These are my thoughts based on a post written by a christian as a response to a post by an atheist on grief, entitled Grieving as an atheist- a surprising dilemma. I urge to read the two links to get the correct picture of the matter at hand.

A while back a dear friend of mine lost a baby boy, a small baby. When I went to see him, all those who had come to see him told him how his boy was in a good place- how they know is for another day- that god had his reasons for calling him. I don’t know and still can’t see how those words, no matter how reassuring they sound is of any help. I didn’t tell him much that evening, but I think just being there with him was sufficient. I recall back when my mum died, just knowing my friends were close by was enough for me and we would, to just distract ourselves from all the grief, tell jokes with one another. The passing of a loved one is indeed depressing to say the least and it is not any less for the atheist. To, however, presume there is something magical about telling those bereaved that their relative, friend, child or parent is another place I don’t think is a solution and does not make death any richer!

I  have a big problem when the OP writes

Ms. White is correct on a surface level. Being a friend is important and being a friend in the time of crisis is necessary, but if there is no answer to the grave, if there is no word of assurance which can be offered, friendship does not become a substitute

because the author here feels that since he believes in a heaven or whatever place people go after they die, to be a friend is on correct on the surface! I contend that all you really need is to know there are friends who will listen, offer a helping hand and most of all allow you to cry on their shoulders. It is only when you experience loss do you realize the hollowness of such words as be strong and so and so is in heaven. The only reason sometimes I don’t mourn when I think of ma is knowing that she is at rest, free from all willing and desiring. Do I miss her? Yes every moment!

As I have said in a number of articles, atheism answers to one question and the rest are for grabs. To claim that atheism is bleak because there are no talk of gods is to pretend to be unaware of atheistic religions and is to express an ignorance that shows how one holds their chosen religion in a place of privilege inspite of any evidence to the contrary. It is to act like a child, who having seen no other toys, thinks his wire toy is the best that can ever be!

If to believe that a god loves you and waits to meet you in heaven gives your life meaning, be my guest! I don’t ask you to live my life for me. If after looking at life and seeing it having no meaning or purpose beyond that which we give it is sufficient for me, why should it bother you? I ask though, if the religious person believes their lives have some special meaning, why do they get bored? And what, tell me, is this meaning? Is it same for the Jew as for the Muslim or the different gods have different demands or offer different meanings?

In the face of death, the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes ring true when he says in Ecclesiastes 3

19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

The OP’s conclusion contradicts everything he has said about atheism and death. He writes,

As Christians, we must be clear that we do not believe in the hope an afterlife simply because it offers us a therapeutic response to death. Rather, we believe in the hope of heaven because of the truths found in Scripture namely, that Christ has come, Christ has defeated sin, and Christ has conquered the grave. There is a peace which comes to us and a satisfaction we can have by our faith in these great truths.

If this is not therapeutic and is told for that reason among others, then someone please educate me on what is meant by therapeutic.

I urge the author of the post to spend time to read Ingersoll’s address at his brother’s funeral, to read letter SERVIUS SULPICIUS TO CICERO on the loss of his daughter Tulia, where there is no mention of heaven or hell but still moving or to read the letter by Epicurus to Menoeceus where he tells him, in part,

Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the person who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

And if at the end you still find this as bleak, then you need help.

Painful as it is to lose a loved one, a close friend, telling them they are going to heaven or that you are praying for them is a hollow reassurance. There is much more value in being by their side, listening to their sorrows and offering a helping hand when necessary. This my friends are my thoughts on the matter and I contend here there is nothing bleak about knowing that when I die, I will be no more. It makes this life worth living and fighting for.

Grieving as an atheist

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

12 thoughts on “Grieving as an atheist

  1. Considering that a Christian cannot offer words of assurance since they have no proof of their claims. They can offer words that are nothing but baseless claims, insisting that their choice of one religion’s nonsense is the only “right” one. Again, we see Pascal’s wager being offered and lies about how the bible offers “truths”. The “peace” that the Christian claims is nothing more than wishful thinking and their “satisfaction” is nothing more than assuming that their nonsense is true.


  2. mixedupmeme says:

    I can remember saying things like I’ll pray for you etc. I never did pray for them….Just something to say to somebody. I probably just mumbled it.
    I was reading about what an atheist can do for a grieving friend. The author said she offered TIME and TEA to her bereaved friends. That would work for me.


    • makagutu says:

      Tea and time would work for me too.
      Words are not needed at such times of grief. Most of the things people say ring really hollow when you sit down to reflect on them.


  3. […] responsibilities. However, in a quick reply I think it might be nice to respond to a post called “Grieving as an Atheist”. This post has a Christian author, but the discussion is concerning itself with a Guardian […]


  4. aguywithoutboxers says:

    When the loss of a loved one occurs, no words can truly heal the loss that we feel, ever. No words from any belief system really provide comfort. It is the closeness of other loved ones around us that provide the solace we need to move on.

    For certain belief systems, there is a heaven and a hell. Now, since no one knows whether the deceased ended up, can a true friend really lie to us and say “a better place” when the dead person may very well be sifting coals in hell? I think not!

    Great post, my Nairobi brother! Excellent topic! Much love and naked hugs!


    • makagutu says:

      Thanks my good friend. No words can be able to truly do anything for us at times of grief, knowing that others grieve with us is to me more valuable than any promises of heaven or nirvana!


  5. Sonel says:

    Well said Mak. Why people need to find ‘words of comfort’ that doesn’t mean anything to a person at that time is beyond me. Some think I am strange because I don’t like to say anything at a time like that. I would just look at the person and give him/her a hug and keep them close to me. No words are necessary at a time like that and all you can do is to listen if that person like to talk. Great post my friend. 😀 *hugs*


  6. Allallt says:

    I’d not read the letter by Epicurus before. It is beautiful.


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