What Not to Say to an Atheist When They’re Grieving

086b16bebf7132e2b4770016186d4b25So I’ve had some time to process this, and I’m ready to talk about it.

When well-meaning people say that “There is no comfort or hope without Jesus” or “You can’t get through loss without faith” when addressing people who may not share those beliefs, what’s essentially happening is that they are putting down other people’s beliefs and methods of dealing with grief in order to promote their own. It’s exactly what a salesman does- they belittle their competition so their own product is more enticing.

You may personally need Jesus for comfort and hope. But I do not. And that’s ok.

As an atheist, I don’t need prayer or faith to get through sadness and loss. I’ve lived in both belief systems, and I can tell you from extensive personal experience as an ex-Christian that neither offers a superior method of comfort. They’re just different, and some people may do better with one method over another. We all grieve and find solace in different ways; what works for you may not work for me and vice versa. I acknowledge this, and I don’t tell religious people that prayer is useless as a comfort method just because I personally find no solace in it. That would be incredibly rude and hurtful, and also untrue since prayer is a great comfort to many. It used to be for me too, after all. But lately I have heard so many well meaning people say or imply that their faith and their beliefs are the only way to get through difficult life circumstances. And given recent events, it’s been incredibly frustrating- especially since these exact things were said at the funeral. I sat there, listening to people blatantly say that their method of hope and comfort is the only one that works. No hope without Jesus. No comfort without their religion. Anyone who isn’t a Christian must have hopeless, meaningless lives and couldn’t possibly get through this grief. But it’s not remotely true.

Not gonna lie, hearing those words in that context was so hurtful that I felt like punching a wall or leaving the room. Having the loss of my loved one be so blatantly used to push someone else’s belief system on me in my time of grief was nearly unbearable. But I don’t like making scenes and the focus of the day was supposed to be about our loved one, so I held my peace. Afterwards I went to the bathroom where I bawled my eyes out in a toilet stall because one again my beliefs had been belittled and put down so others could promote their own- and right when I most needed support and to feel emotionally safe and accepted. Once again it was made very clear to me that some Christians will never see my beliefs as worthy of recognition and respect and validation; I will always be their project in need of fixing, the heathen in need of conversion. The only beliefs that mattered were Christian ones.

It would have been far easier if all the many people who have said these things had bad intentions. I could have just written them off as rude, but they were well-intentioned people just trying to help. They genuinely thought this was the best way to act. I’ve always tried my best to give people the benefit of the doubt; that hasn’t changed.

I’m bringing this up now because the people who say these things usually don’t realize how hurtful it is to those who don’t share their beliefs. If nobody ever makes them aware of it in a way that fosters respectful conversation, how can we ever mend bridges and learn to get along better? How will they ever learn to stop pushing away the very people that they’re trying to win over?

I’m also sharing this because if I say nothing, people will assume that I’m perfectly fine with them assuming that it’s ok to act this way towards me. I’m not. I am just to polite to make a scene in the moment.

I don’t hate anyone for saying these things, and I won’t hold a grudge, but I’m really (really!) not ok with it. I waited so I could express my feelings without allowing too much hurt to affect my ability to address this without lashing out.

There is nothing wrong with finding comfort or hope in prayer or a religion or in spirituality. It really doesn’t bother me when I see people pray for their own comfort or when they pray for others who want to be included in that, or if they give thanks for their food without expecting me to join in. That’s fine! Go for it! However, the superiority and exclusionary ideology that puts certain Christians’ beliefs and methods on a pedestal above everybody else’s does bother me- especially when I’m grieving and would like for my beliefs to ALSO be respected and acknowledged as valid and important, even if it’s just done by keeping things more neutral when in potentially mixed company. I don’t expect religious people to do atheist things to make me feel comfortable. I want to make that very clear. I don’t need others to participate in my personal traditions in order to feel respected and validated. Honestly I’d much rather try to make everybody feel welcome and accepted no matter what their beliefs are, and to focus on the life of the person who has passed, rather than focusing on ideologies and people’s personal beliefs which people are surely going to disagree on. It’s the exclusion and the implication that my beliefs are inferior and useless that makes me angry and hurt, not the fact that others believe in God and pray.

Please, hear me. Do not ever tell a non-believer that they have no hope or comfort just because they don’t believe like you. It’s pretty much the most hurtful thing you could possibly say to an atheist when they are grieving. Your good intentions may help us look past it, but they don’t make the words any less hurtful or exclusionary.

 

Are you a believer who is unsure how to act around non-believers in these situations? Feel free to ask here. I promise I won’t bite. I’ll just be happy that you care enough to try to learn how to interact with us better. 🙂 Are you an atheist or someone of another belief system who has experienced similar things? Share them if you wish. Everyone must be respectful, however. I wrote this to try to build a better understanding between those who so often just do not understand each other, not to facilitate pointless arguments. We can share our frustrations and grievances in a reasonable manner. Anyone who resorts to name calling or attacks other people personally will be banned.

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Would I Worship a God if it Did Exist?

For those who regularly read my blog, you know by now where I stand on evidence and religion. I used to believe in God, but no more. In order for me to ever believe in the existence of a deity again, there would have to be concrete, scientific evidence that proves its existence. Peer reviewed, according to the scientific method- the whole nine yards. This is how I know certain exotic animals exist- I have never seen them myself, but there is a smorgasbord of scientific evidence to show me that they do indeed exist. I don’t see why I should accept less than this when it comes to a deity’s existence, since the question of his existence is far more important than the existence of a rare frog or bird.

But what if that proof did exist, and it was undeniable that a God did exist? And what if this evidence also proved beyond any doubt that this God wanted worship? After all, the Bible says that even demons believe; believing that a god exists and worshiping it are two very different things. Would I give him the worship he (or she or it) seeks?

No. I don’t think I would. Why?

The character of a deity is important.

Why would someone want to be worshiped? To me, the desire to be openly adored and worshiped signifies a deep character problem. It signifies pride and ego that needs stoking, or a major insecurity problem that they are trying to overcome. It also makes me think of narcissism. To be blunt, I cannot think of a single positive reason for wanting to be worshiped.

Think about it. What kind of people do you respect the most? The people who do good things and then demand recognition for it, or the people who do good without any thought of reward or praise? Doesn’t the demand or desire for public praise kind of negate the good that the person does? It becomes a pride and status thing, rather than simply a good thing, when we do things for others in expectation of recognition or reward.

Desiring a “thank you” for a job well done is one thing; desiring worship is another thing altogether.

A good father or ruler does not demand or expect worship.

Many forms of religion view God as a father or mother. Christianity especially reveres God as a father figure. What kind of father wants to see his children prostrated on the ground in submission and humility, like servants or second-class people? What kind of father constantly needs the praise of his children and gets angry when they do not praise him in the way he wants? Not a very good one. We generally call this abuse or bad parenting, depending on the severity. It’s certainly not loving behavior that respects the autonomy and rights of others. And what about nations where ruler worship is required, such as North Korea? Don’t we usually see this kind of behavior from a ruler as extremely negative and unjust to their people?

Doing good deeds does not mean someone deserves worship.

Of course, thanking someone for a good deed is nice to do. But thanking someone is different from worshiping them. If a kind stranger helps me with my groceries, I will certainly say thank you. But I will not worship him or adore him unconditionally.

If God is real, and he created us and this world and is directly involved in our everyday lives, then he is responsible for both our joys and our pain. Why should I thank him for my joys without also holding him accountable for my pain? If a parent gives their child clothing but also knowingly allows a rapist to harm them, should we expect the child to adore their parents? Of course not! Of course, real parents are imperfect and not all-knowing and child molesting tragically happens without their knowledge or permission; but God isn’t supposed to have those limitations. If he knows all and can prevent any pain he chooses, what kind of twisted father would allow his child to be raped or their sibling murdered?

Besides, I didn’t ask to be created. It’s like a parent expecting their child to be eternally grateful for the labor that their mother went through as she gave birth. Yes, she did a great thing and it was very hard. No, it’s not fair to hold that over a child’s head in order to make them adore her. I have a friend whose mother used to always bring up her “18 hours of awful labor!” anytime she wanted to make my friend feel guilty for not appreciating her enough. That’s not love, that’s manipulation.

My freedom and self respect is important to me.

When someone has true freedom and self respect, they do not feel the need to bow before anyone else. Even if one person has more power than the other, true equality and freedom means that we still do not need to bow before them. When we live in a system where the powerful are revered and the powerless are expected to adore them, we live in injustice. I could not serve a deity who acted like this. 

In summary, I think that it’s very unlikely that I would serve a deity even if one was proven to exist. But until there is proof that one exists, it’s all hypothetical and does t really matter. I wrote this primarily because I’m often asked what it would take for me to be a Christian again.

When Christians Question Our Mental Capability to Change our Beliefs

I’ve noticed an interesting trend since my deconversion a few years ago: When we become Christians, we are commended for making a wise decision. Even if we were indoctrinated from an early age and were never shown alternative beliefs as viable options, people rarely question whether or not our decision to become a Christian was based on manipulation, coercion, social pressure, or whether it was used as a crutch during difficult times. However, when we stop believing and become atheists, the first thing some Christians do is question our mental capabilities and our ability to understand our decision.

Here are questions that atheists are regularly asked when they leave their religious faith and openly come out as a non-believer to their religious loved ones. If these same questions were asked of recently converted Christians, they would certainly (and understandably) be considered offensive.

  • “Did someone influence, manipulate, pressure, or coerce you to make that decision? Who in your life convinced you to believe that way?”
  • “Have you really thought it through?”
  • “What trauma or difficult life event caused you to believe this way?”

And then there are the equally offensive assumptions:

  • “You must be deceived by the devil. Your mind has been taken over by demonic influences.”
  • “It’s just a phase, you’ll come back when you’ve come to your senses.”
  • “You must never have been a Christian in the first place; you must have been mistaken about how sincere of a believer you actually were.”

Basically, if you choose to be a Christian, it’s automatically assumed that you’re mentally capable of making that decision without coercion or manipulation involved. If you choose to stop being a Christian, suddenly your mental capabilities, decision-making abilities, and the validity of your deconversion itself are called into question.

Smart, mentally capable people choose Christianity- mentally deficient, damaged, easily influenced people choose atheism. That’s the overwhelming message I received when I came out as an atheist. 

In the words of Adrian Black (see his blog here), another atheist I know who recently came out publicly and whose mental capability was immediately questioned right off the bat:

“Dismissing my decision as something I was coerced, tricked, or forced into is very much questioning my mental ability to decide for myself. It’s amazed me in the times I have been questioned about this how quickly people forget who they’re talking too. To think that I would flippantly justify or be misled on this of all things… If you are looking for the person who persuaded or coerced me, who broke the shackles of my belief, than look here. I am the one who challenged myself… as I always have.

Charleston Shootings: It Indicates a Huge Problem that We’re Not Addressing.

WittyFacebookStatusMindPictures-12125The attack in Charleston was racist fueled terrorism. It was a terrorist attack, carried out by a white person who believed that black people were ruining his country. We can’t make excuses for this. Our nation is not post-racial, it’s still divided by hate and unfounded fear of people who are different, and tragically innocent people like these churchgoers are paying the price for the hatred and stigma of others. 
And it’s not just people of color who suffer from this national divide and ingrained hatred of those who are different… other groups face similar violence daily in the U.S. by people with the same kind of attitude.
 
You know what really stopped me in my tracks when reading about this incident? The shooter blamed black people for the problems in this nation. He basically said black people were destroying America. In his words: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country — and you have to go.”
 
After I became an atheist, I had strikingly similar sentiments directed towards me. “Atheists are ruining our country! Atheists should leave America! Atheists are evil and immoral and will ruin everything!” Over and over and over and over again, like a broken record that I can’t shut off. Even from people I care about, this stigma of “atheists ruining our nation” was and is continually perpetuated and thrown in my face. This hateful and erroneous belief is even taught in churches. Atheists are the enemy, “we must convert them or fight their evil influence and take back our nation!” and so on. And an even worse attitude is levied against the LGBTQA community, which I am a part of too, so now I get a double serving of the “you’re ruining our nation!” stigma.
So what happens when they teach these ideas to someone who’s prone to violence?  
 
WHEN YOU TEACH AND PROMOTE LIES ABOUT ENTIRE GROUPS OF PEOPLE, WHEN YOU ENCOURAGE HATE AND FEAR, VIOLENCE AGAINST THE STIGMATIZED GROUP IS USUALLY THE RESULT.
 
Yeah, I’m text-yelling. I’m yelling because your words have power, and when you say untrue and horrible things about black people or LGBTQA people or atheists or any other stigmatized groups, then YOU are contributing to a culture that is divided against itself, that fosters domestic terrorism against its own citizens on a regular basis. Yeah, you have freedom of speech, you can say what you want. But your freedom may be literally costing people their lives because not everyone has the restraint against violence that you do. They hear your rants about certain people ruining your country, and they jump to the next logical conclusion: The people ruining their country have to be destroyed to restore order and balance.
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So stop it. Stop perpetuating racism and hatred and misunderstanding of LGBTQA people, atheists, Muslim Americans, and anyone else who dares to not be a white heterosexual cisgender Christian. STOP. If you don’t, then start blaming yourself for these acts of violence committed against them because you’re partly responsible for it.
NO ONE deserves to be attacked or marginalized for who they are or what they believe. No one deserves to live in a nation where other citizens regularly put them down and enact violence against them just because they’re different. I am opposed to terrorism in all its forms- at home and abroad. It just makes me mad to see so many Americans talk about ISIS and then ignore or explain away terrorist acts right in their own backyard. Terrorism isn’t terrorism because someone with a turban does it… terrorism takes many forms, and it happens here among us, by us.

The Hypocrisy of Rudeness in Spiritually Abusive Forms of Christianity

funny-cat-stretching-rudeWhat makes someone rude or immature in a conversation, particularly online? I’ve noticed that the standards for some Christians are very different than standards for nonbelievers. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how nice or rude you are, what matters to them is which SIDE you’re on. These Christians who adhere to spiritually abusive teachings have such a strong us vs them attitude that they will defend a rude Christian bully over a respectful atheist.

For many Christian fundamentalists/Evangelicals/etc., it’s perfectly acceptable to be blunt and even outright rude as long as you’re promoting the right beliefs. It’s “understandable” to get “a little carried away” because your motives are supposedly golden. But atheists and LGBTQ people are given no such understanding. Even if we have been repeatedly insulted and harmed by these people, it’s still “rude” to call them out on it and tell them that they are, in fact, not very nice people.

For example:

If a Christian calls me a sinner and says my sexual orientation is abominable, it’s righteous. If I call them homophobic and point out that their beliefs have caused the LGBTQ community extreme harm, I am the bad one in the conversation.
If a Christian is condescending and says “I’ll pray you come to your senses”, they are praised. But if I suggest that they actually read a science book before bashing evolution, I’m rude and horrid.

  • “You’re going to hell!”
  • “You can’t possibly understand truth because you’re an atheist.”
  • “There are some things we just don’t question.”
  • “Atheists are the cause of all the problems in society.”
  • “Atheists can’t really love or have morals.”
  • “Your life must be falling apart since you don’t believe like me.”
  • “Gay people are unnatural sexual deviants.”
  • “Gay people can love each other if they want, but they should do it behind closed doors and not ever talk about it.”
  • “You can have different opinions than me, as long as your opinions are Biblical.”
  • “I don’t believe your story of deconversion. You couldn’t possibly have been a real Christian and then turn atheist. Either you were never really saved, or you’re lying to me about your past.”
  • “It’s your own fault that your Christian friends abandoned you. You’re a threat to their faith now, and they’re in the right because you refuse to recant your sin and they have to wash their hands of you and follow Biblical discipline.”

These are actual things that have been said to me. Some of them I hear on a regular basis.

So if I get a little irate when I speak to you, if I maybe don’t mince words as much as you’d like, remember that I’m human just like you and I have been told so many hurtful things that sometimes my fuse is a little shorter than it should be. Just like Christians don’t always say things the way they should, I don’t always either. But I will no longer fall for the guilt trip of these hypocritical standards. I will no longer let them bully me and tell me that I’M the rude one. I know that I have been forever labeled as “rude” and “argumentative” by some who don’t understand me, and nothing I do will change that unless I give in and start supporting their side again or shut up and never voice dissenting opinions. Then they’ll call me respectable.

I’ll always do my best to word things respectfully, and if I say something in a manner that was out of line I’ll apologize for it. But I will never again apologize for saying what I think, and I will no longer play this game of rudeness hypocrisy. If you’re rude, you’re rude. Being religious doesn’t excuse that. And I will call you on your bullshit.

“I am an Atheist Because…” (Meme)

316ffa692584253996a1a475c0e25fa2“I am an atheist.

I’m not an atheist because I think it’s cool.

I’m not an atheist because of religious extremism or oppression

in some depraved corners of the world.

I’m not an atheist because I don’t think evil can exist in a world with a god.

I’m not an atheist because I think science can disprove god.

I’m an atheist because of one simple fact:

The Burden of Proof Lies on Religion.

If you propose the existence of something, you must follow the

scientific method in your defense of its existence.

Otherwise, I have no reason to listen to you.”

“You’re an Atheist Because You Want to Sin.”

I’ve heard a lot of things since my beliefs changed. Some are rather funny, but most are hurtful and frustrating. This is one I hear a lot: “You’re an atheist because you want to sin!” Here are my rebuttals.

1. First of all, you’re essentially calling me a liar. I know why I stopped believing, and that’s not it. Your implication is that I actually DO believe in God and sin, but am lying or in denial, and that being an atheist is my excuse for being able to sin. So what you’re saying is that I cannot possibly know my true reasons for disbelieving, but you (often a stranger) somehow do. How arrogant and offensive.

2. Secondly, you’re assuming that I’m basically devoid of common sense. Do you think I’m foolish enough to think that saying “I don’t believe in God” would be enough to save me from the consequences of sin if God did exist and sin was a real thing? Of course not. According to common Christian teachings my belief in sin would be irrelevant, it would not change how I was punished. I’m not foolish enough to try to fool an omniscient deity- I just don’t believe there is such a thing.

3. You assume that I care about or fear sin. I don’t. Just like Christians don’t think about or worry about reincarnation, I don’t worry about sin. Why? Because I don’t think it’s a real thing, other than as a human societal construct. I believe sin is a human construct that was created by people for controlling others. If you tell someone that what they’re doing is sinful and they’ll burn in hell for it, it’s a very powerful tool of manipulation. Political rulers have used this tool since early human history. I don’t think about sin at all in my daily life because it has absolutely no bearing on my life.

It’s equally humorous and frustrating when some Christians threaten me with hell, or make comments about how “if I loved God I would turn from my sin”. I don’t love God- I can’t love something that doesn’t exist. It’s like chiding me for not loving Allah or Vishnu, both of which are deities that other people currently believe in. And I don’t care about sin, because I don’t need obey another human’s arbitrary rules to be moral and kind.