Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Death is Good for Religion

Saturday I had the honor to attend my uncle's funeral in Arizona, to remember his life and mourn his death. He was a good man: an artist, musician, corporate executive, father, husband, and so much more.

Uncle Ted was also a devout Christian, of the sort that I respect. His religion was personal and simple: When he needed help, he prayed for guidance, when things went well, he gave thanks. He didn't push his beliefs on others, but if you asked him about it, he'd tell you. I don't share his beliefs, but I respect Uncle Ted's honest, straight-ahead approach. Uncle Ted's religion was moral, honest, and light-years ahead of the destructive, dishonest, aggressive tactics of the evangelical ultra-conservative groups that dominate the news and politics.

His memorial service was conducted by a Christian minister, a very sweet woman and good friend of Uncle Ted. Listening to her prayers, at that emotional, sad time, I got a deep understanding of the appeal, of why religion makes so much sense to so many people. I wrote about this extensively in my book, in fact it's the core thesis: Religion is an evolving species that has had thousands of years to adapt to fit the human psyche perfectly, to be incredibly appealing (irrespective of whether it is true or made up).

Listening to The Lord's Prayer at Uncle Ted's memorial, I finally understood emotionally what I knew intellectually. We just don't want to say goodbye, forever, to Uncle Ted. The thought that his life, and everything he ever had, is gone, is sometimes too hard to bear. All those wonderful cowboy songs, his beautiful voice, the way he strummed his guitar, his talent with a paintbrush, his gentle but mischievous smile, his generosity (unless you were playing cards against him!), his charity work, his wise advice ... all gone forever. How can this be? Isn't there another answer, a way that, even though he is gone from us, that somehow he's not really gone? Can't we see Uncle Ted again someday?

Alas, no. He's really gone, and all that's left of him is the good memories, and the lessons he taught those of us who were lucky enough to have him in our lives.

And I now have a deeper understanding now of just how appealing religion is.


  1. I strongly echo your sentiments here.

    Funerals are an important ritual, when my father died 5 years ago, we couldn't for some reason transport the body back from Africa for a few weeks. It was only when the funeral came around that we could begin the grief cycle.

    I remember people finding my atheism hard to take at that time, but I genuinely didn't need to believe that he had gone to some mystical place. We live, and we die. Surely that's enough? I'll remember him for as long as I can, but I suppose his genes were passed on, so the ancestry continues. There's the real miracle!

  2. My condolences to you.

    Religion wants to have a monopoly on pretending that we have a solution to death by telling us things that make us feel good because it realizes quite rightly that if we actually did somehow find some kind of real solution to death, that real solution would probably be the ultimate, queen-mother threat of threats to religion.

    The way I see it, religion deals with death in much the same way a maid deals with a six-foot pile of dirt by sweeping it under a paper-thin, transparent rug.

  3. I am seriously considering boycotting weddings and funerals. They are always presided over by ministers of religion who intrude themselves on us and make their money off of these events. It's part of their business. Shouldn't an ethical non-religious person boycott these fakes instead of showing up and giving them respectability?


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