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.

Advertisements

Prayer and Religious Rituals: Do They Actually Have a Physical Effect?

Whenever religious people are asked for evidence that their beliefs are true, it is common that they will cite answered prayer as one of their top reasons for believing. Answered prayer and miracles, to many people, are indisputable signs that their god is real. However, most of these supposed answered prayers and miracles are not remotely supernatural.
Do prayers and/or religious rituals have a physical effect? At one time I would have emphatically answered yes. Read my thoughts if you like and then come to your own conclusions.

The ancient Mayans believed that their gods controlled the weather. They had an elaborate system that they believed caused rain to fall: They paid taxes to the elite rulers, who then paid the priests to perform sacrifices and rituals. Their logic went like this:
“We always pay the priests to perform the rituals, and it always rains eventually. Therefore, the gods control the weather, and our rituals cause them to make it rain.”
But their reasoning was incorrect. We now know that the rain would have come whether they did their rituals or not; rain is not caused by sacrifices, but by dusting mixing with moisture, etc. They incorrectly correlated two complete unconnected events: Their rituals and the weather.
And what if it didn’t rain after their rituals? Well, they assumed that the gods were angry, and they did even more rituals. Since it always rained eventually, their incorrect beliefs were solidified yet again.
But they are not the only people who incorrectly correlated their religious actions with the weather and other natural events. Many ancient cultures have also believed that their rituals and prayers helped to alter natural occurrences. However, like the Mayans, we now understand that there isn’t actually any correlation between the rituals they performed and the weather: the weather would have happened the same way whether they prayed or not.
If you believe that something is impossible without a god’s intervention, then when that something happens, you will see it as proof that the god/s exist and your beliefs are right- even if they aren’t actually connected. Here are some other examples.
Human frailty. Many religious people convince themselves that they are incapable of doing even menial tasks on their own. Thus, when they are able to find their keys, pass a test, stay awake on a long drive, etc., they assume that god must have given them the ability or strength. However, this requires you to completely dismiss your natural abilities in order to believe it. Since many non-believers can do the same things without prayer, this is another illogical correlation of events.
Just because you did something you didn’t know you could do does not mean a prayer was answered; it is more likely that you are simply unaware of or are in denial of your actual abilities. Most humans can do much more than they believe themselves capable of; that’s why we are amazed by humans who have tapped into their potential, such as top athletes, people with extraordinary disciplines, or scientists who can understand very difficult concepts. Also, when faced with stressful situations, adrenaline often takes over and helps us do incredible things. That’s why someone surviving a car crash may be able to lift a car off their child- the temporary adrenaline gave them extra strength to do the seemingly impossible.
Natural disasters. Science can tell us exactly why most natural disasters occur, and often can predict them. There is absolutely no mystery behind tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and most other natural disasters or severe weather that once terrified our ancestors because they didn’t understand the cause. However, many people STILL believe that gods are responsible for these events, and that their prayers can alter these events.
Disease and illness. If you believe that god heals, then when you get better you will naturally assume that god healed you. However, many minor illnesses heal themselves, such as the common cold; saying god healed your cold is illogical and unimpressive because colds generally heal themselves anyways. If you get medical assistance or take medicine, it is probably the medical assistance that brought about your healing.
But what about supposed miracles? Medical science is not exact, so there are some possible answers for supposedly miraculous or supernatural healings:
1. People don’t accept the doctor’s answer. I hear this all the time- people cry “miracle” and the doctor says “no, this is an unlikely result, but not impossible medically.” But many people will ignore a doctor’s response in favor of believing that they experienced a divine intervention. In other words, people want it to be true, so they look for things that could support their beliefs and dismiss the possibility that they could be wrong.

2. The original diagnosis was incorrect. I watched a show recently where a boy fell from a small cliff and people prayed over him. They believed he had broken some bones, but they didn’t know for sure until the X-ray. The X-ray showed no broken bones- so they praised god for a miraculous healing. But was his arm broken at all? It may have hurt, but how do they know it was actually broken to begin with? Doctors can misdiagnose problems too- it happens all the time. So being told you are free of an incurable disease or severe problem may be the result of an original misdiagnosis, not a miraculous healing.
3. The human body doesn’t always conform to expected medical results. Medical science isn’t exact- a treatment that generally only offers small or limited results may have a major result on a specific person, causing a doctor to be surprised. Your body may react well to a treatment that rarely works on other people. This happens because we still don’t fully understand medical science yet, and because people’s bodies are all different from each other. It does not necessarily mean that there was anything supernatural about it; you just might be one of the few people that respond differently to that treatment.

4. The human body is capable of many things we don’t fully understand yet. The power of our minds and bodies are not yet fully known- it is very possibly that we are, to some degree, capable of healing ourselves by sheer willpower. It is well documented that believing something hard enough is sometimes enough to cause our bodies to respond. The brain is like a computer, and sometimes changing the “programming” (our thinking) can fix the problem on its own. So prayer may indirectly help, but not because there’s a god; believing that you are healed may be enough by itself in some cases. Doctors often encourage meditating, prayer, positive thinking, etc. because they all have similar beneficial results- a healthier mind. The healthier your mind is, the better your body can heal itself. For example, some paralysis is caused by the mind- heal your mind, regain your movement. If you are depressed and discouraged, it’s harder for your body to heal itself.

5. If healings really work, then why do we never see an amputee’s limb grow back in front of us? This is because human limbs simply don’t grow back. Unlike most other physical ailments that could potentially be healed by natural means, an amputated limb cannot be fixed without outside assistance. Have you seen someone’s arm grow back? Have you personally seen someone’s leg regrow in front of you? If not, why? Conveniently, the medical issues that are miraculously “healed” are usually the ones that our bodies are potentially capable of healing on their own.

 

I will admit that sometimes things do happen that there seems to be no logical explanation for. However, I don’t think it’s necessary or reasonable to say that “God must have done it” just because we don’t have an answer yet. If history has shown us one thing, it’s this: Everything that we understand now was once a mystery to us; the more we understand the world, the less supernatural explanations are necessary. I would rather be honest and admit that I don’t have an explanation yet than resort to mystical reasoning. I don’t need an answer for everything- sometimes it’s ok to say “I don’t know.”

Blaming God… Heresy or Rational Thinking?

Blaming God… Heresy or Rational Thinking?

I have heard many people say that they do not blame God for various things. I don’t believe he exists- but if he did, I would certainly be blaming him for a LOT of things! Here are a few of the ones I hear a lot and my rebuttals:

1. Their family and friends may be going to hell for eternal torment, leaving the person without their loved ones forever. But they don’t blame God for this.

Answer: Why WOULDN’T you blame God for this? He made the system, he gave you an immortal soul and then created the rules that would send your loved ones to hell, separating them from you. Regardless of why he made these rules or what part we have to play in them, he made the rules and he made the system- he could have made another way that didn’t require torment and separation of dissenters- so it IS his fault.

Picture this: A dictator makes a set of rules. “You have to follow all these rules perfectly or swear undying loyalty to me. If you don’t, you go to the concentration camps.” Some people can’t follow the rules but don’t want to serve him either because they don’t think he has the right to treat people this way, so into the concentration camps they go. Would you blame the dictator? After all, it was technically the peoples’ “choice” and “rebellion” that sent them there. But wasn’t it an unjust situation to begin with? Isn’t any suffering that results from this unjust system the dictator’s fault? And shouldn’t people have the right to leave that country if they want, and live somewhere that is less violent? But of course you don’t have that option with the God of the Bible… it’s his way or the highway, and screw anyone who doesn’t fall in line with his twisted system.

2. Suffering in the world is not God’s fault.

Answer: I’ve heard it before- sin entering the world is what causes bad things to happen, it’s not God’s fault, free will can’t be interfered with, etc. But that’s not really good enough, because he allowed sin to enter the world and he says he will answer prayer! So why does he ignore prayers to end world hunger but answer prayers to help you find your lost keys? Why would he interfere with free will to help you pass your math exam, but let free will reign when priests molest children or women are raped? It doesn’t make any sense. Either God is not capable of answering these prayers, or he is ignoring them. So yes, the suffering in this world IS his fault!

Even if he only answered prayers and didn’t fix anything that wasn’t specifically prayed for, the world would be a much better place within a few moments.

But it isn’t- so it’s his fault for not sticking to his own word. He is either a liar, impotent, or unjust in how he determines which prayers to answer. Or, maybe he doesn’t exist and it’s all random chance and the results of our actions. That’s what I believe- because it makes the most sense.

3. Evil came into the world through Adam and Eve’s sin, so the results of sin aren’t his fault.Answer: I could go into how silly the whole Adam and Eve story is, about how the tree was made to be very enticing instead of gross and he put it right in the middle of the garden with a tempting serpent as though God WANTED them to eat it and was setting them up- but let’s assume that he really didn’t want them to eat it and all of that is just silly coincidence. Here’s the problem:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.n—Isaiah 45:7

It’s pretty hard to get around that verse, although I’ve heard some pretty impressive verbal gymnastics making an attempt; I did it myself during my time in Bible college. But there’s not really any way around it- God made evil. He created evil, he knew beforehand that Satan would rebel, he knew about all the suffering- and yet he made evil anyway. And then he has the AUDACITY to PUNISH people for being evil?? What kind of sick being is this?!?!

So yes, if he exists, then he is FULLY responsible for any and all suffering that results from the evil he knowingly created. He is 100% responsible for every single person that he killed in the Old Testament or torments in hell for being evil because evil being in the world is HIS FAULT.

-Lilly