There Are No Atheists In Coffins

Good Friday, everyone. I am very short of time today and I really shouldn’t be doing this, but I felt that since I accurately predicted what was going to be the content of David Quinn’s Friday column a couple of days back, I ought to mark the occasion in some way. So here is an excerpt from his column today.

David Quinn: Why there were no atheists in the mine – Analysis, Opinion –

But research shows that, on average, it is better in these situations to have a religious faith and it is completely natural to think of God and to pray in such circumstances because religion is a natural and ineradicable part of human nature.

The story of the Chilean miners proves this yet again. Faith is what helped many of these men to cope with their ordeal. The old adage says, ‘no atheists in foxholes’.

Now we know there are no atheists in collapsed mines either.

Nice, huh? Now, not only are there no atheists in foxholes, or mines, there are some countries where the State can end up seeing to it that there are no atheists in coffins either. Below is a very quick translation of a nice article by Daniel Ayllón in Público that appeared today. There is a bit of religious wordplay in the original that I’m not equipped to replicate, so you’ll just have to suck up the loss, I’m afraid.

Communist’s wake goes the Way of The Cross

“Holding a funeral without religious symbols in Spain is a Calvary.” Camelia Casas buried her grandmother, Teresa Morán Tudó, who died in A Coruña aged 99, last 21st September, after coming up against a rosary of events in which “the Catholic cross was present in every moment.” And it happened despite the insistence of the family on holding a ceremony in keeping with the beliefs that Granny Tere defended all her life: “She was an atheist, an activist, a fighter, a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and a militant since 1931, when she entered the Communist Youth”, they recall. But her funeral was plagued by crosses: on the death notice, in the funeral home, and on her coffin.

When the family entered the tomb in the M-40 funeral home in Madrid, a large polished wooden cross a metre and a half high overlooked Tere’s room. “We put it there by default, because 95% of the time the burial follows the Catholic rite”, a spokesperson for the firm that runs the centre claimed days later.

“The problem is that we live in a society in which it is taken for granted that we are all Catholics. But, is it so difficult to ask if we want religious symbols?” complained Camelia, citing article 16 of the Spanish Constitution: “No religious faith will be associated with the state”

Tere’s son had already made clear to their Galician funeral firm that they did not want the presence of religious symbols. “If the firm doesn’t tell us, we don’t find out until the family arrives”, the spokesman for the funeral home said. Once noticed, the large crucifix erected in the room was removed immediately. As was the sheet, covering the trolley under the coffin, which had a shiny golden cross sewn onto black velvet.

To top it all, the coffin lid was crowned with a figure of Christ. “We asked them to take it off, but it was complicated”, recalls Camelia. The figure could be removed by a screwdriver, but the crucifix was firmly stuck to the lid. “We can’t take off the lid because it’s fastened to the coffin. If we tear it off, we don’t know the consequences”, warned a manager from the firm. But Tere’s wishes won out. The coffin was not damaged, but a mark from the varnish remained.

Before dying, the woman left two clear wishes: that the flag with the logo of the PCE cover her coffin and that it be accompanied by a wreath of flowers from her party comrades.

Despite her militancy, Tere stayed in Spain for the entire duration of the dictatorship. In 1945, she was arrested for helping PCE comrades on the run. After completing a punishment of four years in prison, she took refuge among her family, to whom she narrated a thousand and one times how she would pretend to faint in order to not have to attend Mass in prison, which was obligatory in the decade of the 40s. “And in the same way that the priests walked in front of the firing squads with a crucifix so that the condemned would kiss it, they did the same in the prison. But she and other women prisoners rebelled”, says Camelia.

They found the last religious stumbling block in the death notice that was published the same day of her death in the El País newspaper. Despite not being a conservative paper and despite the insistence of her family, the death notice appeared with a cross drawn on it. The paper said the firm that prints the death notices was responsible, but two days after it published a note of apology and a new notice, finally, without a crucifix.

The paper publishes a photo of Tere visiting Karl Marx’s grave:

Nice weekend to all.


3 Responses to “There Are No Atheists In Coffins”

  1. 1 John mcdermott October 16, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    “Trece rosas rojas” by Carlos Fonseca
    (La historia mas conmovedora de la guerra civil)

  2. 2 Hugh Green October 16, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks John I’ll check it out.

  3. 3 ejh October 28, 2010 at 9:34 am

    There’s an old lady in my village, aged 86. When I was first in her house, a few years ago, I noticed immediately the absence of religious bric-a-brac. No crosses, no Virgins, no saints. We’ve always got on!

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