Death, or to be more accurate what is imagined to be after the end of the body’s mortal coil gives up the ghost, is conisdered the main reason for religion.
The fear of death in particular allowing people to cling on to a hope that the meaning of their life is rewarded, or at least continued in the hereafter. That loved ones are waiting for you or will be with you in due course.
The lack of any certainty in how this happens, which god is scoring your worldly doings and intimate thoughts, or the mechanism by which this is accounted for is besides the thought of rationalists to comprehend. The argument goes that hope springs eternal – at least till the last breath.
For loved ones that remain, it is a comfort to think they are in a better place. Even if not considered true, the rituals of pray, going to a chapel or prayer room, or seeing a man of the cloth brings a benefit to those in hospital.
The National Secular Society in the UK is arguing that the National Health Service should not pay for these services (effectively not the tax payer). Churches or faith organizations should foot the bill (£30 million a year) for these services so resources can be spent on front care services.
Humanist chaplins do exist – the demand for people to bring comfort, prepare you and loved ones for death or ill health is not in dispute. The funding is given to faith groups on the basis of demand. The idea being if a buddhist Chaplin is at your hospital then their services our required by patients.
Yet this is one which does not get me worked up. Daniel Dennett wrote how disappointed he was people prayed for him when he was rushed to hospital. For him the thanks was due to the staff that battled to save his life.
However, while prayers and people of faith would not raise my spirits, and I see the after life as a fools comfort like relying on the lottery to make you set for life, I am not inclined to take it away from people who do find it helpful.
As to funding these things, I would prefer to see this come from supporters rather than all tax payers. I expect that faith groups do make contributions both financial and of time, the figures would be good to know.
If this went to humanist chaplins too, then there would be a level playing field. The bottom line for me though is what helps the people in hospital. I am pleased the National Secular Society stress it is the funding that is the issue, not being at the bedside.
And if that means no humanist chaplins in a hospital but demand enough for a priest and a rabbi then so be it. It does not have to be rational, only demanded and in this circumstance the expense can be justified in welfare terms.
Radio 4 covered this in The Today programe this morning, which can be picked up on podcast.