As a Man Whose Only Belief Was in Science, Dad Would Have Wanted God Kept out of His Funeral
Taylor, Laurie, New Statesman (1996)
What with all those recent articles about columnists who use their space to bring us extended news of some personal tragedy, I'd decided it would be better not to bang on this week about the weekend call telling me that my poor old dad had finally breathed his last.
It would have been easier to stick to my decision if there hadn't also been a letter in the post that very day from the British Humanist Association, inviting me to write a short preface to the new edition of its little booklet, Funerals Without God.
I had to read the letter a couple of times to make sure there was no mistake. Was I a member of the association? It seemed unlikely. I'd always been too impressed with my friend Airs description of humanists as "people who get together in scout halls to sing hymns about not believing in God" to want to be a member of a group united by disbelief.
I could only imagine that I'd spontaneously written off and volunteered my services after a particularly nasty experience of God-mongering: an insufferably smug episode of Thought for the Day; the nauseous sight of bishops falling over themselves to get in on the Diana act; even that dreadful wedding of my friend Audrey in Basingstoke, where the minister had gone on so much about the need to be properly meek in the face of God's mightiness that three of us in the back row made a vow that if the subject cropped up one more time we'd shout "Nietzsche lives!" and damn the consequences.
But the booklet made me think about how to keep God out of dad's goodbyes. Nobody could have been less religious than him: as a thoroughgoing materialist he took it for granted that anyone who believed in what he referred to as "all that rubbish your mother goes on about" was in the grip of an illusion that was no more capable of being corrected by argument than a serious cortical malfunction.
His only god was science. Throughout his life he believed that science could liberate the world from hunger and disease if only it were left to its own devices and not perverted by the pursuit of profit. …