Christians and a de-convert’s reactions to death

June 12, 2008 at 5:14 pm 20 comments

This week a lady died at our church. B- was a wonderful, smiling person who was always a pleasure to chat with. She was also a talented artist. In fact she is single-handedly responsible for all the icons in the church. She also taught iconography (either the history and theology, or the actual painting, or both) to most of the folks in the church.

Her death was sudden, but once you’re over 80, death can’t be too big a surprise. At least B- went peacefully. Sunday she was her usual self – I exchanged a few words with her – and Monday she took a nap from which she didn’t wake up.

So now I’m watching folks react to B-‘s death.

My own first reaction was, “Whoa! She seemed just fine Sunday. What a shame. We’ll really miss her.” Since then, the rest of my thoughts on her have been about what a neat person she was and of all that she gave to others. Her art, her teaching, her kindness, her example of humility. In so far as there is such a thing as a Christian standard for living, then, in my opinion, B- is one of the few examples of it. Heck, if being Christian made people become like B-, they wouldn’t be able to put up buildings fast enough to hold all the converts.

So far the reactions I’ve seen from Christians has puzzled me though. They are almost uniformly hang-dog about it. Lots of long faces and mourning. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

In my Christian days the peaceful death of an old person who has lived a full and good life, seemed only mildly sad (because I’d miss him/her) and mostly good. After all they were now free from suffering, in the best of all possible places, and I’d see them again in that happy place in a few decades or so. I felt only mild sadness and I enjoyed reflecting on that I had learned from the dearly departed.

Nowadays, I don’t expect to see B- again, but I still enjoy reflecting on her life, her art, and what I learned from her. And if she had to go, I’m glad she went so peacefully.

So y’all help me out here. Why are the believers all mourning like their own baby just died? The only response I’ve gotten so far is, “I’m just gonna miss her so, boo-hoo-hoooooooo.” Seems rather self-centered to me. …… Of course, cynic that I am, I think the faith of most Christians is entirely self-centered.

Ah well. Any of you de-cons think you can figure this out for me? Why all the anguish?

– LeoPardus

Entry filed under: LeoPardus. Tags: , , .

What does a de-converted minister do with all their stuff? Why d-C? – The Problem of Other Religions

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Non Sicuro  |  June 12, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Surely it is a tendency of faith to be a self-centered thing, whether outward evidence suggests it or not. In other words, even if there are apparently “self-less” “fruits” that are held out as proof of a person’s faith, ultimately the whole construction of faith relies on each individual as the final point-of-reference. (I’ve got a theory about everyone always doing what they ultimately want to do without exception.)

    But some of the boo-hoo around a death can honestly be associated with the pain of loss if people really knew B- closely. I had pretty much abandoned faith when I recently lost my grandfather, but the boo-hoo certainly showed up in me as I was very much unable to have an immediate pleasant objective perspective on the loss.

    Now, I’m glad for him to be free from suffering and I can reflect on the good times, but for a while, I shed some tears.

  • 2. LeoPardus  |  June 12, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve got a theory about everyone always doing what they ultimately want to do without exception.

    You too eh? My succint statement on theology has for some time been, “Everyone just makes it up as they go along.”

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • 3. orDover  |  June 12, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    I think that it can be hard to know how much to morn, how many tears you can shed before you can be happy without looking insensitive. Even though Christians tell each other to rejoice in death, to be glad, not sad, because their loved one has gone to heaven, I think anyone who doesn’t shed a few tears at a funeral would be considered callous or even rude. I’ve been to a few (luckily not many) Christian funerals, and even though they say that funerals should be joyful celebrations, they never are.

    When you have groups of people together, like a church congregation, they often feed off of one another and model behavior accordingly. Maybe these people aren’t all that sad, but they feel that common decency requires that they should be?

    I don’t know. Maybe it’s a combination of something akin to groupthink and exaggerating grief to show that they really cared about her?

  • 4. aussie guy  |  June 12, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    i think perhaps sometimes the greiving process can have something to do with someones personality. i recently had a similar situation where an elderly christian friend died and for me it was basically “well she had a great life, what a cool funeral, what a great example of a christian, i`m moving on!” and that was it. I dont know do you call that lack of compassion? Not sure but thats just me and who i am. Guess thats how i respond to stuff. i think stating “all christians” are like such and such may be a little off the mark because i am certainly not like that. oh and i cant spell well either so if there are any spelling mistakes, sorry. ps. i have been ill for 2 month but i still believe in God!

  • 5. TheNerd  |  June 12, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    I would normally say they were sad at never being able to see her again, but these are Christians. If their faith doesn’t support them in times of trouble, what good is it? If knowing she is in a better place doesn’t make them rejoice, what does it matter?

    From a secular perspective, morning makes sense. It is a self-centered grieving of a loss, the sadness of knowing there are no more happy times to be had with that person. I would say that Christians should be allowed to their self-centered grief, were self-centeredness not anathematized in the church.

    This brings up an interesting point. The dichotomy of self-centeredness and Christ-centeredness permeates Christian culture. Most recently I saw this discussed in the comments of a post on Daylight Atheism on the theory of pre-tribulation rapture, and how it keeps fundamentalist Christians so wrapped up in their own theories of the world, they rarely come out and address long-term global issues.

    In our case today, we see how Christianity fails to properly address the self-centeredness of the personal grieving process. I believe this refusal to condone self-centered introspection is crippling the grieving process. In addition to grief, they are now made to feel guilt at their lack of rejoicing.

  • 6. orDover  |  June 12, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    How does being ill for any amount of months have anything to do with belief or disbelief in god?

    TheNerd – you bring up an excellent point. My Christian parents have adopted that pre-tribulation attitude in response to global warming. They say that it might be real and it might not (thanks, Fox News), but it doesn’t matter either way because the earth is going to be destroyed soon anyway. And so they continue to drive their SUVs and moan about paying over $100 to fill the tank.

  • 7. efrique  |  June 12, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I’ve been to religious funerals and I’ve been to non-religious ones.

    The religious ones were almost uniformly desolate, and a lot of them were vales of tears.

    The completely nonreligious ones were, every single one, celebrations of the person’s life, with tears and fondness and happiness in equal measure.

    I’ve never felt anything but coldness and emptiness at religious funerals. At nonreligious ones, standing squarely to face death, death feels more like part of life, and a funeral like a celebration of a life. My memories of nonrelgious funerals are uniformly warm.

  • 8. SnugglyBuffalo  |  June 12, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    When I die, I want my friends to hold a LAN party in my honor, playing whatever multi-player PC video game is popular at the time. Maybe have a bot with my name, just to screw with people’s ability to let me go 😛

  • 9. LeoPardus  |  June 13, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Some things I heard at the funeral gave me some perspectives.

    Someone compared the departure from this life, by a believer, to a believer moving to another part of the world. You’ll miss seeing them and talking with them and that makes you sad. But you still expect to see them, so it’s just a temporary sadness.

    The other thing I heard was someone saying that a funeral reminds them of all the other people they know who have died. I can imagine that could be a bit overwhelming.

  • 10. LeoPardus  |  June 13, 2008 at 2:27 pm


    Thanks for the perspective. I’ve never been to a non-religious funeral so I don’t know what I’d expect. I have known some non-Christians dealing with death. They do not do any worse than Christians, and I’ve seen some non-Christians handle it very well.

    Seems to me that Christians should handle death better the majority, if not all of the time. As “Nerd” queried, “If their faith doesn’t support them in times of trouble, what good is it?”

  • 11. SnugglyBuffalo  |  June 13, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I also like Strong Bad’s idea: have my body taken to a taxidermist, and displayed suplexing a cougar.

    Really, I refuse to let my death be a typically depressing ordeal. You can mourn on your own time, but if you’re at my funeral, you better be having a good time. I’m going to make damn sure it’s a celebration.

    Somewhat more on-topic, I have been to a religious funeral that wasn’t all sadness and mourning, though it was still more morose than I want my funeral to be. I agree that it seems odd when Christians are unable to be happy when their loved one is supposedly “in a better place.”

  • 12. Joe Sperling  |  June 13, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    At my funeral I would like the following:

    Speaker: “We have a grave situation here. Can you dig it? You in the back there, cover your mouth please or take a VICKS 44 lozenge, it’ll stop that coffin. Please be bury quiet, while I describe to you how Joe always wanted to be a boxboy one day. I have here a gallon of the elixir of cow which will be buried with Joe today, because every body needs milk. Well, we all need to get going so let’s put a lid on it and get to the wake as quickly as possible. But before we go let me tell you they found Mozart in his sarcophogus(?) erasing his music. When he was asked what he was doing he said he was decomposing. OK, let’s go bury the dude now.

    I know—-very bad humor.

  • 13. SnugglyBuffalo  |  June 13, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Haha, puns are at the core of my humor (much to the chagrin of my friends, especially when they catch themselves doing it now!), I love it!

  • 14. Quester  |  June 13, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Joe Sperling, putting the “fun” back in FUNeral. *grin*

  • 15. pastaj  |  June 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Ya know, it could be, that whether we are religious or non religious is beside the point. We are all human. Yes, religious folks SHOULD rejoice that they will see their loved ones, but the fact is, many don’t, but give them a little credit, they’ll miss dear friends that they more than likely got very acquainted with over the years through their church. When Moses died, the children of Israel wept for him for like a month and half, and they had seen the very presence of God. They KNEW Moses was going to a better place, but they still mourned a long time for their friend and leader. People aren’t perfect, and Christians sometimes don’t back up what they say they believe, but they’re people, just like non religious folks are, just like we all are.

  • 16. karen  |  June 14, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Interesting reactions, Leo.

    In the fundy churches I attended, I often felt that there was an annoying amount of forced cheerfulness at funerals, particularly those of people who died suddenly, very young, etc.

    Several fundy funerals I attended were infused with this Rule that We Should Not Be Sorrowful, but should Rejoice! because this person was taken home to be with the Lord. Fanciful scenarios would be drawn about the deceased entering the gates of heaven, cavorting with the angels, yukking it up with Jesus, and – of course – looking down on all of us (particularly the family) and hoping that we wouldn’t be sad for him/her.

    Sometimes, I wanted to have some freedom to be sad, cry, ask “why Lord!?” but that was really discouraged. “The body may be there in the coffin, but that’s not really L – that’s just her shell; her spirit is up in heaven now.”

    The reality of death, the necessity of grieving, the human need for catharsis and mourning – it was all cut off at the knees as the pastor denied that there was anything to be sorry about, except perhaps for a little self-pity that we wouldn’t be able to spend time with the deceased anymore. But that was presented as a weakness, not a part of being human.

    That whole scenario bugged me and struck me as cruel long before I started to seriously question religion.

  • 17. Bobbi Jo  |  June 14, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I agree with aussie guy that it is a personality thing. There are several factors to consider.

    1) how well did they know the decesed?
    2) what is their emotional state like? (meaning: are they prone to cry at the drop of a hat anyway?)
    3)could these also be tears of happiness? (I cried when my daughter was interviewed for mother’s day just by what she said and it made me proud and happy)
    4)what is truely in their heart? (Just cause they go to church does not make one a christian, so maybe they don’t really believe they’ll see that person again)

    Probably more but that’s a start. I think it’s a mix of all those. I was just at a wedding and the mom was crying because in a sense, she was losing her daughter but was also celebrating her daughter’s new life with her husband. Tears of sorrow and happiness.

    I’ve been to funerals where there were lots of tears at the actual funeral, but after, we all went out drinking to celabrate that person’s life. There were no tears, just a good time.

    Also, all of these have been very mixed funerals. Meaning that even though it might have been a proper religious burial, I knew and accepted that not everyone there believed the same as the deceased or as the pastor doing the service, so there would be mixed emotions as to how to grieve for that person. It didn’t bother me if someone was wailing away, nor did it bother me if they seamed inaffected.


  • 18. Ted Goas  |  June 15, 2008 at 9:29 am

    I like Bobbi Jo’s points. Maybe the congregation knew B very well, Maybe the people mourning have more emotional tendencies and it might not take much to set them off into an emotional display (sadness in this case).

  • 19. Bobbi Jo  |  June 16, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Another thought, the death that affected me the most, I didn’t have any feelings towards the guy, but I have many feeling on HOW he died (suicide). I never cried for him but to this day, it’s been the most upsetting death for me. The 2nd most upsetting was when my father in law died (drunk driving). These two deaths have stayed with me a long time though I had very little outward emotional displays at either of them.

  • 20. Brandon  |  August 11, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I am not a Christian, but when I was, it was not that I assumed my deceased loved ones were in a better place, I was unsure, according to my beliefs only God knew what was in their heart so I could never say with 100% certainty that they were in a better place, even though I believed in an afterlife It was still hard knowing that I wouldn’t see someone or be with someone for a very long time, especially if I am part of a church community who I interact with regularly, it gets hard to let go when you have expectations of seeing them daily.

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