Christian Funeral Service, Necro-evangelism and Contempt for Non Religious

By Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
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A prominent Nigerian Humanist, Patrick Naagbanton died in September following a ghastly motor accident. A humanist funeral service was proposed, but the 'family' rejected it. According to the family spokesperson, Mr J: “We are a Christian family. And we want to bury Patrick in a Christian way”. Look, nobody is suggesting that Christians not be buried in a Christian way. I mean who does that? This is taken for granted in this country. No one is objecting to Hindus, or Muslims, Ogun or Amadioha worshippers being interred according their religion. This is what happens all the time. In fact nobody is against a ‘family’ deciding to bury its religious member in a Christian or Sango way as the case may be. Incidentally this is not what applies in this case. Patrick was not a Christian. He was non religious! So, why bury him in a christian way when he could actually be buried in a non religious/humanist way? Patrick was not an atheist in the closet who paid lip service to religion. All his friends and colleagues know his stance on religion. Patrick openly and publicly identified as an atheist and a humanist. He never belonged to any church group. Patrick was a member of the humanist community and actively took part in its activities including a humanist funeral in 2013.

So, why bury Patrick in a christian way when he was not a christian? Why give him a religious burial when he could be buried in a non religious way? How does that make sense to anyone who knew Patrick or to anybody who truly understands what it means to be a christian? While religious persons are usually accorded religious funerals: Christians are buried in a Christian way and Muslims are given Islamic funerals, non religious persons are denied funeral ceremonies that align with their outlook. This show of injustice to the point of death must end! This practice of necro-evangelism must stop. Why take the corpse of a humanist to a church that he or she never belonged to, and never attended? Why bury a humanist in a christian, muslim or religious way that he or she never traded while alive? Why bury him in the name of God that he never believed in? I mean, why put up this religious charade?

In an event of death of religion free individuals, religious family members hijack the funeral process. They impose religious funerals on non religious folks. In fact, religious individuals turn the death of a non religious into another exercise in evangelism; they try to make sure that family members who did not embrace religion while the were alive do so while in their coffins. Is that not absurd? In fact religious family members see the funeral of a non believer as one more opportunity to demonstrate faith, atone for their sins, gain divine favour and earn some transcendental mileage. As in the case of Patrick, religious individuals hide behind family structures to arbitrarily deny non religious members appropriate funeral services. Should such positions be respected? Believers capitalize on the fact that they are in the majority and bury non religious persons in a religious way. Is that fair? Some times, believers use false claims to block non religious funerals. There have been cases where religious people said that the deceased had a death-bed conversion. Yes, Christian family members often claim that their non believing relatives gave their life to Christ shortly before death. They fabricate all sorts of lies to ensure that a non believer gets a religious funeral. I mean this crooked practice must stop.

Look, the duty of families is not to impose funeral ceremonies on deceased members- religious funeral on non religious members or non religious funeral on the religious members.No not at all. It is not to ensure that atheists ‘go’ to church, or ‘participate’ in one more religious ceremony before they are buried. The duty of families is to honour the dead; and respect the memory of the departed. Thus families should strive to bury non religious members in line with the outlook that they espoused while they were alive. They should respect the wishes of their dead members. Family decisions that go contrary to this principle deserve no respect; they constitute a betrayal of trust, a dishonour to the dead. Families that accord religious funerals to deceased non religious members disrespect their memory. If it is good for the religious to be buried according to their religion, it is also good for the non religious to be given a secular/humanist funeral.

There is no doubt that in some cases, religious individuals deny non religious persons appropriate funeral service due to ignorance. They do not know that such ceremonies exist. Many religious persons oppose humanist funeral services because they think that the humanist movement is a satanic cult, or a form of secret society. They demonize humanist ceremonies. But these are mere excuses, and do not justify the unwarranted decision by Patrick's family to decide to bury him in a christian way. Patrick Naagbanton was a well known activist who spent most of his life fighting against injustices and oppression. Patrick never disguised his religious disbelief. To deny him a humanist funeral service under any pretext is a show of contempt for the man and his legacy.

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