Greg Epstein is a “humanist chaplain” at Harvard. (Come to think of it, I would love to see his job description.) He gives an answer to the question: “It’s a failure of community… What religion has to offer to people—more than theology, more than divine presence—is community. And we [humanists] need to provide an alternative form of community if we’re going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers”. Epstein also proposes that emphasis on reason, often presented as an antidote to religious faith, is not enough for the humanist message; it should be “reason in the service of compassion”. What he means is that humanists should engage themselves in activities that improve lives in this world, rather than simply rejecting the faith that there is anything beyond this world.
The piece itself concerns humanists, a broad category that includes atheists, agnostics and deists.
I don’t know the humanist view on this, but as an atheist who has made specific to various friends and family members that no funeral of mine should be held in a church, I can offer this: a funeral is for the living, not the dead, and many times (which I have personally seen), the way a person lived and believed (or didn’t believe) is ignored for displays of public piety by those surviving the dead.
Although this is by definition morbid, it still should be said.
I have a great relationship with my mother. She is a devout Christian of the Southern Baptist variety, and should she outlive me, there will no doubt be some kind of service at her church – I’m sure of that as I’m sure of the law of gravity. My atheism is an absolute shame to her, and each time I’m home for a visit she will tell me about some physicist who believes in god or some other such oddity that shows that the Bible is the truth. I understand where she’s coming from, but I’m unswayed.
What I have told anyone who cares about me is this: my body better be burned and my ashes spread in the beer garden of my favorite watering hole before any such service takes place. After that, a wake recalling the better parts of me is to be held at said watering hole for anyone who cares to attend – that’s how I want to be remembered. No expensive casket, no public displays of howling and bawling and “Amen” and “huzzah.” That’s not me, and it hasn’t been at any point in my adult life.
I don’t want a holy man standing at an altar pontificating about how deep down, I was a spiritual person – I’m not. There is nothing spiritual about me beyond the spark of humanity I share with 6 billion other human beings currently living.
So, why no humanists at funerals? Because the religious people have a monopoly on public grieving, that’s why.