I have very few ‘flesh and blood’ friends where I live (sometimes I wonder if am I approaching a completely virtual existence), and my friend John was the one guy I would have called late at night from the county jail in that ‘only one phone call’ scenario. But he taunted Death for the last time early Sat morning by *refusing* a ride home from a bar very late and trying to drive in a very inebriated state. This followed a dispute with his significant other who was forced to follow him and essentially witness his death, in which he was crushed underneath his vehicle after rolling it into a field.
I can’t even explain in logical terms why John and I were such good friends, although we did respect each other on many levels. John was a 59 year-old staunch Catholic Republican of Austrian descent, born and raised in Kansas. I am a liberal, atheist heathen from Canada (and that may as well be Russia out here) - and we disagreed on almost *everything* w/r/t philosophy, religion and politics. It astonishes me to this day that we still managed to enjoy each other’s company as much as we did. He was a regular visitor at my dinner table and Saturday nights are not going to be the same without him. He was highly intelligent and made some significant community service contributions.
What I have learned from knowing John, that has now been reinforced by losing him, is that belief systems (or a lack there-of) need not, and should not, become barriers to human communication, or even friendship. I would like to think that if John learned anything from me, it was that atheists did not necessarily fit the picture he had been carrying around.
So in a few days I will be a pallbearer at a very Catholic funeral ceremony, where every ridiculous invocation will grate on me like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I will do it out of respect for John and not for Catholicism.
But what about when an atheist dies? What do you say at an atheist funeral and who presides? Does religion have a stranglehold on end-of-life ceremonies? If you don't want a Christian funeral, what do you ask for in your will?