Howdy y'all! I thought I'd interrupt the flow of podcast notes with an actual blog post! How 'bout that!
The impetus for this increasingly rare occurrence ("Captain! We've spotted a wild blog-post!" "Arr… this be a glorious day") is that I recently went out for a beer with a friend. Well, ok… that, in and of itself is not that interesting, I know. But we had a lovely conversation, and it touched on some juicy stuff, and I thought I'd share.
Our little chat meandered through all sorts of topics, and included several interruptions by a very outgoing drunk young man who turned out to have a wealth of "Jesus" jokes
|"Cause she heard he was hung like this!"
(What's the difference between Jesus and a hooker? The face they make when you nail 'em! *Rimshot*).
Anyhoo, the conversation eventually rolled around to the fact that my dad just passed away, and his dad is currently in the process of dying of cancer.
We were talking about how difficult and unfair a position it is to be the only atheist in a grieving family situation. Here's the thing: in our society, a believer can feel free to speak about their belief with absolute impunity. Even if they know that there is someone in the room who doesn't believe as they do, they can spout their nonsense as though it's undisputed fact, with no worry of refutation.
Why? Because it's completely unacceptable to say anything about it. Ironically, turning the tables– that is, an atheist making an unqualified statement of his or her belief in the same situation– is also completely unacceptable. Hell, it's downright offensive. It's hurtful. How dare you.
Situation- A family mourns the impending death of a beloved patriarch.
Mom: I just feel so comforted to know that he'll be safe in Jesus' arms in the next life.
Sister: I honestly believe that if we pray earnestly enough, God will help dad. I don't care what the doctors say, miracles happen every day, you know.
Uncle: We're all so blessed to be going through this with him.
Atheist Son: I have to say- while, as someone who doesn't believe in God, I obviously don't take comfort in any of those thoughts, I do think there's comfort in just being here with each other and expressing our feelings. I guess my take is that dad's a mammal, and mammals get cancer, and medical science hasn't figured out how to stop it yet. We know he's going to die soon, and regardless of what you believe happens after death, none of us will have the pleasure of his company ever again in this life, and that's really hard to deal with. But I think we'll all be a lot better off if we just face that fact bravely, band together as a family, and seek whatever additional help we may need in processing our feelings.
Mom: [begins to cry] Why would you say that? Why do you hate us so?
Uncle: You ought to be ashamed of yourself. How could you treat your mother that way?
Sister: I'm going to pray for you, you monster.
| Can you spot the atheist being nice?
My chat with my buddy ended with him feeling comforted by my reminding him that the death of a loved one entails really just one or two tough days of smiling and nodding and biting his tongue, and then life just sorta goes on. At least that's how it was for me.
But it still kinda sucks, you know? To be the one who's grieving, and still have to politely put up with people inanely preaching their "comforting" nonsense to you without even checking in to see if it might not, in point of fact, be a belief you share. I actually found much of the admittedly well-intentioned proffered solace kind of disturbing. Even if I believed that my pop was happily in heaven now, that doesn't change the fact that I have to do without him. That's what I'm dealing with right now. That's the reality of mourning- everything else is just distraction. The cosmological questions can wait.
To say nothing of the downright rudeness and judgment that hides behind religion in these situations. How is it ok for someone to come up to me after a funeral and with as much passive-aggression as she can muster, ask me "Now why did you have him cremated?". See, she's Mormon, and Mormons frown on cremation. "Well gosh, lady… I didn't realize that these deeply personal choices were ANY OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS!" … I wanted to say… Instead I smiled gently and said something about it being what dad wanted.
That isn't true, by the way. What dad really wanted was for us to take his body and dump it in the wilderness for the wolves and coyotes. Maybe I should've told her that.