A Humanist funeral, according to the British Humanist Association (BHA), is ‘simply more appropriate for those who neither lived according to religious principles, nor accepted religious views of life or death. A Humanist Funeral or memorial ceremony recognises no after-life, but instead uniquely and affectionately celebrates the life of the person who has died’.
In other words, Humanists do not believe in a God, but rather in taking responsibility for one’s own life and actions, based on tolerance and respect for fellow human beings, as well as for the world in which we live.
Demand for non-religious, humanist funerals in modern, secular society is growing, as people for whom religion has no real relevance in their everyday lives become increasingly alienated by the format of religious funerals.
In this context, a Humanist ceremony provides an alternative celebration of a life that has ended, which is free from religious worship; the focus is entirely on celebrating the life and unique humanity of the deceased and on offering comfort to those mourning the death of a loved one.
The Funeral Ceremony
The ceremony is first and foremost a celebration of an individual’s life and their unique human value and attributes.
The format is, therefore, largely determined by those who wish to speak or contribute with readings, tributes and fond memories of the deceased. Ultimately, the aim is to provide mutual support and comfort for the saddened and bereaved, in a non-religious setting.
Reassuringly, there are no ‘rights and wrongs’ where organising this type of civil funeral is concerned apart, of course, from adhering to the basic legal and practical requirements.
The following considerations, therefore, are mentioned merely as guidelines:
- No two Humanist ceremonies are alike. By its very nature, a humanist ceremony is highly personalised and individually composed, with tributes, readings, poetry and speeches, all equally acceptable. The eulogy is, essentially, spontaneous and follows no strict format.
- The ceremony can be conducted by a friend or relative or, more commonly, by an accredited Humanist celebrant. For a list of Humanist celebrants see resources below.
- Official Humanist celebrants are trained to conduct funerals according to the wishes of those closest to the person who has died. They will take their time, beforehand, to gain an in-depth understanding of the true personality of the deceased in order to pay a profound, honest and befitting tribute, without reference to religious observance.
British Humanist Association (BHA): www.humanism.org.uk; tel. 020 7079 3580; address: 1 Gower Street, London, WC1E 6HD.
‘Funerals without God’: ‘A practical guide to non-religious funerals’; booklet available from the BHA.
Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS): www.humanism-scotland.org.uk.