Grieving Without God

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

Get it? 
"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.

Por ejemplo:

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.


 This was not actually my dad's funeral...
 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.

One thought on “Grieving Without God

  1. Accepting that you will never again have the pleasure of your father’s company is, I think, the bravest way to deal with his loss. The thing is, even if life after death exists, why does anyone think that spirits stop changing after they’ve lost their bodies? The father I know now in 2012 is dramatically different from the father I knew in 1999, 1989, 1979. If I could somehow go back in time and talk to my 1989 father about my 2012 father, he wouldn’t believe it–he’d probably be furious for suggesting that he’d ever think or feel or act the way I would tell he would.

    Mormons, of course, believe that spirits will be reunited with their physical bodies in a perfect immortal form, but… Even when I was a kid I saw what wishful thinking that is. I mean, even if, how do we stop ourselves from changing? We’re always changing. Just imagine if, here on Earth, technology existed to keep you alive in your same body for 500 years. Would you be ANYTHING like who you were when you were 20?

    Heaven is basically a wish for things to stay the same forever. Having lived this life (with no proof of anything else), I have to wonder how anyone could seriously want that. I understand the impulse, but isn’t it clearly just that? An uninformed reflex against the sorrow of mortal life?

    Even if we accept an afterlife, how can we see death as anything but permanent? If I die, and my consciousness happens to still be around, I will still never be the same. “I” won’t even be the same, since “I” was so influenced by my point of view through a specific body. And if, through some magic, I was put back into the old body restored, how could I be the same again? Would the configuration of my brain be what it was at my physical peak or my mental peak? Do people who believe in souls and resurrection think that none of this matters? That the soul will interact with the body however it wants despite how it’s configured? And if that’s so, then how do you explain mentally handicapped people? Are their souls handicapped too? (Or is it just their body?)

    The way I look at, no personality can possibly survive death just as no personality can possibly survive life. We’re never the exactly the same as we were.

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