Oct 31, 2012

An atheist in church: in propaganda, you can’t beat God

Is it egotistical to want top billing at one's own funeral? Faced with the onslaught of propaganda in stained glass and frescos -- not to mention the sermon -- consider it lucky if you get mentioned at all.

Jane Caro

Novelist, author and social commentator

Church and graveyard

I am — at the very least — a third generation atheist. Religion to me is a foreign country. I sometimes describe my reaction to it as similar to that of a non-American watching gridiron football. I can see that it excites great passion and enthusiasm amongst its supporters but for the life of me I can’t see why.

Nevertheless, I recognise it is an important part of other’s lives and try to respond courteously on the rare occasions I find myself in a house of worship. Usually this only occurs at weddings and funerals. Most (not all) the church weddings I have attended have been relatively mild in terms of religiosity, but it is in the contrast between secular and religious funerals where this old atheist and advertising creative has been — not to put too fine a point on it — gobsmacked.

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54 thoughts on “An atheist in church: in propaganda, you can’t beat God

  1. David Taft

    Thank you Jane for this. I have often observed the disappointment of the deceased having to play second fiddle in a religious funeral though I hadn’t recognised it for its marketing potential in the way you point out.

  2. Mark Duffett

    Why on earth (or anywhere else, above or below) would you expect subtlety, and be surprised by blatancy of religious views expressed at a funeral in a church? Every priest or minister worth their salt will be very much aware that funerals are a rare opportunity to have the undivided attention of those that are, from their perspective, ‘unsaved’. These are literally, to them at least, matters of life and death. The only surprise here is that Caro apparently can’t see this. It appears either a profound failure of imagination (odd in an advertising type) or she genuinely does not know what she is talking about.

  3. Moloch

    My grandmother’s funeral was marred by Random Vicar Syndrome. An English Funeral By The Numbers, because that’s just how you did it.

    She didn’t have a pious bone in her body and would’ve much preferred us to gossip about her over a couple of games of bingo.

    One big difference Jane.
    You sell real things. They don’t.

  4. Andybob

    Jensen said that ? I’m gonna record myself singing “My Way” karaoke style and require it be played down the pub at the wake.

  5. Shooba

    Seeing as how magnificent European buildings and works of art were created when religious devotion was absolute, I doubt they exist as propaganda tools. They exist to stroke the egos of their patron or church hierarchy, to be sure, but not to convert anyone.

    If you’d done the research necessary for this article, you’d understand that most religious funerals, and certainly any Christian one, is a sacrament. There are reasons certain texts are used and certain points are reiterated… And it’s not propaganda.

    I’d say the author has slightly too high an opinion of the ‘craft’ of advertising, which is 95% common sense and 5% empirical research, anyway.

  6. bluepoppy

    This reminded me of a wedding I attended years ago in the Mormon Church (a ‘reformed’ offshoot of it as I recall). The priest/preacher took the opportunity to not only lecture the wedding guests on religion but to chastise those who were not part of the Church membership (ie. most of the guests whom the groom had known at university).

    Many of the guests sat gobsmacked and if it wasn’t for the sake of the bride and groom many would have walked out. It wasn’t a wedding but a religious conversion seminar. It was not only bizarre but the unashamed self-interest was all too apparent. And just a bit scary.

  7. Scott

    Most formal funerals are about not just the individual, but also the greater purpose they served (for example Military or Police funerals honour the service, not just the individual who died).
    Why is it no surprise that a Christian funeral also represents that sort of service? That the person served God?
    Also the christian faith is all about renewal (death into life, sin into forgiveness etc) so it is more about comforting those left behind than a celebration of the person’s life. Hence the quite formal structure to help those who have lost a loved one cope with the uncertainty.
    The Christian faith has been around for a couple of thousand years after all so the rites and rituals have been stress tested a few times. It is the humanist funeral that has yet to prove it’s longevity.

  8. zut alors

    The lack of appreciation of gridiron is a great comparison, Jane.

    Ah, the art work: my favourite being the punch up in the temple of the moneylenders. I like to pretend it actually happened.

  9. Spica

    The pot and kettle reference is rather bold.
    It seems to me that advertising people and clergy both lead gullible folk by the nose, the former for money, and some of the latter by genuine conviction.

  10. donkeyotee

    I only recently went to my first Catholic funeral; what I thought was the smell of an electrical fire starting in the projector was just the incense being waved around. How much I still have to learn …

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