Something written by a friend:
Atheist at a Catholic Funeral
It was a pretty rough last week. I attended the wake and cremation of my former friend who died at the age of 25 in a car crash.
It was a surreal affair, with lighted white candles on a table containing a 6R picture of my friend at the main entrance of his home, and his body was placed in a white casket, in the living room.
On the wall behind the casket, hung a poster of some Biblical quote. I was too distraught (and even now, I am still trying hard to move on) to remember the exact wording, but it came from John Something Colon Something: "He that believes in me shall not die" or something like that.
Despite my shock at the loss of my friend, I was also aghast at how people were willing to believe that some day, they would actually believe that my friend was actually going to rise up again and meet them some day. I certainly wished that the corpse lying there would do so, but I had no illusions that my friend is no longer alive.
On the day of his cremation, I went to the church to witness the funeral rites. Despite the solemnity of the entire ceremony and the religious songs of hope sung, hushed sobs would punctuate the somewhat eerie silence when the song had ended, or even the times when the priest would speak.
When the casket was carried out and loaded into the hearse, I saw his mother in total hysterics, weeping and wailing, as well as touching the rear windscreen of the van lovingly, supported by her husband, himself barely able to walk straight.
I have never seen so many grown men and women cry together, and I think aside from the loss of the friend who taught me that enjoying life should come first above everything else, the friend who tried to teach me how to play soccer, and the friend who attempted to socialise with me, the tears, the crying will perhaps haunt me for quite some time.
Another ceremony was held at an auditorium, and the priest gave another sermon (?), and the throng of people who had accompanied the body to the cremation hall would break out into Biblical hymns like "Oh, What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (I know this song because I've been forced to master it on my guitar) and others which I couldn't remember. There were many who even broke down and cried even harder, unable to carry on singing.
The entourage was led to the viewing hall to see the body roll into the cremation chamber. All the time, nearly everyone was chanting some prayer repeatedly. When the casket rolled down the passageway, the door opened.
"Oh, no!" wailed my friend's brother, breaking from the chanting and crying yet again. Despite the incessant chanting, the sobbings and wailings reached a crescendo as the casket rolled into the cremation chamber and the automatic wooden doors closed behind them, almost everyone still chanting the prayer until it was time to leave the place.
In the bus back to the church, the religious experience got even worse. I heard a male 50+ year old man saying to a female: "..That's why I say. Everything must have a reason...I carry the Bible everywhere I go...I teach at Montfort Secondary...I tell my players: 'You can pray to Allah, you can pray to Kuan Yin...but I know in my heart that everyone will eventually reach Jesus'...The Lord works in mysterious ways...".
I've never been that tempted to sock anyone in the face before; that fundamentalist creep teaching some sport in that secondary school has the dubious honour of being the very first.
I remember some pastor saying that Christian funerals are always full of hope, compared to other funerals, which only have sadness and nothing else.
While my friend was Catholic, since the Catholics and Christians use the same holy book, I never really saw anything such as "hope" in the wake and cremation which I attended last week. I saw people silent with red eyes, unable to sing the religious songs, I saw people hugged and kissed by other people who were stronger, but just as sad.
Before my friend died, I had already set my atheistic beliefs in stone. But after attending the funeral wake and cremation, when I saw that "hopeful" Biblical message behind his casket about the dead being brought back to life, after I saw the numerous numbers of people distraught, devastated, heartbroken, and crying in a voice so hysterical that I even hear them in my sleep and hope I won't ever hear again - though these things will happen because they can - and singing songs that reaffirm their belief in Mary and Jesus even though these two beings didn't manage to revive my friend before his body got cremated, I am quite sure that I shall never adopt a religion in my life.
I have questions for the people there who felt sad at his funeral.
Why all the crying, all the hullabaloo, all the sadness, if you really believe that you're going to see him someday, somewhere? Shouldn't you be happy, if he's gone to a beautiful place called Paradise?
On the painful days when I witnessed my friend's casket at his wake and when I witnessed his casket roll into the cremation chamber, I have seen the power of religion, and I am not impressed by it in any way. Yes, maybe my friend's up there in Paradise, despite his remains being on top of some shelf in Mandai Crematorium, but I have no illusions about the cold hard truth.
He was alive. He's dead. He won't come back, even if I did dream that he invited me out for a game of soccer the day after he was cremated.
The death of a person hurts people closest to him/her, but religion doesn't seem to be a good anaesthetic to numb the pain.
I have never been prouder to be an atheist among the devout Christians whom I hang out with all the time.
Rest in peace, Keith.