Friday, July 20, 2012

Reverse birthday party

I was reading a post today over at Black Skeptics where the topic was the death of a friend-- and atheist-- of writer Sikivu Hutchinson. I think funerals naturally draw people toward thinking about their own deaths and what their own funerals ought to be like. As in the case of this man, there was no choice available in the matter, as his friends and family proceeded with a Catholic ceremony in a church. My own family is ostensibly Buddhist with a few Catholics sprinkled around, and so far every family funeral I've attended has been largely Buddhist in nature, so I think I know what to expect if I don't specify otherwise (and I will, by the way).

So here's a good question. It's been asked and answered before but let me provide my own take on it: should atheists have funerals? I mean why bother? The standard answer is that funerals are not for the deceased, but for those they've left behind, because everyone needs a sense of closure and a chance to say goodbye.

Except funerals are for the deceased, just not while they're deceased. Your funeral is your final hurrah, your last and only reverse birthday party, and I think the living take some comfort in knowing that they'll have one eventually, especially if they've had the foresight to plan for it.

But it's most important to soldiers, policemen and firefighters, who risk their lives as a part of their profession. Even if they don't believe in an afterlife, knowing that a grand display awaits them in death reminds them of why they do what they do and who they're fighting for. It isn't even necessarily a matter of the funeral itself, but the ceremony is one component in a greater zeitgeist of admiration and respect for the lives lived.

What's my funeral gonna be like? Well, if I get my way, I'll be disposed of in the most economical and environmentally friendly way possible, and there won't be any Buddhist monks chanting for six hours straight, that's for damn sure (An impressive feat, but ultimately useless. Kind of like carrying a cross 1500 miles). And I would most likely have a statement prepared stating my final existential musings, the things that I couldn't speak to everyone more plainly about while I was alive (Hey, I'm dead. I can say whatever the fuck I want.). I'm pretty sure this is the route most academic atheists will take so in that sense I'm a bore. Well you know what? It's my reverse birthday party, and as long as it's not a surprise party, I'm happy as a clam.