Twice this year I have attended Catholic funerals. One event, the loss of my beloved grandmother. The other, one of my dearest friends losing her mother. Both times, I went to mass, participated, offered a sign of peace, and listened to the beautiful words the priest spoke about each woman. Also, both times I have had at least one fellow atheist friend and believer friend question why I would attend if I don’t believe… well here it goes.
Not everything in life is about me. Not everything in life is about you. Sometimes we do things in tribute to a loved one out of respect for their beliefs, rather than selfishly making it about us. Personally, I find a Catholic ceremony to be quite beautiful. In the case of my grandmother’s service I participated by carrying the gifts up to the altar with several of my cousins. I was asked to do this by the family members who were organizing the service… though accepting the offer turned out to be a mistake.
Roughly a month after the funeral I was informed that “my actions” were offensive to my “catholic” family members. First, I use the term Catholic quite loosely as within the mix almost none practice, most have at least one divorce and the rest of the dirty laundry, well, I will just leave that in the hamper for now. Typically their behavior doesn’t bother me, after-all I don’t follow a belief system that says you have to go to church or stay married to one person for your life… but when they try to judge me based on this I have to take a deeper look.
First off, why ask me to participate if it was a big deal? Was it just in hopes that I would put on a big show and puff out my chest and say “NEVER! I AM AN ATHEIST! DAMN YOU FOR ASKING!”. Perhaps it was… but certainly that wasn’t what I would do- I said “Yes, of course, thank you for asking me”. I was happy to be part of a ceremony that would have meant a lot to my grandmother. She believed in God and the teachings of Catholicism and to have a mass where all of the family participated would have meant the world to her… and that is why I did it.
Now to be clear it isn’t always the believer who questions Atheists actions where ceremonies are concerned. As a member of the skeptic groups in Pittsburgh my local circle is pretty large and I encounter resistance on this topic often. Some people go as far as to say that they will not attend a service if there is a religious affiliation, or worse they are offended to even have been asked. To me, this is disgusting. Not every life event has to involve getting up-top of your soap box… sometimes you just put other people first… and if you can’t see that, religious or not, you need to reevaluate your priorities.