When clergy get together to talk about people whose commitment to faith is about as deep as an oil slick, they don't just talk about "Easter Christians" and Jews who just show up, year after year, for the High Holidays. They also talk about people who take this whole concept to another level and, basically, turn faith into a force that shows up for events linked to births, marriages and funerals, and that's that.
Thus, I would argue that if you were looking for a topic that would offer a window into life in a post-faith world, the whole concept of a faith-free funeral is what you want. Let me stress, however, that "faith-free funerals" are not the same thing as "green funerals," unless, it would appear, environmentally friendly funeral rites are discussed in The Washington Post. More on that in a moment.
While most recent news coverage of minimalistic or abandoned faith has focused on the young, especially the so-called "Nones," it's also important to remember that the Baby Boomers have also had an adventurous streak that affects religion and the lack thereof. As I wrote in an earlier post about some -- repeat SOME -- Woodstock Generation funerals:
... (A)lternative approaches to life explored in the late 1960s and early ’70s have had a major impact on shaping how all Americans think and live. Part of that cultural wave was captured in the sexual revolution, part was popular culture that soaked into the soul and part was an openness to alternative forms of spirituality (some of it serious, some of it fleeting), often from the Far East.
Truth be told, some Baby Boomers have also turned into strong believers in traditional forms of faith. Ask any megachurch pastor about that. There are also Baby Boomers who have switched brands and churches, looking for alternatives to the faiths in which they were raised. Some of them (ask your local Orthodox rabbi) ended up digging back into ancient forms of faith. Some have explored traditional forms of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, etc., etc.
Once people start searching their paths can go all over the place.
So my main point, in the context of a discussion of "green funerals" is that the quest for alternative rites and forms of burial can lead in all kinds of directions that, in the end, almost always have something to do with a stream of faith, the rejection of a faith or alternatives to the faith in which one was raised.
Try to find any hints of that in the Post story that ran under the headline, " ‘Green burials’ are on the rise as baby boomers plan for their future, and funerals." Here is how this fascinating story opens:
Jay Castaño knows exactly what his funeral will be like. A few days after he dies, friends and family will gather in Southeast Washington, say a few kind words and put his unembalmed body straight into the Earth.
“I want to be wrapped in a shroud like a little burrito,” says Castaño, a credentialing officer at a D.C. public charter school. “They can call it a Chipotle funeral. They can wrap me up and throw me there and cover me up with some grass and soil.” ...
For the record, Castaño has no plans to die anytime soon. But the 65-year-old has written in his last will and testament that whenever he does pass, he intends to become part of the “green burial” movement -- a push to strip away the trappings of the modern funeral industry and get back to basics. Dust to dust and all that jazz.
So this is just about the environment, frugality and rejecting the funeral industry, huh?
You would never know, from this story, that some people would choose simply forms of burial (think monks making simple caskets) for faith-driven reasons. Can you say "Mennonite"? How about "Orthodox"?
The faith-free "circle of life" angle -- or the Post being silent or tone-deaf on faith angles of any kind -- continues in the report's summary paragraphs on the trend. Wait a minute, aren't there religious overtones to "circle of life" language? Also, are there any religious groups that would REJECT "green funerals"? I can't think of any.
Meanwhile, how newsroom-centric is this "trend" piece? This is long, but keep reading:
There are no firm statistics on how many natural burials have taken place -- after all, digging a hole for Grandma in the back yard would count as “green” -- but a 2008 survey by funeral industry researchers Kates-Boylston Publications found that 43 percent of respondents would consider having an eco-friendly burial.
Fiona Weeks had never heard of the practice when her mother, legendary Washington gossip columnist Diana McLellan, told her that she wanted one. McLellan had melanoma and informed Weeks of her wishes several months before her death in June.
“She was not necessarily an environmentalist, but she felt that she should be part of the Earth again,” Weeks recalls of her mother, who worked for a time at The Washington Post and was 76 when she died. “It’s so simple. And it doesn’t seem as invasive as having someone fill your body with chemicals.”
McLellan had joked with her daughter that she wanted to be wrapped in a luxurious Scalamandre silk before being placed in the ground. That seemed like a tall order, but when the time came, Weeks did order a saffron-colored silk shroud from Kinkaraco, a California company that sells green burial products made from natural fabrics.
Weeks bought a wicker casket that she thinks would have appealed to her English-born mother and had it lined with a mattress pad filled with lavender. “The only thing about a green funeral is that you have to bury the person pretty quickly because they start to smell,” Weeks says. “So the bed of lavender was great. I hate to think of what it would’ve smelled like if we hadn’t had that.” (There always were some unintended consequences of going au naturel.)
The 130 people who attended McLellan’s funeral at Congressional Cemetery were greeted with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. Instead of a traditional ceremony, there was a series of toasts, and then McLellan was laid to rest.
So this is what happened instead of a "traditional ceremony." What might that mean?
I am not saying that this story needed to devote a massive amount of ink to "green funeral" trends in traditional faiths, but that angle really needed to be mentioned in one way or another. That is, those facts needed to be mentioned if the goals for this story included speaking to readers outside the circles represented in the Post newsroom?