Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Attending a human funeral...

is one of the activities that occurs more frequently as we human animals get older. More people that we know or used to know are dying from age related conditions. That's if we're lucky enough to have adequate nutrition, shelter, medical care and live where violence or other factors do not serve to reduce our life span.

I attended one such human funeral this past Monday. The link will take you to a brief obituary if you're interested in knowing about the person who died. She was one of the children in a family that lived near us all during my childhood.  She was considerably older than me and her siblings were also older. But I do remember her and do remember her fondly. She was always pleasant and nice to me and so was all of her family. So I didn't resist the obligation I felt to attend the funeral both to mark her death and as a gesture of respect and support to her surviving family. And...I have an older sister who wanted to attend and she asked me to drive her there. So going to the funeral (and I do not much like funerals) was a task that accomplished a number of things all at once...and I like to be able to do things that way when possible.

Culturally dictated activities like funerals are things that we all do. Here in this part of the country most occur in some religious building or other. This one took place in a Methodist Church. I vaguely remember from a long-ago Anthropology class that the one near universal constant seen in the human animal death ceremony, regardless of the culture, is that there is some sort of procession symbolically representing the journey from life to death. Most funerals here involve some sort of "procession" from the place of the funeral service to the place of burial. On this occasion I only attended the doings called the "funeral service".

One of the reasons I have a distaste for funerals (beside the obvious one of not generally enjoying death) is that most of them occur in a church. And I have some antipathy toward most of the brands of organized religions that I'm familiar with, particularly the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity...probably because that's the sort of stuff I'm most acquainted with. I just haven't had much of a chance to get offended by other religions.

Suffice it to say I'm not too impressed with the behavior of human animals in general but when we get into some sort of "religious" mode (especially "Christian" or "Islamic")...well...we tend to suck. At least that's my take on it. And please note...I'm not trying to degrade or offend...and I'm not talking about spirituality...which a lot of us tend to confuse with religion. They aren't the same thing. (All in all, I probably lean toward spiritual notions akin to Animism more than anything else.)

Well, one of my more dreaded experiences came to pass at this funeral. The pastor running the event made it much more into some sort of proselytizing event instead of an honoring of the dead person. Which happens way too often...I guess they figure if they have a captive audience they should push their product. Anyway...when he finally got to the rather brief part where he talked about the woman who had died...he related a story that just irritated and saddened me terribly. It still disgusts and saddens me.

The story was that this woman was kind and helpful and competent and accomplished...and one of the accomplishments he talked about was that she was a "big game hunter". He told some story about her shooting and killing a deer and behaving toward the men in her camping group as if it was no big deal...anyone could do it.

Many in the audience laughed as this story of her murdering an innocent and harmless animal was told. I was staring and the floor and struggling not to jump up and ask all those laughing why was murder a funny thing. Why was the death of an innocent being and occasion of humor? Especially at a ceremony marking a death! What kind of religion encourages killing, laughs about killing. She murdered somebody...that's an occasion for shame and sorrow...not laughter. But...I didn't jump up...and part of me still wonders if I didn't betray that dead deer. I guess in a way I did and I feel bad about that. I diminished myself by not confronting the vicious speciesism that was exhibited by that story and by that laughter.

Even looking back...I would still not jump up and confront the ugliness. I wouldn't interfere in whatever processes were going on in the family and friends. The meeting was about honoring a human female who died. But the ugliness and callousness and obliviousness shown by that story will forever mark my memory of that meeting. I will remember my shock at such a story being told and my dismay and sorrow that laughter and smiles greeted the telling. I often wonder if our species isn't fubar.

Here's what I'm going to do. I plan to write that preacher and voice my dismay and sadness that he's so oblivious to innocence and grace and beauty and horror that he tried to build up one living beings existence by presenting her as a murderer. I'm going to ask him if talking about the death of an innocent being honors the killer. I am going to do that. And...I will make a donation to our local wildlife rescue in honor of that long dead deer. And I will always be stained and diminished in some measure because I sat and heard the laughter and did not openly object. And I am diminished and stained because so many human animals think killing is humorous.

Speciesism hurts and diminishes everyone it touches and it permeates this culture. And it is ugly. And ten years ago that story would have only discomforted me, it wouldn't have mortified and offended and outraged me. So I have changed and if I can can others.

 I imagined attending a funeral two-hundred years in the past, and hearing some story supposedly honoring the dead human that involved their killing of an innocent slave or Native American...and I imagined hearing the laughter. And I despair...but I do realize that change from two-hundred years ago has happened and so I can also hope. I know who Donald Watson is, I live as an ethical vegan. So can other human animals. We must.


Anonymous said...

Yes! write to that pastor. Remind him of St. Francis, if you have to.

Many condolences to you, btw.

I know how you feel: every event highlights to me my minority position. The flights to Europe: I'm the only one on board who ordered a "special meal." The conference, were lunch is laid out for 200 people and 3 of them are labelled "vegetariano". Three?

The "you have to try suckling pig," from the man in the airplane seat next to me, on the wonders of Italy.

Anyway, dear friend, a nice polite letter to the pastor is way better than yelling during the ceremony. We pick our battles, so to speak, and we work on education v. humiliation or looking crazy in church!! LOL

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. I'm glad you're back and I hope you enjoyed the trip. Italy is a treasure.

Only 3...jeez, statistically there should have been at least 6 or so and if this was a gathering of "educated" folks one would think it would be considerably higher. We've a lot of work to do.

Hey...looking "crazy" in church is actually sort of hard to do if you think about it. :-)

Again...glad DEM is back in the hemisphere. :-)

Christina said...

I have always found funerals strange affairs. I am sorry about your friend and yep you are right. Time and place sometimes has to be taken into account.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christina. Strange affairs is a good way to describe them. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hahah! Looking crazy in church is just another word for Sunday at the altar. :)

Have Gone Vegan said...

Oh wow, that's awful. What the hell was he thinking? Yeah, I would have been ticked off too, although I'm not sure I would have been gracious enough not to have made a spectacle of myself.

I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Yes, write the damn pastor (and remind him that there's lots of Bible passages condemning the killing of animals) and give him a piece of your mind. For all of us.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I really wasn't worried about making a "spectacle" of myself...I just didn't want to intrude on the grief or whatever of the family members there. Hell, I'm an ongoing "spectacle" anyway according to some who know me so that really wasn't a consideration. :-)

I wrote the dude, I didn't pull out any bible quotes though, I avoid quote battles for the most part mainly because it usually is a no win thing. No, I wrote just to stick a small burr under his butt...who knows the result but at least something was said.

Something had to be said on behalf of the deer murdered by a human. We've gotten away with killing without regret and/or reminding for way way too long.

The most offensive thing to me was how many people goober is bad, a room full of goobers is worse. :-)

Bea Elliott said...

It's not often I find myself in a position to give you advice Veganelder... But here goes: I wouldn't beat myself up for having restraint at the murdered deer story. I assure you that no matter what eloquent words or indisputable reasoning you would have used... It would have been seen as hysterical and unfounded. After all, even in the best of circumstances when "input" is appropriate - Our message is still viewed that way... Your timing would have been way off at a funeral.

You obviously knew that - Just don't crucify yourself over it... Pun intended.

So here you have a much better scenario - One of your making where you can tell this preacher-man everything he needs to hear. I hope you remind him too that "religions" are supposed to establish ethical guidelines for their congregation. And that thus far - ALL religions (save a minor few) are entirely off the mark!

I'm sorry you had to go to a funeral. I hate them too... But it's particularly sad when the person you want to have a fond memory of... Disappoints you in the end.

And for what it's worth... Because the clergy are just mortals with imperfections and "agendas" too - Do you wonder if part of this "tall tale" could be embellished a bit? Or fabricated altogether? Who knows... Maybe the deceased actually had a horrible awakening at the thought of murdered deer? Maybe there's no one left that has the courage to say any differently? Like I said, their job is to steer the flock... It wouldn't be the first time a little white lie was used to do just that. (...Did I just do blasphemy? LOL!)

I hope you write a damning letter... Maybe even share it here? Certainly whatever you say in the name of truth, justice, reason and compassion - You can sign all our names to it!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea and apologies for the delay in responding. I appreciate your thoughts...I don't do lots of self-flagellation anymore...I just find it to be dismaying and horrid to live in a time where such shit can go on and be said and so many be blind deaf and dumb about the grotesqueness. And...I'm well aware many "clergy" are no more ethical than sleazy used-car salesmen. Not all, but many more than one would wish and/or think.

The letter notion is great. I sent a fairly reserved one pointing out the inconsistencies and left it at that. That's what felt ok to me so that was pretty much it. I didn't think to sign all y'alls names...but what a neat notion. Thanks.