Making that last cultural statement

artcaskets-044jpgDon't the Baby Boomers drive you absolutely crazy sometimes? But first things first.

One of the goals of this weblog is to spot the "religion ghosts" that haunt stories in the mainstream press, religious themes that reporters and editors miss and we think that's a shame. Well, in this case I would like to point out a story in which the New York Times team spotted the ghost in a story in which, I think, journalists may have been tempted to ignore it or downplay it.

It is, your see, a kind of twisted business and lifestyle story. The headline? "The Funeral: Your Last Chance to Be a Big Spender."

The lede, please:

Even in these hard times, Peter Moloney, a funeral director, believes that people should have what they want.

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

"You have to give people something special," says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. "If you're not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today."

It seems that the mega-special funeral is a growth industry right now and this whole "have it your way" thing is on the rise, in large part because we live (and die) in the era in which entertainment, sports and lifestyle choices have taken the place of (wait for it) traditional forms of religion.

Funerals are supposed to take place in religious sanctuaries, right? The whole subject of life and death and the afterlife is supposed to be framed in religious terms, correct? That inscription inside that special auto-racing casket (pictured) that says, "The race is over," that's a reference to St. Paul and the book of Second Timothy, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Read the story and you try to decide.

But the story does GO THERE, if you know what I mean. The faith angle is given its place. Here is a sample, care of Ron Hast, publisher of Mortuary Management:

As Americans become more mobile, they have moved away from hometowns and from some traditions. So final goodbyes become secular. "Here in Marin County, the yacht club is church," Mr. Hast says.

Even within churches, shifting preferences and guidance have rewritten funeral rites. In 1963, the Vatican lifted a centuries-old prohibition on cremation, and more Catholics are choosing it. "Few of us die in the same neighborhoods where we were born, so often when a person dies, there are fewer long-term connections," Mr. Goodness says.

There's more in between the lines, but my whole point is to say that the religion angle is important to the story, but secondary to the secular trends.

Sadly, that's probably accurate. But it's clear that this is a story with legs and the Baby Boomers that redefined culture are not going to fight that fight to the last possible moment. And. Beyond.

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