This is another post that’s being pulled from the draft folder. The first draft was written a couple of years ago. My grandfather had just died and on the day after the funeral something popped up in my RSS reader. It was a smug and rather vicious piece by a bishop about how atheism had nothing to offer at funerals. He went one with some relish imagining what atheists would say to grieving families. I think the idea was to contrast it with the caring, consoling approach of Christianity. Instead it just read as an intolerant rant and probably revealed far too much of his own suppressed desires of what he’d want to say at a funeral.
My reply never went up. I wanted to write something that was the opposite. Not a piece that said Christianity was a lie and offered nothing of value for the grievers. Whether or not it’s true it’s not something you’d want to rub in the face of a family that’s lost someone. So I wanted to write something positive. After writing it I had no anger for the bishop, only pity. Respect for the feelings of another human being isn’t a uniquely atheist position. Nearly all the Christians I know share the same feelings. The venom of the original post suggested he’d lost some connection to humanity and his rage was more about his own problems. Publicly naming him and berating him wasn’t going to help.
It stayed unpublished because it seems a common feature for someone with bigoted views to claim they’re “Christian” views rather than personal views. Reductio ad absurdum the Westboro Baptist Church claim their picketing of funerals is not a demonstration of the hate at the core of their beliefs but a necessity of Christian values. The fact that many Christians vehemently disagree shows that the Phelps clan are at best self-deluded. Treating bigots as spokesmen for Christians does no one any favours.
But if you strip away the spite and hate, the bishop raised an interesting question. If there is no eternal reward what hope is there for the future? For someone raised in a religious tradition it’s a reasonable question. Just before Christmas my grandmother became seriously ill. Recent events mean I’ve taken this out of the drafts folder and had a go at re-writing it.