Similar to you, I started reading this issue today as I sat in the waiting room of an auto repair shop.
I certainly agree with you about Janet L. Factor’ essay. It was beautiful, had a strong emotional impact and made me mentally review both my parents’ deaths.
I started reading Tom’s article but the car was ready so I haven’t finished it yet. We each have our own desires about how to handle our exit. It doesn’t matter to me because I’ll have ceased to exist. However, because we have all built meaning into our lives by our actions, I enjoy recalling the positive ones at the memorials of my friends so we all have the opportunity to enjoy the person one last time.
The issue was on our newstand last Sunday but as Zarcus notes the section on dying is all on-line. They indicated they hadn’t dealt with this in a number of years.
I did not buy the magazine for this topic and only skimmed it briefly. At first I was not happy because this wasn’t what I wanted to read about. However, upon reflection I will put away and save the magazine for some later time when I want to visit this topic.
The thing which sticks with me upon the first run through of the issue is the eulogy using text from another book of Dawkins, and a reflection on how extremely lucky we should consider ourselves to be alive at all, given the number of potential humans possible with our DNA and the vicissitudes of life before being conceived.
When my best friend and business partner drowned three years ago 200 people drove from all over the country to mourn his passing and celebrate his life. We threw a drunken party without the department store Santa Claus. He was a secular humanist too, and had rejected his Catholic upbringing. We planted a memorial tree, and scattered his ashes according to his wishes. I strongly disagree with what Tom Flynn wrote. Our party, the tree, and scattering ashes were part of a healing process that helped us move on with life. I haven’t seen so much excellent tequila and whiskey at one party since the wake. The only thing I would change at my wake is there will be no church ceremony. My friend did not want one, but left no will, and his family insisted. The priest’s eulogy was a fill-in-the-blanks sham, as my friend quit attending church long before the priest arrived in town.
OK. So I don’t disagree with everything Flynn wrote, but he’s wrong about funeral rites not helping the living. Secular wakes such as the one we threw down by the river can be very beneficial.
Great post, fotobits. Sorry to hear about your business partner. FWIW, I disagree with Tom Flynn’s take on this too. Well, to be clear, I think this sort of thing should be up to the individuals involved. If they feel that a funeral or celebration of some sort is in order, then they should do it! I had a similar issue with Flynn’s anti-Christmas stance, which you can listen to in a PoI from last year IIRC. Celebrations and so-called “rites of passage” can be fun for everyone. They are a good reason to get friends and family together, particularly people who live far away and who simply aren’t going to show up on a whim, especially all together.
There are very easy ways to do any of these non-religiously, which in the case of funerals FI outlined very well. FWIW I thought it was an excellent issue for that very reason.
Of course, I am also quite happy to say that if Flynn doesn’t feel these sorts of occasions are comfortable for him, then by all means, sit them out. Nobody should feel obligated to attend or celebrate anything. Part of Flynn’s point is that in our culture sometimes people feel social pressure to join the Christmas/wedding/funeral/etc. bandwagon, and not everyone wants to do that. There should be room for the non-celebration-inclined secularists as well. And of course, Flynn is totally right about that.
The thing that helped most at my friend’s wake was reconnecting with some friends I hadn’t seen in too long and making new friends. Tom Flynn has every right to request no services of any kind after his death, but his essay seemed to suggest memorial services serve no useful purpose. Then Flynn concluded:
To my mind, the closest secular humanism comes to splendor is when it fortifies us with the existential courage to face life’s dark truths head-on—without denial, without evasion, without euphemism. Death is real and final and, therefore, supremely unlike those empty husks of rites whose only honest purpose was to petition nonexistent deities to grant nonexistent felicity to nonexistent souls.
This is precisely what we did once we dispensed of the absurd Catholic funeral. We camped by the river where our friend launched his kayak on his final morning and celebrated the good times we had with him over the years in a manner he would have appreciated: with excellent tequila and whiskey, many hugs, a lot of tears, and much laughter. Flynn made a lot of good points about the uselessness of formal funeral rites, but in his broad generalization missed the positive aspects of secular wakes.
Flynn’s stance (which I know only from this thread) seems a little strange to me since ultimately as believers in no life after death, what other people do to mark our passing isn’t really any of our business. It’s really for and about them anyway, since we will no longer exist. I think the idea that one should have some say in one’s funeral rites, or lack thereof, is just a holdover from the idea that something of a person, and a person’s rights, persists after death. I have lots of cool ideas for my own funeral, but ultimately it’s up to anyone left behind who cares to decide what to do, and if they have a fundamentalist evangelical funeral it’s no skin off my nose.
Haven’t gotten my copy yet or the time to read the online articles, but this is exactly the sort of topic I’m itnerested in, so I’m waiting quite impatiently.
Re. the “next generation”, I can say that one of the things that led me to get more involved with CFI is my impression that there are a lot of smart young folks getting in the door and making a difference. It’s no longer just the older generation. CFI needs new blood and is getting it. I am thinking of DJ Grothe, Thomas Donnelly, Debbie Goddard, Lauren Becker, and in NYC Austin Dacey and Derek Araujo. And these are only the ones I know, I’m sure there are others in other local CFI communities. Basically ALL of CFI’s web-presence is being spearheaded by the younger crowd here.
And I don’t get the feeling that these younger folks are quite as doctrinaire as you fear.
So my feeling is that the skeptical community is quite healthy nowadays, and will be able to survive the losses which inevitably will come.
I thought this was a very nice issue that presented many different perspectives. I’m not sure where my views lie on the topic yet. I think that thoughts about dying are for the living and not for the dead. But that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with them. There is beauty in the poetry. And, the most beautoful part is that we each get to write it ourselves. The way that we want to.
There is nothing that isn’t “so bad” about death. I find it absolutely horrifying. I even hate going to sleep and having to be unconscious.
I absoloutely agree with you ... it seems to me (and I stress this is just my opinion) that many atheists, balking at theist claims of an afterlife (with its implication that we simply no longer exist if we don’t believe them), do a knee-jerk reaction and claim they are unafraid of death. I know I am terrified of dying, the process of dying in part of course as it may well be unpleasant or painful but mostly I am scared sh**less of no longer being ... of course many a theist has then responded to my “fears” in an obvious fashion leading to somewhat vicious replies on my part (usually detailing what I think of their dumb fairy tales.
But yeah ... I fear death, not so that I can’t function but I genuinely (passionately) want to avoid it. If vampires were real I’d want to be one ... immortality, control over the opposite sex (especially the good looking ones if Hollywood and Hammer are to be believed), what’s not to like and who needs sunlight anyway?