My mom passed away a few years ago. My cousins who I rarely see much of anymore were wonderful in coming out to pay their respects to their “Aunt Terry”. Outside the church as we waited for things to get settled I spoke to my cousin Tommy. I thanked him for taking the time out to be there. I also told him then that I appreciated the feelings he was having when his mother died some years earlier. I said that while I was there at her wake and her funeral and I could sympathize with his feelings then, only at the death of my own mother did I really have a full understanding of what such an event felt like.
He thanked me and then noted that his mother’s passing had brought him closer to God. Now the family knows that I’m an atheist. Tommy’s statement to me was purely out of graciousness and a desire to uplift me. It wasn’t an effort by any means whatsoever to make me feel bad, yet his words left me cold.
I find that the words of sympathy Christians give, while comforting to other believers, are of little comfort to those who don’t believe in a deity. This idea that we suffer now but that all will be better in Heaven doesn’t add up to the non-believer.
Often times on CAF the question is asked how does one best evangelize, and the response is often to do right and lead by example. Non-believers often will do right and lead by example, although not to convince people of the correctness of their faith position but simply to do right.
The idea that atheists can not console but only rage is a seriously flawed and inaccurate characterization. There is consoling that doesn’t require asserting that there is a place beyond the earthly realm to which the sufferers go.
Atheists can’t tell the woman in Haiti who suffered the loss of a child that her baby is in Heaven, or the Elysian Fields, or any post-death paradise. The atheist also can’t look the woman in the eye either and say that her baby’s death was part of a holy plan. The atheist can’t with a straight face say that a child in unimaginable suffering made prayers upon deaf ears.
None of the priests or friends or relatives at my mother’s wake would dare say that watching my Mom with my father as she screamed in pain the night before she died begging for death would bring me closer to belief in God.