On the Sunday morning after the brutal murder of a young, idealistic UK politician, I turned on the BBC news to hear that ‘memorial church services for Jo Cox are being held around the UK this morning’, though they forgot to add ‘and lonely, cash-strapped vicars around the country shouted ‘Kerr-ching!’
Yes, I am a cynic, but it had been that kind of week. For the previous two days I had been in a Facebook row with a church “development worker” over the local cathedral’s response to the Orlando shootings.
It began when the local gay group sent supporters a picture of a rainbow flag at half-mast in the cathedral gardens along with an invitation to a Saturday night Orlando vigil at the cathedral. In turn, I’d forwarded it to my humanist group’s Facebook page with the quip:
Some discussion followed, in which the church worker who’d posted the original invitation joined in (and who turned out to be a pleasant enough, if somewhat naïve, bisexual activist), with some saying that we should give churches credit for doing something.
I disagreed, passionately, reminding people that this was the same church which, along with every other local religious organisation, had responded to a 2014 government consultation on equal marriage with bile that went way beyond the usual quoting of Leviticus and on to worries about spreading AIDS and paedophilia.
I found it appalling to see sickos like that treating a mass murder – inspired by their very ignorance – as yet another chance to attract new members (and their wallets).
Incidentally, the following Monday, the bishop who presides over that cathedral was at a General Synod held behind closed doors in York to sort out Anglican divisions over sexuality. As one of three bishops appointed to gather suitable material and offer evidence ( a little matter he “forgot” to tell his flock about), and a known opponent of same sex marriage, it is a safe bet that what he said would bring no comfort to the gay community.
Consider how else, even with more time, a small gay community could hold a vigil. Where would it be? A nightclub or hotel function room is hardly a sombre enough setting.
And when anyone else outside the churches with their vast faith-barns wants to remember, say, a plane crash or a fire in a large building, who could host it? The town hall? A local government run entertainment complex?
In a 2013 piece for the print version of the Freethinker I raised similar concerns about church vultures preying on disasters. There I’d mentioned a shooting rampage in Cumbria on 2nd June 2010, in which a lone gunman – Derrick Bird – killed 12 people and injured 11 others before finally killing himself.
There was the inevitable rash of heavily TV covered church services – some government organised, others by religious opportunists. But what a search through known details of the 12 victims revealed was that only one couple identified as devout Christians, and that another was a committed humanist whose family had specifically asked churches not to mention him in their TV fundathons (sorry, “services”). All the churches, inevitably, totally ignored the family’s wishes.
As I concluded in my previous Freethinker piece:
… we can and need to do more than mutter at the TV about this. Not just as some abstract, vaguely academic argument but because people in disasters have not got (and will not get) a fair chance to grieve without useless clergy crashing in, running things with government approval, and passing the hat around in the process.
At the very least we have to complain loudly at local level about the inappropriate and hypocritical nature of such religious “community mournings”. In the long term, we need to be tackling local and national government to make sure that commemorations of future disasters– along with the traditional ones like war remembrance – are secular in nature.
It is nothing short of ridiculous that the vast majority of us have the choice of attending tasteless memorials organised by pan-handling merchants of superstition or not paying our respects at all