Memorial for Ted Swart

Memorial Service for Ted Swart 
Founding Member, Greater Freethought Society of Philadelphia

Those of you who know Ted well know that he was a principled and committed Atheist. His philosophical life stance was so important to him that he called me to his bedside on Thursday night to discuss plans for his funeral. It was a sad night, but I was honored to have Ted’s trust and I promised to fulfill his requests. Tonight you will hear his last words of wisdom through me.

Ted’s first request was for the display of a banner. The words you see at the front of the room on the ten foot banner are original and will forever be attributed to Ted.

Ted said he loved America and the freedoms he enjoyed as a citizen. This love of freedom becomes even more poignant when we know that there was a time in Ted’s life when he had no freedoms whatsoever. During World War II, the Japanese rounded up Dutch families living in Asia and sent them to internment camps. Ted was only fourteen years old. His youth was taken from him as he suffered through tortuous work and horrible living conditions.

His internment was in stark contrast to his pleasant pre-adolescent years. Ted related many happy childhood memories in a book he wrote for his children. In that book, Ted told interesting and entertaining stories about his life in Indonesia. He also described the horrors of war, the inhuman conditions he was forced to endure, and the reasons he became an Atheist. It is an amazing story of survival and personal growth, a true inspiration for the power of human endurance.

Ted wanted everyone attending his funeral to receive a copy of the Humanist Manifesto 2000. This, he said, would be his statement of principle. The Manifesto defined him and that is why it was so important to him that it be shared with his friends and family. When you take home the Manifesto, you are taking home a bit of Ted.

The Manifesto was endorsed and signed by Nobel Laureates, scientists, and honored philosophers. Ted’s mind certainly kept great company. He relished honest dialog and craved for others to share his enthusiasm for freedom of thought. Ted’s love for the Humanist Manifesto originated from his quest for intellectual honesty. With every word of the document, his hope for a world free from religious strife was reinforced.

I am well aware that there are people of various faiths among us. It would be a tribute to Ted for us to find common ground with which we can mourn his death. Let us honor Ted’s steadfast commitment to the natural world and his disbelief in any supernatural entities, prayers, and miracles. After all, we are one human family seeking love, fairness and freedom. This is all we need to enjoy peace on earth.

If we can bridge the philosophical differences we have with our love for peace, unity and the appreciation of diversity, there is hope for the rest of the world. Let the goal tonight be for us to set a good example for people living in war-torn Ireland, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Israel.

The fact is that Atheists simply add one more “o” to their belief system. They believe in “good.” Throughout Ted’s life he tried to do good things — not just for himself, but for those around him.

We can all visualize Ted helping Inez at work and at home. We see him building easels for children, mentoring an ex-convict with re-entry job training, volunteering his labor at the public high school and volunteering his time for the advancement of Freethought. Ted’s love for Inez, his children and family members was evident to me during the ten years that I was his friend. I’m sure it was evident to you as well.

Ted did not fear death nor did he yearn for reassurance that there was another life or another place beyond the here and the now. He knew that his afterlife would be the legacy he left behind. Ted thought, as most Atheists do, that being remembered and talked about brings a person back to life.

I ask you to remain silent for a moment or two, so you can each remember Ted in your own way. Those of you with religious faith may like to use these moments for your own private prayer.