Atheists on grieving: ‘I offer time and tea’

19

The number of 'religiously unaffiliated' is rising. They told us how they offer solace in times of grief without religious platitudes

Grief is hard for anyone to deal with. It's a time when family and friends share words of comfort. But for atheists, some of the most common terms like "s/he's in a better place" or "you're in my thoughts and prayers", just don't apply. So what do they do?

In a recent piece in the Guardian, Tiffany White talked about how offering solace during times of grief is different when you are an atheist. Socially accepted platitudes are suddenly irrelevant. There is no better place to go to and no offer of prayer to extend.

Tiffany ended her piece saying:

Even though I wasn't armed with an arsenal of hopeful and optimistic phrases to make her feel better with, I realized that simply being a caring and understanding friend was more important. And isn't that what really matters?

We opened up the question of how atheists comfort grieving friends to Guardian readers. We wanted to know what atheists do or say when those close to them needed comfort. Here's what they told us.

Written By: Dhiya Kuriakose
continue to source article at theguardian.com

19 COMMENTS

  1. Surely the truth is more consoling that some silly children’s lies. Christians imagine they need these lies because they have never had the courage to face life without them. The irony is, life without the threat of a ogre in the sky plotting to torture you for eternity is much much more comforting and much more plausible.

    Believing in god is as silly as fretting about an ogre hiding under the bed or in the closet. There is no evidence for such ogres.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Surely the truth is more consoling that some silly children’s lies.

      I would say probably not in the context of greiving. I think this is the one area where atheists will always lose out to the religious because this is, in my opinion, the only reason that the vast majority of believers are believers. Most couldn’t give a stuff about angry gods or stupid rules, all they want is their loved ones not to be gone forever.

      And I think it silly to pretend that anything can alleviate that grief as well as believing someone, particularly when young, hasn’t really gone forever. All we can do is offer an ear and never use it as an opportunity to disparage belief. There are so many other opportunities to do that.

  2. I am Chinese. Throughout my life I know no more than five people who claimed to be following a religion. In another word, almost everyone I knew was an atheist. We offer comfort to each other all the time. There are plenty of things to say to make other people feel better without mentioning any God’s name. It’s quite natural.

    Besides, if I remember correctly, all the major religions are no more than 2000 years old. So how did our ancestors lived their life more than 2000 years ago?

    • Well, they would perform rites of mourning mixed with song ans they prepared the body toward it’s journey to the underworld. Read the writings of Homer and you will see that even before the modern Gods, man still had ritual with the older Gods.

      In reply to #2 by Linghong:

      Besides, if I remember correctly, all the major religions are no more than 2000 years old. So how did our ancestors lived their life more than 2000 years ago?

  3. Religious belief in my view is an insult to injury in the process of grief. Religions talk of life but in reality they devalue all of life, Religions say life is meaningless unless you can redeem it and cash it in for a better after life. It says all we had was nothing, all we experienced and shared was nothing, all that we meant to each other was nothing and that against incalculable odds we, the lucky ones who lived to share our consciousness meant nothing at all. I only talk to the bereaved when they broach the subject, grief is complex and depending on the persons experience can be very private. Only religious comforters leap in with, “Well they are in a better place now” and “God is looking after him/her now”, “I’ll pray for you” and all the rest of that crap. When they are ready I listen and gently talk them through their experiences, the good times that were unique to them and how fortunate they are to have shared their life with that special person. It probably isn’t perfect but its better than insulting them and tastes no worse than tea and sympathy

  4. The most notable difference is between humanist funerals with a celebrant, (https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-celebrant/) and theist funerals – which are mainly rants about (a chosen) god, and god-bothering mythology.
    A humanist funeral celebrates the life and achievements of the deceased, without any gods or religions trying to take the credit or making snide judgements about these. It often has music or texts, which they specified and enjoyed in life.

    Grieving can be an extended process, but clearing up understandings, helps people recover and move on.

    The important features in the lives of a loved ones, happen during their lives , not in some distraction of a mythical afterlife, or worries about Hell-fire or other rubbish!

    My mother had a humanist funeral respectfully attended by family, friends and acquaintances: – Atheists – Christians and Muslims.

  5. ‘Tea and Sympathy’

    Her original article is good – gently illustrates that all humans want, really, is a warm hug and and someone to listen. Also, I like that her article sparked folks to share their personal stories; a sort of guide, if you will.

  6. I’d rather be comforted by an atheist any day.

    if you don’t subscribe to the eternal butlins philosophy you can concentrate on what mattes. talking about where a dead person has gone evades the real issue of the living persons left behind. a loved on might be dead, or in heaven but either way the survivor will never see them again as long as they live. for that reason i don’t think many atheists feel so awkward about knowing what to say.

    besides, saying “he’s in a much better place now” can backfire to a hindu who may reply “oh really? great! can we go see him? i want to know what he came back as?”

  7. We wanted to know what atheists do or say when those close to them needed comfort.

    Some members of the Pirahã, an atheist tribe in Brazil, are on record bursting out laughing when a Western anthropologist spoke of his mother’s suicide because, as the Pirahã explained, “we don’t kill ourselves.”

    Probably not the response the good folks at the Guardian were looking for but there it is.

    As for me, I don’t think this is a partiularly insightful question. I behave like most everyone else in my culture except for the supernatural bit. And I might add, plenty of believers in my experience leave that bit out of their comforting process as well.

    It’s my opinion that a spoken language, while often helpful, is still ultimately an inadequate tool for expressing comfort when compared to the sharing of one’s silent body language: nearness, looking into their eyes, embracing. That is what is impossible for an invisible deity to do.

    Mike

  8. I will be standing up (propped up of course) at my viewing, with a motor attached (surreptitiously) to my arm, causing it to wave back and forth. There will be drinking and music and tears and laughter.

    No, really,
    What I don’t really like is the way the word atheist is made to sound like “leper”… Otherwise, I get why the faithful would be curious about this since so much of their system rests upon death and what comes after. I get it.

  9. I’ve attended five funerals in the last few years ( I’m of an age when parents are dying) and four of the five have been secular. They’re so much better than the church services. Instead of the mutterings of one-size-fits-all prayers and completely impersonal pronouncements, these secular funerals are actually about a real life led by a real person. Much more satisfying.

    At the one religious ceremony, people were looking around when they were supposed to have heads bowed and showing general disinterest at all the pie-in-the-sky theology. We Australians are an irreverent lot.

  10. Has anyone read the wonderful tract of why you should have a physicist at your funeral? One of the most inspiring and not religious upbeat talks of all time. It talks of how energy doesn’t die and that all of our protons go on into this world and that we are still there but just less orderly. It is wonderful.

    • In reply to #15 by bebestephens:

      Has anyone read the wonderful tract of why you should have a physicist at your funeral? One of the most inspiring and not religious upbeat talks of all time. It talks of how energy doesn’t die and that all of our protons go on into this world and that we are still there but just less orderly.

      This argument has never worked for me. We aren’t the particles and energy we are the patterns they make. When the patterns change we are gone.

      Michael

  11. Personally I resent Christians and others making consoling noises along with their sympathies and inabilities to accept the reality of what has happened and how it affects the close friends and relatives of the deceased. The reality is everything that lives will die, otherwise this world would be extremely cluttered. On the up side, things that live reproduce so part of us continues on in the DNA of our offspring and additionally there is a limited testimony to our existence in the memories of those remaining and our achievements. I usually sent a note of condolence wording the above sentiments according to the personality of the deceased, often the families include this in the eulogy and it is surprising the number of religious families who ask for permission to do so. It seems even they are more comforted by a dose of reality than by the myths of their ancestors.

  12. In the face of losing someone dear, I think any human being would prefer the honest, non-praying kind of support an atheist is likelier to offer. That’s what emphasises how valuable the deceased person was, and how valuable the people remaining are. It gives you real hope in the immediate situation: not ‘I’ll pray for you and it’ll get better when you die’, but ‘Hang in there, all’s not bad. We’re still here.’

    Babble of a post-Earth meeting in the emerald garden is bound to either deeply depress the mourning person at a fundamental level, as deep down anyone will instinctively know that it isn’t true (or at the very least have doubts), or at best provide no real support in a time or crisis, as the responsibility is (as always with Christians) shoved over to big daddy in the sky. It’s Christian morality in a nutshell; holier-than-though speeches but no real responsibility.

Leave a Reply