How to Hold a Funeral Without God

It’s hard enough dealing with all the grief surrounding anyone’s funeral. But there’s also the unique challenge of keeping religion out of it, if that’s what the family (or deceased) wants.

Jane Wynne Willson‘s book Funerals Without God has been around since 1989, but if you haven’t read it before, a new edition is now available on Kindle (with a snazzy new cover… which doesn’t really matter since it’s on the Kindle).

It’s perfect for Humanists who might become officiants one day, funeral directors who want to be able to offer non-religious services, and family members who want to put together a funeral without mentions of god.

You hope you never have to use a book like this, but if you do, it’s a good resource to have.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • chansen

    Due to my son’s illness, this is the sort of information I was about to go searching out so I would have it at hand, just in case.  Thank you for the information, and the timing.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Every time I see lilium candidum I recall the wall paintings of Knossos, and I wander what pagan associations this flower may have had before turning up in Renaissance paintings of The Annunciation.

  • hannah

    “You hope you never have to use a book like this, but if you do, it’s a good resource to have.”  Incorrect – I very much want to use a book like this, though I hope I don’t have to use it for many decades.  I want my loved ones to make it clear what sort of commemoration they want, so that in the hours and days after a death we’re not suckered through distraction and grief into something we’re not comfortable with.

  • ursulamajor

    When my atheist/agnostic mother was dying, she asked me to speak at her funeral. I spoke about her life, her family, her talents and hobbies. I praised her good quailities and in general terms, forgave her bad (they were many). At the end, I said, “Mom was not a believer, but I know some of you are. Let us have a moment of silent reflection.”  It was acknowledging others’ beliefs without letting them play out as a main theme for the funeral. Everyone seemed okay with it.

  • advancedatheist

    Atheists need to stop this “funeral” nonsense now that cryonics has reached the threshold of scientific and medical respectability as a way of providing the dying with a metaphorical “ambulance to the future” to try to benefit from the superior health care in the coming centuries. Study the massive amount of information the cryonics pioneer (and critic of the current state of practice) Mike Darwin has posted on his website:

    http://chronopause.com/ 

    The neuroscientist Sebastian Seung has also defended cryonic suspension of the brain as a feasible experiment in his book Connectome. I have it on good authority that Seung will speak at Alcor’s conference in Scottsdale this October.

  • summertimebluesandgreens

    No prayers, no mention of God? To be a snot, how hard is this?

    • Old Fogey

      A rhetorical question, it seems. You are welcome to your imaginary friend, but don’t expect everybody to believe in him/them/it.

      • Liv

        Old Fogey, methinks summertime… was commenting on the lack of difficulty ommitting God and prayers, not suggesting it wouldn’t be difficult to just include it anyway.

      • summertimebluesandgreens

        I wasn’t clear at all. As far as I’m concerned if the deceased and/or the loved ones want absolutely no mention of anything supernatural at the funeral then their wishes should be honored. Should anyone be so stupid as to ignore these wishes they should be politely escorted out and disinvited to any gatherings since they cannot get past their own selfishness. One mention of any god, savior, afterlife..whatever, they leave.

    • Rickray1949

      Since I’m Pastafarian, and he/she/it is just as real as your make-believe god, I think I’ll have a nice big picture of my imaginary non-existent god during the funeral service and instead of “actual” blood/wine , bread/body,  as with jeebus, we’ll have a serving of spaghetti and meatballs.   My menu is real and tastes much better than a biscuit and cheap wine.   Besides, everyone who believes in me doesn’t have to worry about cowering down to me in order to get into a heaven.   My favorite saying…. “Any god(s) who create a hell for his children should be the first to be skinned and roasted on a rotisserie so as to be fed his own medicine.  

  • PattiEFink
  • Timatter

    The best non-religious service I attended was the funeral of a 87 year old man I only met months before who was a Quaker.  They announce that there wasn’t going to be a preacher or a sermon.  Poeple that knew him were invited to tell stories of how “Bill” touched their lives.  Apparently he was quite a character who told you exactly what he thought, which people either loved or hated, and he was always busy and helped a lot of people.  How many times have you heard laughter at funerals?  It was a celebration of the life he lived.

  • Liv

    My dad had a funeral without God.  I was very young at the time, but I’m sure mum wouldn’t have done it that way if it had been at all difficult to remove it.  Perhaps this is more of an issue in the States??


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