Ubi dubium… | Inaugural Installment: Consoling Atheists

A map of the world, showing the major religion...

A map of the world, showing the major religions distributed in the world as of today. A different type of map which views only the religion as a whole excluding denominations or sects of the religions, and is colored by how the religions are distributed not by main religion of country etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an atheist, of course, though not particularly anti-religion. Let others believe as they will, so long as what they believe does not negatively affect me or mine. I do criticise the excesses of Fundamentalist sects, as with the excesses of any ideology. I believe that no idea is or ought to be beyond critique, though I recognize that religion, like any human enterprise, can lead others to do great good as well as great harm. I find religion fascinating, though I do not believe in mysticism or in any religious doctrines. Of particular interest to me are the great religions of India.

In two recent episodes of the podcast The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Ep. 536, and Ep. 537, the issue came up of what to say to religious nonbelievers when they lose a loved one or friend, what sort of condolences one should and shouldn’t offer to those who do not practice or believe in a religion.

To those interested in the sorts of consolation appropriate for atheists, there’s the book Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, by Greta Christina.

Why mention that? Well…

Being immersed in a religious culture can make it difficult to recognize that immersion, and hinder empathy to those of not part of it or part of some other religious culture. So some religious consolations can seem awkward to nonbelievers, or believers of other religions, even empty. Being told that my loved one is in a better place, or residing, say, with Jesus, or in Paradise, or in Valhalla, or in the fields of Elysium, brings no comfort to me.

But I have no objections to being sincerely told that I or mine are being prayed for, or being offered blessings and other well-wishes from a believer, as it’s the caring that counts.

So, it is best not to assume that others necessarily share your beliefs, especially in a pluralistic society with those of many religions and of none, and to be aware of and understand the beliefs or non-belief of others outside of your particular religious culture or faith group.

We all grieve, we all lose someone close to us, and for most of us, it hurts like nothing else. In considering the belief-systems of others and their particular approach to existential questions at the end of life, the grief you console may be that of your closest friend or dearest loved one.

Ubi dubium… gets its title from a Latin proverb, and the current tagline for this blog. It is a limited series of posts of 160 installments dealing with science, secular issues, scientific skepticism, atheism, and the unruly twin dragons of pseudoscience and antiscience. Join me, if you will, on an exploration of science and reason, their borderlands, and why a good understanding of both is crucial to living in this age so dependent on science and technology.

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