Sunday, March 05, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: religion and the afterlife

On Sunday many people visit cemeteries to pay their respects to departed loved ones. Me, I don't care much about where or how my non-functioning remains are disposed of. Mrs. R. has told me in no uncertain terms that my desire to be cremated and have the ashes put in the garbage or flushed down the crapper are a non-starter for her and my kids agree. Since I won't exist anymore, I can't complain too much. I just have to trust they won't desecrate my posthumous disposal site with symbols of some odious superstition.

No such problems for Sgt. Patrick Stewart. In September the Nevada National Guardsman was killed when his chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. This should have qualified his name for a place on the memorial wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial cemetery. But his spot is vacant.
Stewart was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which is not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for use in its cemeteries.

Stewart's widow, Roberta, said she will wait until her family's religion -- and its five-pointed star enclosed in a circle, with one point facing skyward -- is recognized for use on memorials before Stewart's plaque is installed.

"It's completely blank," Roberta Stewart said, pointing to her husband's place on the memorial.

She said she had no idea the pentacle could not be used on her husband's memorial plaque until she had to deal with the agency after the death of her husband.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its National Cemetery Administration prohibit graphics on government-furnished headstones or markers other than those they have approved as "emblems of belief." More than 30 such emblems are allowed on gravestones and makers in veterans cemeteries, from the Christian cross to the Buddhist wheel of righteousness. A symbol exists for atheists too.


Roberta Stewart said those beliefs state that Wiccans must do no harm, give to the community and worship the Earth. (Review Journal via Boingboing)
Stewart was posthumously awarded the Air Medal, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Nevada Distinguished Service Medal and the Combat Action Badge. But I guess that's not enough to get on this memorial with the symbol he thought best conveyed his philosophy of life.

And you have to admit admit there is something profoundly subversive about a belief you should do no harm, give to the community and worship the Earth. Sounds quite un-American, not to mention an affront to most organized religions.