m from Norway, where Lutheranism has been the ‘prevailing’ religion since 1536. Today, most of the population are non-believers or personal Christians, meaning they don’t go to church or display their faith in any way. Still, 480 years of Protestantism has left a mark on the country, especially through ceremonies like weddings and funerals and through rites of passage like baptisms and confirmations. I understand that most of this is more based on tradition than belief, and as such they’re not inherently ‘bad things’. Having something to believe in is well and good, but these ceremonies are old and tired, and most of the audience won’t relate to it at all.
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Sitting there, I kept seeing things that I envisioned would only cause more torment for the family who’d just lost someone. These thoughts were further solidified when my wife leaned over, whispering “What a charade this whole thing is.”
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First, the bell tolls and the music plays until everyone’s seated. (I won’t mention the benches, just refer to any stand-up comedian if you’re wondering what they’re like). Then, everyone sings, which is where it gets really awkward for me. If the relatives don’t have any specific ones in mind, some random hymns are selected by the church. These are mostly dark and dreary (once again, refer to any stand up comedian), and most people under the age of 30 don’t know the melodies anymore, because they don’t go to church! My wife has quite the set of pipes on her, and she’s not afraid to use them either; her whole family consist mostly of songbirds, but when no one knows the lyrics or the melody, everyone buries their noses in their pamphlets instead. Then there’s the worst part; where the priest, or the closest relative, reads the words on the flower arrangements. 5 minutes of someone walking around the casket, mouthing the final greetings written on the flowers, which everyone can see. I get that they want to ‘include’ everyone, also those who aren’t there but who paid their respects, but there’s got to be a better way. This is five (often more) solid minutes of awkward silence, with a strange (in our case) character tossing flowers around, reading words we can all see. Finally, there’s more singing, more quotes from the bible and the final ‘placing the deceased in God’s hands’. It’s all very poetic, and I get why we do it, but when over half of the spectators don’t believe a word of it, it doesn’t sit right with me.
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Nidarosdomen in Trondheim, Norway

A place of beauty, but not a place for everyone

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Time to change things up?

I respect every religion and those who practice it (without shoving it down people’s throats), I really do. I’m not trying to crap on anyone’s faith here. I think it’s wonderful that people find God and never look back. Or that people grow up worshiping, and it becomes a healthy part of their life. If you believe in God, or some other deity, more power to you!
It’s just that I don’t… And a lot of other people don’t either.
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I can almost hear people shouting “but it’s not about you, you selfish prick!”
I know it’s not, which is why I will give you an example.
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When my parents die, they will be buried according to the Christian protestant tradition. Present at this funeral, will be me and my wife, my brothers, my uncles and possibly some cousins and assorted friends of the deceased. The bells will ring, the priest will say a few words, just like the one described above. The thing is, I know every single one of those who will be there, and not one of them is a Christian. My father even withdrew his membership from the church, which requires quite a bit of work. The thing is, I don’t say this just because I’m an atheist myself (more of an agnostic, perhaps), I think it’s disrespectful the other way as well! Why accept a bunch of non-religious people into God’s house, just because they don’t know what else to do? I’ve heard of people covering crosses at their weddings, seen people tamper with the bibles in church because they’re bored, heard people swear like it was nothing… Once again, I’m not religious, but I don’t disrespect those who are! That’s why I don’t feel comfortable going into God’s house and pretend to be singing while I write another short-story in my head. (Or this post, as was the case last time.) I want to be there because I want to be there, not because an old tradition dictates it. I can’t understand why everyone is so accepting of this ‘hypocrisy’, Christians included. Why are some of the most anti-Christian people I know marrying in a church? Why should my atheist father be placed in the hands of God?
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Maybe I’m reading too much into this, or maybe it’s time for some new traditions. I’m not saying we abandon the Christian faith, or any other religion, but maybe we can do with a little change. If the church is so bent on accepting everyone, and even having non-christians baptized, married and buried within their walls, at least update the speeches a little. And put some damn cushions on the benches. (Actually, they hand out cushions at some churches now, so I guess we can call that progress.)
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Don’t all start hating me at once! – Bishop
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