Oh Ye of Little Faith: The Atheist Goes to a Funeral

As my grandfather declined, he lost his faith. Lutheran his entire life, he became an atheist overnight at around 85. He was never an evangelical, a holy roller, but he had faith and then suddenly, he refused to go to the church populated by most of their friends and announced he didn’t believe in God.

Until that moment I was the only “out” atheist in the family (possibly the only one at all) but I did not rejoice in my new found comrade, it was another cause for concern as the person I knew faded into someone completely different.

A relative came up to me after the funeral service and said “he heard the call of the trumpets. He died in faith and he is risen.” I smiled and said thank you, I did not say that I was unsure if my grandfather had actually “died in faith,” if faith was even a comprehensible concept at the time of his death, when he was easily confused and sometimes forgot his family.

To me, it does not matter if he died faithful or faithless. He is not there, he is not proud of me, he is not looking down on me, his presence was not with me while I read the eulogy or acted as pallbearer. I am at peace with that. It is what I have always expected, it is comforting to me to know his pain has stopped. I do not think I would take any comfort thinking he suddenly had the capacity to watch my every move in a way he hadn’t before.

The pastor used the story of Lazarus in her service. Religion is, in general, something I can tune out. My atheism is not something I need to shout from mountaintops or use to counter every religious reference presented to me, but Lazarus at funerals actually truly infuriates me. I spent the service between my best friend and Manbeast, trying not to get snot all over myself, standing when I sensed them stand, sitting when I sensed them sitting, moving in a haze… until I heard Lazarus and the rage welled inside me and I wanted to stand up and scream. Fuck your metaphorical resurrection. Even if my grandfather is reborn in Christ in Heaven he will not be rising from his casket a la Lazarus to hug us, to eat lunch with us, to remember that I am his granddaughter. The first time I heard the Lazarus reading used at a funeral it was for a fifteen year old girl. It is offensive and I know there are better stories and verses out there. Tales of hope and love, not a slap in the face at the failed literal resurrection of your lost love one.

I wonder why the homily and the talk of God and Jesus are necessary at a funeral in general. I know for many religion is an inherent part of their identity, I respect that, but I don’t really want to talk about the abstract concepts of faith at a funeral, I want to remember the deceased and celebrate their lives. I don’t want the pastor saying words that glorify god, I want them saying words glorifying my loved one and their relationships. Make God the footnote in your service, not my grandfather. It won’t shake anyone’s faith, and I doubt it would offend anyone.

God was certainly not in my eulogy and no one felt like it was lacking, because it was a tribute to the amazing man my grandfather was and he was not an evangelist or a holy roller, just an amazing multifaceted man.

Many people have offered their prayers. My deaf priest has, several people said they were praying specifically for me at the funeral. I appreciate that I am in their thoughts, I truly do. I would never counter their kindness and well-meaning words with my disbelief, and so I say thank you and move on. But it is strange. Were I to tell these people that I would offer a sacrifice of chickens and rum to Papa Legba* to help ensure a safe passage for your loved on into the underworld I would be doing so with the same well-meaning attitude and the same kindness in my heart, though I doubt that any of them would simply smile and thank me for caring, I would expect them to balk as I stood defiant in front of their beliefs but they do not seem to think about how their prayers might seem at best misplaced and at worst in defiance of my personal theology.

I only received one sympathy card, from a person whose heart I know very well. Not dealing with those things has been the smallest of comforts.

I will move forward.

 

 

*Note: Just an example. My non-belief extends to all religious traditions.

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2 thoughts on “Oh Ye of Little Faith: The Atheist Goes to a Funeral

  1. Dena says:

    I am not sure why you should be thankful for comments from people who you believe would not give kind comments if they knew you were an atheist. I am sorry about your grandfather. Losing a grandparent is really hard.

    • Because while there comments about my belief might be disrespectful, they are sorry that I lost my grandfather and that sincerity is what I care about.

      And thank you, it has been a lot harder than I anticipated even though I never thought it would be easy.

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