Monday, October 5, 2009

Non-religious / humanist ceremonies: Keith Floyd's funeral

I'm a bit behind the times: I've only just, by chance, heard that Keith Floyd's funeral was a humanist one, and not the 'default' religious ceremony that is undertaken by or for people at various points in their lives: births, deaths, partnerships.

I'm a bit surprised, for a couple of reasons. The first thing I'm surprised at is the fact that I'm surprised: survey after poll after study indicates that the number of people who describe themselves as having a particular affinity with any given religion is decreasing fairly steadily, at least in the UK.

The second thing I'm surprised by sort of contradicts the first: I'm surprised that a famous person would be openly non-religious to the extent that they would actually prefer a non-religious funeral ceremony. Celebrity is no stranger to the stranger fringe 'religions', cults and barmy practises out there, but secular belief systems still appear to have a certain stigma attached: it's as if being non-religious is a bad thing, for bad people. Of course, this is an artefact of our society having religious indoctrination imprinted upon it to the point that it's an automatic, unthinking part of many* people's lives, but that's a rant for another day and another post.

I started this post with the intention of saying that, although undoubtedly sympathetic for those that Mr Floyd has left behind, I can find some positive aspect to his passing: a celebrity, albeit one in rather specialist circles, being mourned and celebrated in a non-religious fashion must do something to raise the profile, and indeed awareness, of non-religious ceremonies to accompany life's great markers. It will hopefully be the case that one or two people have been brought to the realisation that they can officialise and celebrate birth, love and death without having to invoke the name of a god that they don't really believe in. Certainly, the British Humanist Association have reported increased interest in their Humanist Ceremonies network, which is a good sign.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not for one minute advocating that religious ceremonies should be replaced entirely by non-religious/humanist ones. As far as I'm concerned, religious people are (and should be) entitled to their beliefs and traditions as long as they don't hurt anybody**. My point here is that avenues are opening up for people who don't seriously subscribe to a particular set of superstitious beliefs to first of all realise that not 'believing' isn't an inherently bad thing, and secondly to see that there are alternative ways to live your life and celebrate major events in their life.

There's an article about Keith Floyd's funeral over on the Guardian's website here, and you can get more information about humanist ceremonies here.

* Maybe even most? It certainly was a part of mine.
** Although I see hard-sell attempts to recruit people as potentially harmful, but, again, that's for another post.