So my last blog entry was on religion, and one of the things I mentioned about religion was that it offers hope for our lost loved ones. In some rather unfortunate timing (not that there is ever fortunate timing for a death in the family) my grandmother has passed. I knew she was not well when I wrote my last blog post, but it is rather difficult to prepare yourself fully for the death of a loved one. So, how, as an atheist, do I cope knowing (based on my beliefs) that my grandmother is gone?
I can take some comfort in the fact that she was in her 90s, and so had led a long life up until this point. But that doesn't change the fact that she is gone.
Grief is one emotion I have always struggled with, I know of no real rational way to deal with the loss, which is, to someone with my beliefs, rather final. I have no hope that they are happy now, or that I may see them again. They are just gone. So I am left with nothing to help me cope. All I have left is my own internal coping mechanisms, and unfortunately I fear they I not terribly healthy, the most effective method I have, and the one I dislike the least, is to descend into rationality and shut away the troublesome emotions, to deal with them later, when they have had time to subside, unfortunately they tend to subside very slowly when not dealt with. I have tried hard, for years, to avoid this coping strategy, as it tends to set me back in my relationships. I also have a tendency to compartmentalise my life, this is more a general coping strategy, than one for strong emotions, but I also find it hinders my personal growth, and my relationships, and I have, in the last few years started to break down the last of those compartments, but I fear this will not last in my current state of mind. Unfortunately this rather shows that I, as an atheist, don't really cope with grief. Writing this blog post is proving to be a little helpful, but only a little.
Essentially I am saying that I, as an atheist, do not really cope with grief. Perhaps other atheists handle it better, I certainly hope so.
So an old friend of mine has started to look into religion. She is a person who I consider rational and intelligent. So why should I care about this? Well I care because I fear they may find religion, and this will shake my view of them as rational, and in turn my view of the world around me. It is an entirely selfish fear, but alas not one I think is entirely irrational.
So to start with, before I explain why I fear my friend will become religious I should explain some background. As I have said I credit them with intelligence, and rationality, religion is inherently not rational, it is founded in faith. Also it is worth noting that I myself have looked into religion in the past, and I have not found religion in the process. They, like I, are atheist (believe that their is no god). So what is the problem?
Well to start, they are atheist, but it is not the same passionate, burning atheism that I am afflicted with (and it is an affliction), they are more agnostic than that, whereas you would be no more able to convince me that God exists than you would be able to convince me that I am a fish. It is this atheism, founded in hatred, that has prevented me from becoming religious, not my rationality. My friend is far more rational than me on this, and so a good argument could sway her. Indeed the whole reason I ever started to investigate religion was so I could tear it apart wherever I saw it (I have since mellowed, but I have not changed my beliefs), my friend is looking into it out of curiosity. Then there is religion itself, belief is an essential part of life, you must believe in something to be able to go about your daily life, even if that belief is as simple as "my experiences are an accurate reflection of my life". Religion uses this, and seductively has answers for some of the harder questions in life "why are we here?" "what is it all for?" "what is right and wrong?". These are not easy questions to answer to an atheist, but religion answers them, and does so comprehensively (although I would argue not necessarily correctly). As I have said we need belief, so why not extend that belief to include answers to the hard questions? Especially when you consider what else religion offers, hope, that there is meaning to your suffering (whatever form that may take), hope that loved ones we have lost have found happiness, and hope that death is not the final meaningless end to life for us. All of this offers a great deal to anyone who will just believe. My life is good, I have troubles, but nothing I can't deal with, my friend suffers from mental health problems, and is far from wealthy, so religion offers far more to her than it could to me.
So why does this bother me? Well for the same reason I never became religious, even when I was at my most vulnerable to the hope and answers religion offered. I have a deep seated, and irrational, hatred of religion, I recognise it now, and it is a weakness, but one that informs my view of religion and the religious. I see religion as irrational, foolish, stupid even. If my friend became religious, I would struggle to reconcile my view of them with my view of the religious, doing so would require me to question my beliefs, such that they are, and this is a problem. We all need faith to function, faith in something that allows us to get on with our lives, how can we cope without that faith? How will I cope without mine?