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For funeral directors - the religion-free option
From the newsletter for funeral directors and others, summer 2007.
There's increasing evidence that fewer people are subscribing to organised religion in the UK. Richard Dawkins was named "Author of the Year" at the Galaxy British Book Awards in March 2007 for his bestseller "The God Delusion". Recent research by the Christian charity Tearfund showed that 40% of the population "has no religion" and two thirds of those polled hadn't been to church in the previous year. 36% of the respondents to an Ipsos MORI poll for the British Humanist Association last year broadly identified with three basic Humanist principles: they felt that scientific and other evidence helps us to understand the universe, rather than religion; they felt that we don't need religion to know the difference between right and wrong, and they base their judgements of right and wrong on "the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world". Interestingly, 42% said that the Government "pays too much attention to religious groups and leaders". Research by the University of Manchester (and others) shows that young people are less religious than older people and show no signs of becoming more religious as they grow older. If this trend continues it's likely that, over the next few decades, non-religious funerals will become more common than religious ones.
One consequence of changing attitudes is an increase in the number of people who don't subscribe to any organised religion but are unwilling to openly reject it, so when a relative who lived without religion dies, they may choose what we call a pick 'n mix funeral that includes a hymn or two, and maybe a prayer. We won't do them because we're atheists and it would be hypocritical to pretend otherwise. We're glad that others offer such ceremonies. However, we wonder how many families are properly informed about what we offer?
If someone has lived without religion, is it appropriate to mark his or her death with a religious ceremony? Are some clients choosing semi-religious ceremonies for fear of upsetting older relatives, or because they're worried about "what people might think", or because they imagine that a non-religious ceremony might be cold and impersonal? If so, you might reassure them that a Humanist funeral could be their best option. Even religious people have said that they prefer our form of ceremony to others, because they're dignified, relevant and personal. Many mourners have said things like, "That's just what I want, when I go!" So if you're not familiar with Humanist funerals, be prepared for a positive reaction from the clients who choose one of ours. We have an unblemished record for high standards.
We talk about what we have in common - the experiences of love and loss, the durability of memory, the bonds of family and community - and don't talk about what divides us - religious belief. Our ceremonies include everyone and have relevance to everyone. That's what our clients often tell us. Of course, some funerals are especially difficult. We've done funerals for suicides, murder victims, infants, criminals and abusers. Whatever the circumstances, we aim to make people feel better, not worse, for the experience, and we're very conscious of the fact that we only have one chance to get a funeral right.
If you have any questions about our ceremonies, or you'd like one of us to come and talk about what we offer, please get in touch.