He continues: "A religious funeral is a celebration of a particular faith, giving homage to God. A humanist funeral is a celebration of the individual human life and his contribution to humanity."
Later, after delivering a homily that might have been heard on a Sunday morning, he explains the contradictions of his role. "I have a religious personality, without a scintilla of religious belief," he says. "If it’s an oxymoron to believe that people who have ceased to believe in God still need caring and community, then I’m proud to be a walking oxymoron."
Epstein, a Jew from New York City who trained as a "humanist rabbi" after becoming disillusioned by the music industry during a year and a half crooning for a band called Sugar Pill, embodies that generational shift. He calls himself a humanist, because he sees it as a more embracing term than atheist. "Atheism is what I don’t believe in; humanism is what I do believe in," he says. He defines it as a "philosophy of life without supernaturalism that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment aspiring to the greater good of humanity."
"We need to get visible and let people know that we’re much more like [believers] than different from them," Brunsman says. "By banding together under the umbrella of nontheism, we can show the country that we are a sizable part of the population, and we can show closeted nontheists that they are not alone."