I lost my grandmother last week at the age of 94. I loved her dearly and we had a wonderful service in her honor where several people spoke of the memories and love they shared with her. And judging by all the teary eyes in the silent pews, there was a lot of love unexpressed as well. She touched many lives, and they were all touched deeply by her passing. Everyone should be so lucky as to live such a healthful and meaningful life, surrounded by that many people who care so deeply.
My grandma was a devout Christian woman. She had a confident and comforting faith in her god. And whether you or I believe in heaven is immaterial. She did. And that is where she knew with all her heart that she was going when her last breath slipped from her lips. That inspiration eased her passing. Of that I have no doubt.
As my long-time readers are aware, I myself am an atheist. But that in no way prevents me from feeling joyful that her faith elevated and supported her. It was as integral a part of her as her left ear, and it would have been beyond arrogant for me to suppose that I knew what was better for her. She spent almost a century finding the balance in her life that included that faith. Who was I to upset that scale?
So I was understandably confused by some of the events perpetrated by those who practice, nay lead, her faith. For the past 10 years she has belonged to the local Grace Baptist Church as did my aunt. Just prior to her death she wanted to receive communion, and was told by her pastor that this could not happen. There were nuances of the way his particular sect of Christianity practiced their rituals which prevented him from offering that to her. How horrible. Who was this man to try to reengineer the faith of a dying woman? And to what end? In effect, he told her she was practicing her faith incorrectly. He was attempting to legislate the relationship she had with her god in her final hours. It would seem to me that somewhere along the way this shaman lost sight of his actual purpose, not to mention some of the basic teachings of Jesus. He prioritized his own self-importance over the comfort and solace of one of the flock he is purported to lead. Isn’t this the group that is always urging you to ask “What would Jesus do?” Does anybody think Jesus would have told my grandmother to pound rocks when she asked for a ritualistic communion with her god whom she was preparing to meet?
And if that wasn’t bad enough, surrounding the overly emotional family moments of the service I have to endure the pastor and some other leading upstanding member of the church standing up and explaining why I’m going to hell. Granted, I don’t believe in hell, but the sentiment wasn’t appreciated. Besides, he does, so the condemnation was sincere. I have no idea how many others in the audience he also nailed, but he explicitly called out Buddhists and Muslims as hellbound (while inadvertently expressing his ignorance about both of those philosophies), and then threw a more generic blanket around any non Jesus worshippers. In the context of a Christian memorial service it makes sense to comfort the group that the deceased is in heaven. But it seemed unnecessary to condemn the living for good measure.
I may be an atheist, but I tout a philosophy of tolerance and inclusion. I don’t judge the beliefs and ideas of others as wrong. Jesus forgave the Jews who murdered him on Calgary. And I am condemned for mourning the loss of my grandmother. Hmmm… I wonder what Jesus would do?