A religious funeral vs an atheist's wishes

I have strong atheist existentialist beliefs but was brought up with and had strong (Irish) catholic beliefs until my early 20s, I am in my mid 30s now.

I respect people’s beliefs and have a general understanding and acceptance of the possible social reasons for religion, ritual and faith.

Nevertheless, for strong personal reasons I don’t want to be buried in a catholic ceremony, nor in a catholic cemetery. I would like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered somewhere meaningful to me, but i know that that would devastate my mother and father if I were to die before them – i understand also that – as an existentialist – it won’t make a difference to me how I am buried, that burial is more about the grieving than the deceased YET that never seems to be the way when people of faith are buried by their atheist children – ie according to their faith.

It distresses me now to think that I would be buried in a catholic cemetary with a catholic ceremony – am I over-reacting? Should I let those who I leave behind bury me as they want?

I don’t want to be hypocritical in death, I don’t want to promote that which personally I find so hideous and I don’t want to be counted as a catholic (which begs another question about how to get discounted as a catholic – I don’t need a debaptimsal certificate or ceremony, but as I am on the register… am I still counted as a catholic…?).

Death means more for those we leave behind yet I would never want to dis-respect a deceased relative or friends wishes for my own grief sake.

What to do?

Posted: January 4th 2011

flagellant www

Your question raises several interesting points. Firstly, isn’t mid-30s a bit early to start thinking about dying? I can see that you have points of contention with your parents but, as you appreciate, you won’t be there to know anything about it. So yes, I think you’re over-reacting.

To put you mind at rest, if you haven’t already made a will, you might consider doing so. I updated mine recently, and I specified that my body was to be used as a source of donor organs, then to be used for medical research. I further added a clause saying that I didn’t really care what sort of funeral I was given, since I wouldn’t be there to experience it. I have chosen two atheist executors, who share my secular worldview, so I’m sure that they would not do anything against my wishes; nor would my son. Funerals – as you observe – are to comfort those who remain. And, if one ends up with a full grown requiem mass, and it comforts those remaining, so what?

You might consider making similar stipulations in your will and make sure that your family know that the will carries instructions about your funeral. It would be optional to tell them of the details in advance. If you have a good lawyer draw up the document, such that all bequests are subject to your having the funeral you want, your parents might think twice about doing it their way.

However, it’s much more important how you live your life than what sort of funeral you have. In the words of a famous slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

Posted: January 11th 2011

See all questions answered by flagellant


My sister who was raised in a very strict Catholic family and was disowned at age nineteen for marrying an atheist Jew was cremated per her wishes and her ashes scattered from a favorite cliff overlooking the Pacific. She was forty six. It was a gorgeous ceremony, focusing on her and her life’s achievements which were many, including her long marriage with her atheist Jewish husband.

Our elderly aunt who constantly talks about the Pope and asks if I want photographs of him mailed to me (I politely decline), knew better than to object to my sister being cremated. Since my sister always let the Catholics know that their opinion meant nothing to her as their beliefs are completely non-evidential and that their despicable church has been associated with so many horrors, these Catholics knew better than to open their mouths in protestation.

Your close ones are not just relatives, they are Catholics. The Catholic part of their lives must not have any effect on what you want to do.

Posted: January 10th 2011

See all questions answered by logicel


Well, you’re screwed. From what I can tell, there’s no way for you be cremated and scattered and still allow your parents the comfort of believing that you are still catholic.

I don’t think you are over-reacting – what kind of funeral/celebration you have is your last chance to make a mark on the world, and you should do what you think is right. Your parents will be devastated regardless if you predecease them.

As for becoming officially non-catholic, there used to be a process one could use but the church has changed canon law to disallow it. The more cynical viewed this as a move to stem the bad PR that such a process was causing.

Posted: January 10th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

George Locke

There is no easy answer to this one. If you allow your family the rituals they want, they may be more satisfied with the proceedings, but the church you despise reaps some benefits. It seems to me that the larger issue is the affront to your memory that such a ceremony would represent. People who knew you would know that you thought the funeral was a farce, and it would discolor the whole event.

A Catholic ceremony for you would not be a celebration of your life. It would deny you a dignified death. The only respectful thing for your family to do would be to allow you the right to your beliefs.

The problem is that if your family is simply incapable of respecting your beliefs, then they would resent a secular ceremony. If they don’t respect your beliefs, it’s easy to ask why you should respect theirs, but you may be willing to swallow your pride for their sake. If you judge their intolerance to be so great, and you can accept an act of submission as your last on this earth, then you will choose the Catholic funeral.

Posted: January 10th 2011

See all questions answered by George Locke


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