I have attended quite a few funerals in my life. In fact, I was a part-time employee of a funeral home when I was in high school. Several of us were excused from classes for a couple hours in the afternoon to park cars for the procession to the gravesite. In my Senior year, I was promoted to hearse driver, a huge black Cadillac, that doubled as an ambulance, with all the flashing lights and siren. I loved driving it.
The typical funeral service back then was presided over by the pastor of a local church where the deceased was a member. It was primarily a religious service, assuring friends and family who were attending that the departed one was “with Jesus now,” or something similar. But the body was lying there, usually in an open coffin, for everyone to see. So, what was it that had departed and left this chunk of meat behind? The Soul, of course. But if the Soul is gone, why is the bereaved family spending a small fortune on this elaborate ritual and fancy polished metal casket with its cushy interior padding? Does the corpse need to be comfortable when it’s underground? Even though the person has departed?
People come to funerals to “pay respects” to the deceased, but if the preacher is right, the deceased ain’t there. He’s “gone to a better place.” If he is “sitting at the feet of Jesus,” those feet better be about a million miles wide to accommodate all the billions of people who have supposedly taken a seat there over the last two thousand years.
Funeral rituals have a long history, going back to ancient times, but things are starting to change. Some people nowadays have done away with the fancy funeral and just have a memorial service for friends and family members to “celebrate the memory” of the person, and they often opt for cremation. That seems more sensible. It doesn’t cost as much, or occupy land that could be used for other purposes…like growing food, or even for a recreational park.
But back to the question: Why do humans throughout our history, feel this need to coddle the carcass of a dead person? Let’s take a side road here and talk about how all-pervasive this idea is. Anti-abortionists insist that abortion clinics must treat the fetal remains “with respect.” Of course, this is really just posturing to support their notion that when an egg is fertilized, the Almighty inserts the soul, and presto, it’s a human being. That raises a bunch of questions, like what happens to all those poor lost souls when the egg does not attach to the uterus wall, and is…um…merged with other waste and excreted? That doesn’t seem very respectful. Another question: Do they all go up to Heaven to “sit at the feet of Jesus?” I have this picture in my mind of Jesus fleeing from a huge and growing mountain of zygotes, blastocysts and fetuses that were ejected, miscarried or aborted, and is threatening to bury him. Surely, they all belong in Heaven. They cannot possibly have committed any sins, so they are as pure as Jesus himself. All those tiny people, some of them microscopic, deserve the same respect as a member of your family who dies, don’t they? Every one of them deserves a funeral service and a fancy casket…or at least composting and a memorial service.
Now, it would be hard to find all those zygote-people who didn’t make it, but that shouldn’t stop the true believer who insists that they are all human beings and should be treated with respect. No effort should be too great.
I am almost 83 years old, and I am contemplating the end of my life. I do not fear it. And what happens to my “remains” is of no interest to me. In the immortal words of Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable), in the film, Gone With The Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”