Friday, September 30, 2011

Theist and Atheist Grief

All human beings in the world; Atheist, Christian, Muslim, and Jew, experience grief. It is a major part of our human experience. But the social way that grief is viewed and dealt with is unique to culture. Since the beginning of history, religion and mysticism have monopolized on this necessary function, and it still mostly remains in the powerful clutches of religion today. We human beings need explanation; it’s helpful to know that when shit happens there is a good reason for it. But this human desire does not go well with the human brain, which is irrational, and sees patterns and cause when none are there. Our brain is well adapted for survival, but not rationality.

Emotional pain is irrational. It makes sense that irrational ways of dealing with irrational pain would be the most popular. But popularity is not an argument for the best or the most beneficial. Theism and religion’s grief management style is archaic. I find the way that average theists deal with pain in everyday life to be emotionally harmful.

One of my coworkers and good friends recently caused a car accident. My friend was fine, but the other driver had severe medical issues and permanent damage. Although the accident was my friends fault (failure to yield), it could have happened to anyone. He felt horrible, and took a few days off to deal with the shock. I can only imagine the emotional sting he felt as he woke up each morning remembering the awful ordeal. The other guy’s mother was in the police station when my friend was there. She was furious and was yelling at the police officer asking why he had not been arrested.

Of course we can understand the pain this mother felt for the suffering of her son. It would be emotionally difficult. But this leads to my main point; when theists experience grief they are also weighed down with the additional pressure of figuring out why their misery is all part of God’s perfect plan. After heart wrenching grief, theists must justify their pain while protecting the assumption that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good.

The only justification left is that the injury and agony are really good and they are part of Gods plan, ta da! And this is why I am angry enough to care. Are you fucking kidding me!?!?!?! The accident that my friend caused was good? All of his emotional pain and his heavy financial consequences were good?? My coworker and friend spent two years for God, he donates 10 percent of his tiny income for God, he takes a day off his busy schedule for God, and that’s how God repays him? And what about the victim and his mother? The accident will cause him to loose months away from school and work lying in the hospital with long term disability.  Is permanent damage and months of pain really the best way for an omniscient God to teach petty earth lessons?

Some will say that we only have a small picture, that we cannot understand the lessons God wants for us. It is out of our cognitive reach. Everything is in Gods blueprint. It is good because God made it. In moral arguments the end rarely justifies the means. Why is it acceptable for God? Why is he not called a sadist?

And just to be clear, I am an Atheist. I am not really angry at an old white man with a beard above me. I am angry at religion, and the social concept of God. To me that is all God is, a social idea. And yes, I am damn mad at that.

Atheists experience grief better; it still hurts, and it is still painful, but we do not have the additional burden of justification. When shit happens, we know there is no reason. There is no grand, perfect plan where your misery is required; and no supernatural, all powerful, being is watching you suffer. It just sucks. And that acceptance, I find very peaceful and liberating in the face of grief.

So much of my anger toward Christianity and religion involves offensive ways for justification. Justifications are religions only defense barrier. For centuries Christianity has been fighting the battle against empiricism. Each time a supernatural explanation is replaced by a natural one, religion loses ground. Christianity fights back with justification. No matter what happens in our physical world it is proof for religion’s supernatural claims. This defense works; religion is still around, but the good, average theists are the collateral damage.
Yes I am angry, just like
the Angry Birds

I am angry because a car wreck is evidence for a loving God. I am angry because theists must work their brains in circles to maintain faith when they should just feel comfort from friends and loved ones. I am outraged that horrible suffering must be called good to protect the holiness of Yahweh’s name. And I am pissed that theists feel unnecessary emotional pain because religion says it proves their claim. 


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  2. I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about exactly this. He is a born again Christian and I am an Atheist. We talked about the misery felt by the victims of Jerry Sandusky. I asked where was God when they were being sodomized in the Penn State shower? He said he was grateful to God that there was not more misery in the world because there is so much evil that it could be worse and God keeps much of the misery at bay.

    I could hardly believe the reasoning. I agreed to disagree. I feel sorry for him and I want to tell him he doesn't have to do these intellectual acrobatics. How awful to feel grateful that God spared so many children, but couldn't/wouldn't spare the ones who were raped? I think my colleague is a good man and I just can't understand how you reconcile this.