I didn’t want to go to his funeral. I knew virtually nothing about him except that I remembered he was soft spoken, very friendly, and had a pet ferret that smelled like u-haul boxes left outside in the rain.
But I went anyway.
His ashes were in an urn surrounded by flower arrangements that seemed to have been hand picked from a Vegas wedding catalog. I sat in the back row listening to those who were actually grieving. His mother. His sister. And listening to folks who were grieving so that people would notice their grief. Desperate sobs an octave above spectacle.
A squat, red-faced man hobbled into the viewing room. He had a Bible in his hand with scraps of loose-leaf notebook jutting out from the pages. The room became muffled as he walked up to the podium to begin his sermon.
He began with the story of Lazarus. My favorite zombie story pre-Jesus. He related Lazarus’ story to my cousin’s abrupt and too-soon death in that Jesus was the “ultimate reserector”. The pastor proclaimed that Jesus had spoken to him shortly after my cousin’s demise and told him that his “tears were unnecessary because [Jesus] had wept for him already” and that Jesus had “given [my cousin] eternal life in paradise for his faith alone”.
A few people in the room shouted their amen and hallelujahs and I had to tell my brain to tell my optic nerves to tell my eyes to not roll out of their sockets.
I thought he would end there. I mean. How could you not entertain the allure of a lost loved one being resurrected and awaiting your arrival to paradise while part of your heart is on the floor and the other part is in the urn?
But his sermon did not end and I realized that the pastor was going to go full on tent-revival. He held up the Bible (it was upside down but no one had the heart to tell him and I stored it away so I could laugh about it later) to the crowded room.
“You can be a good person to everyone and do good things every day but if you don’t come to the Lord it will not matter. You WILL go to Hell. You will suffer an eternity of burning anguish.”
I gripped my knees. Gritted my teeth. I half expected him to unzip his face so everyone could see the fire running through his veins. I began to nervous laugh. I bowed my head in false reverence so that my shoulders looked as if they were convulsing through tears instead of laughter. I couldn’t help it, honest. Luckily my laughter produced actual tears and I managed to tap into my anger at the audacity of this man’s exploitation of collective grief.
“And Jesus saith, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’. Your tears are meaningless if you do not turn to Jesus. You will not meet [my cousin] in paradise lest you are saved by the blood of Jesus. You will not know the glory of God.”
I looked around the room and, to my horror, noticed a few people with their hands in the air, nodding in confirmation. I tried to temper my anger by telling myself that everyone grieves differently. That I may not agree with what this pastor is saying but if it consoles those in the room who are devastated by my cousin’s death then my personal disgust with Pastor HeeHaw could be stifled.
His sermon ended with a prayer and everyone was mercifully released from the clutches of an angry pastor. A pastor who was so entrenched in Christian propaganda and fear tactics that he bypassed my family’s grief to hammer the will of an awful god with the piss poor evocation of Jonathan Edwards.
I realized on my drive home,however, that I don’t know what to say to anyone when they are experiencing that kind of grief. I’m sure I could think of something better than the Shit Show Sermon but sympathy drives me to want to give consolation and I don’t know how to do that as a Satanist.
“My thoughts are with you” seems like a bumper sticker. Saying nothing seems insensitive. Is it okay to bypass my own ideology to offer someone solace from something I don’t believe in? My grandmother always says that she prays for me every night and I think it’s the damn cutest. So I say thanks and sometimes (SOMETIMES) I reciprocate that sentiment by saying the same thing. We both know what I believe but I say it anyway because it makes her happy. But I feel that that is very much different than striking fear into the hearts of the vulnerable and grieving.
So how much is too much? When does theistic religion become poisonous, exploitative, and predatory? It seems a slippery slope from harmless exchanges of pleasantries to all out eternal damnation fuckery.
TL;DR Version: I’m tired and Local Doctor promises snake oil is the only bulwark against eternal damnation.