Respect the wish

Leo Igwe has a piece on humanist funerals in Nigeria in The Guardian (Nigeria).

ON February 9, 2013, the former Chairman of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Eze Ebisike died after a brief illness. On March 2, he was buried in his hometown, Okpokume, Mpam, Ekwerazu Ahiazu Mbiase in Imo State. Ebisike was an ex-Catholic priest and an atheist. He was buried after a short humanist funeral ceremony in the compound. The ceremony was a historic event because it was the first time, in that part of the country that someone who was an atheist was given a non-religious funeral.

Another cleric turned atheist and executive Humanist.

For humanists, a funeral ceremony is not a rite of passage for the deceased. A funeral is a celebration of a life lived, a life which has ended. A funeral is an opportunity for family and friends to pay tribute to the memory of someone who has died.

For humanists, when people die, they live on in the minds and memories of their loved ones, not in a heaven or a hell. They live on in the legacies they leave behind, in the good (and also the bad) which they did. They live on in their children, their descendants. Funerals are special times to remember and to relive those sweet memories, and pay our last respects to a person whom we are lucky to have shared this short life with.

That’s a beautiful way of putting it.

Some non-religious people are indifferent to what kind of funeral they have, but Leo is not.

Religious as well as humanist funeral ceremonies are for the living. And there are non-religious persons who would not want their memories to be insulted or corrupted by a religious funeral service. It is important that people respect the wish of their humanist friends and family members and accord them a funeral that is in line with their beliefs and outlook. For me, like Eze Ebisike, when I die, if there is a funeral, I would like to be given a secular/humanist funeral service. I would like my family members and friends to respect this wish. That I be accorded a funeral ceremony that is in line with the humanist ideas, values and beliefs that I professed and lived by during my lifetime.

That seems only fair.


  1. Bjarte Foshaug says

    My mother was an atheist, and while she was still alive she made my father promise that if she died before him, she would not get a religious funeral. However, when she died her mother insisted on a Christian sermon, complete with psalms and Bible verses, and threatened to boycott the funeral unless she had it her way.

    As a compromise we settled on a funeral in two parts: The first part was a beautiful celebration my mother’s life. The second part was a grotesque parody of a funeral that we had to put up with to keep the peace in the family. I can think of no greater insult to a person’s memory than using his/her death as an opportunity to celebrate everything (s)he hated.

  2. Sastra says

    Yes, it is only fair. The popular mantra “funerals are for the living” has too often been used as permission to insult the memory of the person who has died. I’ve attended funerals given for atheists — including atheist activists — where the relatives used the opportunity to promote the religion which split the family. God, god, god, Jesus, Jesus, let us pray. Is there really no other way for the pious to be comforted than to ostentatiously take over a public ceremony meant to honor and remember the person who has died?

    Atheists are supposed to be sympathetic. Who cares? Your atheist friend is dead. Let them say whatever they want at the funeral. Poor bereaved things need it. Doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t matter to you.

    I don’t buy that. I used to, once. But I’m changing my mind.

  3. FresnoBob says

    Long before I formed any concrete thoughts about the existence of a deity or the influence of religion I found funerals grotesque affairs.

    I can’t see how people actually get comfort from a pious stranger in vestments pontificating about life and death while the funeral industry does its best to make them feel guilty for not choosing a more expensive casket or flashy container for their ashes.

    You don’t have to be a committed humanist to not want that.

  4. jenniferphillips says

    Bjarte, I agree that it seems absurd to apply that kind of ceremony to a departed person who didn’t embrace religion in life, but I find it far more sad that you and your like-minded family members had to endure something that was unpleasant to you at an already stressful time.

    At this point I can’t identify any relative who would actively seek a full-blown religious ceremony on my behalf, but I wonder about the availability of alternative, humanist ceremony templates. Who knows what level of event planning my survivors might be up for if there isn’t a ready made secular funeral package? I don’t really have strong wishes about my memorial, other than that my surviving family should do whatever makes them feel better, and if that turns out to be a “she’s sitting on Jesus’ lap in heaven now'” sort of schlockfest, well, I’ll be beyond caring, won’t I?

    Losing a parent is hard, though, and strife over how to memorialize them certainly doesn’t make it easier. You have my sympathy.

  5. says


    I wonder about the availability of alternative, humanist ceremony templates. Who knows what level of event planning my survivors might be up for if there isn’t a ready made secular funeral package?

    Good point! This is something that I’ve often thought about. Like Igwe I want a humanist funeral, but I fear that unless I left very specific instructions, my religious family would give me a Christian funeral by default (it probably wouldn’t even occur to them that that would be an insult to my memory). That’s why I intend to do as much of the planning of my own funeral before I die. Mind you, I think that’s probably a good idea regardless of whether you have strong preferences for what type of funeral you want, just to save your family from having to plan a funeral in their grief stricken state.

    Of course it’s much easier said than done. As strongly as I feel about having my funeral take place on my terms and as much as I want to save my loved ones from having to deal with all the funeral arangements, I haven’t actually lifted a finger to do something about it. It just seems rather morbid, and besides, I’m young I have plenty of time before I need to start thinking about death…

  6. flybywire says

    When my father passed away last year he absolutely demanded that we give him a humanist funeral, although he wanted us to come up with what it would be.

    His mother demanded a regular funeral, but we told her to mind her own business. I love my Grandma and take care of her and she knows that, so she didn’t give us any grief about it, but she was still unhappy.

    My Brother and i put together a completely non-religious event that I hope someday will be used with my death. A lot of people came up to me afterwards, including very religious friends, and said how wonderful they thought it was. So it can work, but maybe we just got lucky with our relatives and friends who are religious.

  7. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Thanks Jennifer. Of course I don’t expect to be around to care either, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t care now, and my mother definitely cared. That’s thing about deeply held values. Your commitment to them isn’t limited to your own lifetime…

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