Etiquette for a Humanist funeral
Modern humanism is a philosophy and attitude to life which concentrates on human needs and values, and which seeks to apply reason and experience to the development of moral principles and the solution of human concerns.
Most humanists, who are also known as secular humanists, consider that human beings can live ethical and fulfilling lives without religious beliefs, and they do not themselves believe in anything which is not capable of scientific proof.
Consequently they do not believe in the existence of God, or gods, or any other supernatural beings, or in life after death. For them there is only one life and it is up to each one of us to live it to the full.
There also some humanists, who are known as religious humanists, who agree with the humanist emphasis on human needs but see no conflict with religious belief, and many religious humanists are members of one or other of the world’s great religions.
British Humanist Association
The British Humanist Association (the ‘BHA’), which was founded in 1896, has over 28,000 members and says that 250,000 people attend the funerals and other non-religious ceremonies which are conducted by its celebrants each year.
Aims and principles
Humanists consider that the aim of human endeavour should be the happiness and quality of life of every human being, not just in their own community but throughout the world.
Humanists also consider that moral values should be based on respect and concern for others, in other words, that people should treat others as they would wish to be treated themselves.
In practice therefore humanists subscribe to the same moral values as most other civilized people, although they do of course maintain that these values are based on human reason rather than divine guidance.
A Humanist funeral
A humanist funeral is a non-religious ceremony which aims to celebrate the life of the person who has died, and allow those attending, whether relatives or friends, to express their feelings and share their memories in the manner which the deceased would have wished.
Although there will not be any reference to life after death or to religious belief, nothing in the ceremony should be offensive to those who are religious.
The funeral arrangements
A humanist funeral may take place in a cemetery, or in a natural burial ground (which may be in part of a cemetery), or at a crematorium. Whatever the choice, this will be in accordance with the wishes of the person who has died and their family.
If required, the BHA will provide an accredited celebrant to conduct the funeral ceremony. The website for the BHA is www.humanism.org.uk
Celebrants in the BHA celebrants’ network are friendly and experienced, and they are familiar with burial and cremation procedures.
If possible the celebrant will wish to meet the family and close friends to discuss the ceremony and learn as much as possible about the person who has died so that the ceremony will do justice to their life and personality.
On the day of the funeral
On the day of the funeral the family and close friends will usually meet at the home of the person who has died. They will then follow the hearse carrying the coffin to the burial ground or crematorium, where the other mourners will have assembled to await their arrival.
The funeral ceremony
The funeral ceremony will usually include a welcome and brief introduction, followed by music and readings. There will then be a tribute to the deceased by a relative or close friend, and this may be followed by contributions from the family, and from friends and colleagues.
There will then be a pause for silent meditation. This will be followed by words of farewell as the coffin is lowered into the grave, or as it disappears behind a curtain in the crematorium.
After the funeral
The funeral may be followed by a reception at the family’s home, or at some other location, where food and drink will usually be served.
A memorial ceremony may be held at a later date to celebrate the life of the person who has died, especially if the funeral has been a comparatively private affair.
Expressions of sympathy and charitable donations
The announcement of the death in a local or national newspaper is usually the place where the wishes of the deceased and the family will have been made known.
Formal clothing in subdued colours is usually expected.
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