After You've Gone... (Humanist funerals)

An article from Black Flag #209 (1996) on non-religious funerals.

Submitted by martinh on March 9, 2006


Sadly, we have reflected a lot about funerals recently. How his funeral was conducted was important to Albert Meltzer, not least because he had seen so many old comrades and friends receive totally inappropriate send offs. Our secular correspondent (see note below) takes up this theme in the article below.

There are problems facing people who do not wish their death to be taken over by the religious. Most burials and cremations are carried out after a religious service. The service seems largely to be for the benefit and consolation of those mourning the departed, though how any sensible person can find consolation in a time of sadness by renewing their belief in an almighty being who could have avoided the sadness by prolonging the dead person's life had they wanted to is a mystery to me.
But there is no need to have a religious service as part of a funeral. Anybody can conduct a funeral. I have done a number myself. Anybody who wishes their remains to be disposed of without any religious ceremony should make this wish known to their friends and relations. It should be stated in your will and your executor should be made aware of it.
The principal organisations offering non religious funeral observances are the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society. The best way to make sure you are given a non-religious funeral is to get a friend to agree to do one for you and to make sure you die before the friend. Clearly the friend must be someone reliable and not given to making promises they do not expect to keep.
The other way would be to make a bequest to the National Secular Society or British Humanist Association conditional upon them providing you with a non-religious funeral observance. The bequest need not be substantial but I would say £100 would be a reasonable amount. Whichever way you decide to follow to get a non religious send off make sure your executor knows about it and sets the thing in motion in good time, which is as soon as you are dead.
The addresses are National Secular Society, 47 Theobalds Road, London WC1
Tel 020 7404 3126

British Humanist Association,
1 Gower Street, London WC1E 6HD
020 7079 3580

But don't be too selfish about this. The funeral observance is for the benefit of those you leave behind, not yourself. They may feel the need of a religious element in your funeral, even if for reasons plain people like me cannot fathom. On the other hand non religious observances have great dignity and feeling. Those who have attended having only been used to the religious sort are usually very favourably impressed because of these factors.
Because of these considerations, as a lifelong atheist, my arrangements with my Christian wife are that if I predecease her she will give me a religious funeral, but that if she dies before I do I will give her a non-religious send off. It gives me an additional reason to seek to live for a very long time.

Note: this appeared in Black Flag #209 and was written by the late Peter Miller, a veteran anarchist and humanist. I've changed the addresses and phone numbers to bring them up to date and added urls.