Ireland is Seeing a Rise in Godless Funerals

We talk a lot about humanist/secular celebrants who can officiate weddings, but not nearly as much about atheists who can preside over funerals. In Ireland, where atheism is on the rise and Catholicism is not, “civil funerals” (as opposed to religious ones) are becoming more commonplace. Paresh Dave of Religion News Service has the story:

Irish funeral directors estimate that 10 percent of the nearly 30,000 funerals conducted annually are nonreligious. Government data show that about 30 percent of the 21,000 weddings annually are outside any church, up from 5 percent two decades ago.

Funeral directors, chaplains, government registers and singers are among those who have signed up to become nonreligious celebrants. Hotels have hosted wedding fairs to showcase themselves as possible secular locales, and a few funeral directors have also recognized that customer preferences are changing.

It’s a welcome shift — at a godless funeral, you have to find a way to talk about the life that was lived instead of the fictional places the deceased may be going to in the afterlife.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I think what we really need is decent grave stone engravers. That thing is terrible. Just like most billboards.

  • pagansister

    GOOD for the Irish! I knew they would finally come to their senses—some of them anyhow. Proud of my ancestry. :-)

  • chicago dyke

    i’ll just start out by saying how much i hate funerals. absolutely hate them.

    why have a funeral? as i’m told, “for the living.” fine. have an irish wake, a gathering, whatever. but never forget: the dead… don’t care. they don’t anything. they are DEAD.

    maybe it’s my background, but i feel NO need to cry in public, or hug relatives, or recite scripture, in public, when a person dies. i don’t need to look at the body anymore than i need to see my sister’s wedding night bedsheets the next morning to confirm she was a virgin for our ‘family honor.’

    my father just died a few months back. also a secularist like me. there was no funeral, and i was GLAD. call me cold, whatever. he left no arrangements for one, his ex wife did not care to spend any of her own money making them. and i was totally OK with that.

    email, phone, letters, whatever. if i feel the need to cry and spasm all over one of his relatives about his death, i’m free to do so, in the privacy of my own office. mostly, i wanted to be left on my own, to adjust to the loss of him in my life. i have been to so many funerals, of so many people, and they never, not once, made me feel “better.”

    they say funerals are “for the living,” but i tend to think of them as “for the mortuary industry’s financial benefit.” srsly? 3K$, just for the box? get the frakk out of here.

  • chicago dyke

    adding, the one thing the immediate family did for dad after he died… his body “went to Science.” he was a good candidate for dissection. he’d signed some papers a ways back to make it possible. so his corpse was put to good use. call me ghoulish, but i know he’d have been proud. no rotting silk and tux for his corpse, but instead: better doctors who will serve all the living someday. a great testament to his legacy, imho.

  • Feminerd

    I definitely understand not doing anything. There is some merit to a funeral in my mind, though. When my great-grandmother died, all of her living children and grandchildren (so my father, his siblings, and his first cousins, as well as my grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles) got together. They mourned her some, but she was something like 98 when she died and had lived a full life. Mostly they celebrated her life and had a wonderful family reunion, as all the cousins hadn’t gotten together in about 20 years. Her death gave the family an excuse to get together, and that’s never bad.

  • MariaO

    I totally agree, CD. Either my mother or I or both were constantly at my fathers side for the last days of his life but once he was dead it was over. When the doctor asked for permission to do an autopsy because there were things to be learned we said “of course”. And we had no funeral and there is no grave. I prefer to remember people living. And even though he died more than twenty years ago I still miss him. Often.

  • Geoff Boulton

    Certainly there’s big money in funerals. There was a scandal in Poland where paramedics were killing people specifically to make money from the bodies, up to 70,000 złoty (21,000 dollars, 14,000 uk pounds). You can read about it on Wikipedia

  • MD

    If it wasn’t for that neat trick of tying national identity with Catholicism, the rates of secular celebrations would be much higher. I have Irish friends who disagree with the Catholic Church on everything, but still get their children to first communion prep because, well, “we’re Irish””

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Your dad’s decision to donate his body for medical research was beautiful. Nothing ghoulish about it. I find dressed up corpses in open caskets ghoulish, not your dad’s generous and helpful gift.

    I understand you get nothing useful from funerals. You grieve in your own way, at your own pace, in private, and that’s totally fine. Doesn’t mean you’re cold or that there’s anything wrong with you. Please understand other people grieve differently. They do find comfort in shared grief, in crying among friends and family, it’s cathartic. I’m secular, and want to participate in memorial services to celebrate the life lived, and to mourn its loss together. I don’t need to be denigrated for that, just as you don’t need to be called cold for how you deal with loss.