In the beginning, and at the end

By David Jolley

We have become quite accustomed to the routines of funerals. Most involve attendance at a church service followed by a shorter ceremony at the crematorium or cemetery. We are church people, so it is that the church is usually central to this special day.

Increasingly this is not the case for the population as a whole. Many now die declaring they are ‘of no faith’, so some form of dignified celebration of their life, in keeping with their wishes and views, is organised at a non-religious venue. Cremations with no funeral service are becoming more common https://www.co-operativefuneralcare.co.uk/arranging-a-funeral/funeral-choices/direct-cremation/.

The deaths of people of other faiths are celebrated in keeping with their traditions.

Family and friends, including the church community are also fairly busy welcoming new babies. The traditional welcome into church communities is at a Christening service. The number of Christenings per annum has fallen by about 50% in a decade – only 15% of babies currently receive a Church of England baptism. The procedure requires a church community to come together and for the family and wider church to welcome the child as a member of the Christian faith, supported by their parents, God Parents and the church.

Statistic on statistic plots the decline of religious belief in Europe, so that individuals who have been christened are in a minority, as are the families who are taxed to support them to grow in the faith. How meaningful or realistic will such a commitment prove? The power of fashion and peer pressure is frightening.

Yet as we grow old there is need to review personal experiences, personal priorities and beliefs. Reading Karen Armstrong’s ‘A history of God’ is not easy. But very early on she tells us (p 10) that ’creating gods is something that human beings have always done.’ (‘Creating’ might be questioned. ‘Recognising’ might be an alternative).

‘Our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history.’ (p 4).

The roots of certainty or uncertainty are set early. That is not to say that people cannot revise their position later in life – but this is an option not taken by many https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/56/6/S326/610642.

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