The Los Angeles Times is running an interesting opinion piece, tying the memorial for the Newtown victims with church-state separation issues (among other things). It’s worth reading, and worth commenting on. They 1) note the ecumenical nature of the service, 2) assert that a non-religious memorial would have been somehow incomplete and off-putting, and 3) note the lack of complaint by atheist groups about the inclusion of religious text at a memorial held at a secular school. It’s as if they are surprised that atheist groups haven’t reacted to this funeral like, say, the Westboro Baptist Church has. (The WBC is not mentioned in the story.)
I was moved to comment at the LA Times site:
A few years ago, my atheist brother died; his atheist children and atheist siblings, myself included, were offended by, but did not object to, blatantly religious elements at his memorial. I could have gone on at length about how my brother’s good works grew from his atheism, from his understanding that he, not some god, was the power that could make the world better for the children he loved. That his actions, not prayers, made a difference.
His friends and neighbors knew he was an atheist, but not everyone did, and (it is the dominant, privileged culture, after all) christian messages were featured by many of the speakers. From the perspective of my brother’s children, this was inappropriate. I agree. But it would also have been inappropriate for us to choose that moment to make a stand. There was something far more important happening–we were comforting one another, knowing we would never see my brother, their father, again.
The fact that there are no explicitly atheistic elements at a funeral does not mean there are no atheists there. It does not mean that atheists don’t find some of the religious messages inappropriate. We (I speak for myself, at least) recognize that this is how the religious grieve. We let them, as we wish they would let us. It would be nice if my own funeral were non-theistic… but at that point, I won’t be able to control what happens.
What are your own thoughts? I was limited at the Times by character count, and perhaps by the need to speak to a different audience than reads here. Feel free to respond, both here and there.