Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yes, Reverend, Atheists Grieve Too

I read this post quoting from this article about this opinion in which an Episcopal priest claims that atheists are incapable of grieving because they don't believe in God. Say what? So I felt I had to spell out my own position on this:
  1. People who believe in God almost always believe in Heaven as well. Some atheists (not me) surely wonder why they don't celebrate when a dead loved one goes to Jesus or gloat when an unbeliever is "rewarded" with eternal punishment in Hell. (I know of some believers who do just this.)
  2. Most atheists don't believe in an afterlife (I'm agnostic on specifically this). If a loved one dies and you've lost them, wouldn't you have more reason to grieve?
The assumption of some believers, especially those most involved in spreading the religion, is that belief in God is the prerequisite for morality. If there is neither God nor heaven, the reasoning goes, then morality does not exist because by definition it comes only from On High. Presumably the converse is therefore true, that believers are by definition moral — against which I give you examples such as the Crusaders, the Inquisition, Al-Qaeda, and the Cult of Reason that justified the Jacobins' massacres during the Reign of Terror that ultimately destroyed the French Revolution. Against the main point (God makes morality possible), there's the uncountable number of unbelievers who are good people living moral lives based on relationships with themselves and other people as opposed to some absolute monarch ruling from Heaven. I'll probably get counterexamples thrown at me, atheists who the believers believe prove their point: Ayn Rand, Joseph Stalin, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins. All this proves is that dogmatism is as dangerous and destructive among atheists as it is among believers. The pessimistic case: life is short, we all die, eventually it's as if we never lived, so some kind of escape is necessary, even if only into fantasy. The assumption here is that the lack of an afterlife drains life of all worth. But from the viewpoint of objective realism, isn't it truer that if one life is all we have, it's the most valuable thing in the world? And since we humans are social animals, it also means we need to value each other all the more. It's not true that lack of religion necessarily leads to nihilism. (I skirted close to nihilism myself once — when I was young.) In fact, it may be a sign of a mature and realistic worldview. And whereas the devout aren't required to mourn those who after all are going to Jesus, those without religion who have just lost someone forever have all the reason in the world to grieve.

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