Thursday, 24 June 2010

Humanity, humility

My girlfriend's gran, on whom she doted, passed away last week. I'll say a word about the lady herself in a moment, but something I was told about what followed has prompted me to write a bit about the Church. I should warn you, if you're a Christian and you're offended by anti-Church sentiment, not to read this post any further. I am keen to express my strong views on this matter, but I'm not seeking to offend or upset anybody for their beliefs.

So, my very upset girlfriend takes a flight to Spain at about 6 hours' notice, to attend a funeral I was regrettably unable to make because of work. Her gran, a naturally and devoutly religious woman but not a church-goer (this is not something in which I see a contradiction, by the way), had told her what she wanted to happen when she passed. Part of the instruction was that she did not want a service with a priest, least of all one who never met her. However, this being Spain, I suppose it's not that surprising to know that a priest was indeed involved as things turned out. Early in the service, I'm told he crossed himself, an act which was repeated by the entire congregation. Except, that is, my girlfiend, like myself zealously atheist, and her sister, whose views I've never sought on this.

The priest clearly took this quite badly as, following this, he evidently issued a sermon which addressed the fact that non-believers are destined for hell, and looked firmly at my g/f and her sister. This went on so strongly and so pointedly, that barely any reference was made to the woman for whom everybody was gathered there. Now I appreciate that the man may have believed he was making an effort to save two souls, but to use this opportunity, while the bereaved people he was addressing sat there mourning a beloved grandmother, epitomises all that I can't stand about the Church. Where was his common humanity, to think not of their spiritual souls but of their very real and human grief, and to address that? In Spain, old people are treated with a respect, even a veneration, that's often lacking in Britain. He decided to throw that convention out of the window to preach a religious dogma at people who were not there for him, or themselves, but for their gran. How arrogant, how presumptious, and above all how disrespectful to a much loved 97-year-old woman who deserved better. And may indeed, given her instructions on what she did or did not want for her own funeral, have had the prescience to see something like that coming.

Such occasions make me glad of my atheism but despair that people can't mourn or celebrate a loved one out of the pure and simple humanity of their own hearts without having a religious message shoved down their throats. As for gran herself? A tiny little bundle of love and happiness, who had lived through a civil war which forced her husband to flee to France for his own life, and hardship that most uf us could not begin to imagine from the comfort of the 21st century, however hard we may think we have it now. She loved to dress smartly and go into town to exchange gossip, and listen to people tell her how beautiful she still was, even in her nineties. Fastidious, house proud, loyal to her family, she carried the old-fashioned Spanish values of frugality, loyalty and respect for others lightly, and was adored by her daughter and grand-daughters, who cared for her right to the end. The world is worse off to the tune of a 4ft Spanish matriarch. Rest in peace, Maura, reina. You've earned it.

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