Theism, Atheism, and Tragic Loss
This is the response by one Dennis Prager to an earlier article published in the NY times by Susan Jacoby:
Does atheism offer less to those who mourn than theism? Let’s start by asking what theism has to offer. Well, naturally, there is the hope of eternal life, right? Surely, mourners are deeply comforted by the promise that their bereavement is only temporary and that they will be reunited in heaven with those they have lost. This is a wonderful assurance, right? Bertrand Russell tells the story of a woman who had lost her only daughter and was, naturally, grief stricken. When a well-meaning friend reminded her that her daughter was now in heaven and enjoying eternal bliss, the bereaved parent glumly replied “Yes, of course, but I wish you would not talk about such unpleasant subjects.” The death of a loved one is a terrible thing, and abstract reassurances about eternal bliss or eventual reunion do not work. And this is a good thing. It is natural but exactly wrong to rush to console those in deep mourning. Speaking personally, when I have deeply grieved the last thing I wanted was some “comforter” offering me glib reassurances. Whatever one’s theological beliefs such words will inevitably sound cheap, facile, and superficial. (Job’s “comforters” were his worst torment) Mere words are pathetically inadequate for those who deeply grieve. Grief is real, raw, and deep. Visions of ethereal bliss are thin, insubstantial, and emotionally vacuous. No, grief must be given its day. It must be given its savage due. That is the only way to deal with it honestly and healthily. What do mourners want from others? Tears not words. They want others to grieve with them and share in their pain. “Comforting” words tacitly rebuke grief; sharing the pain of loss affirms and validates those dreadful but necessary feelings. What can atheists really offer those who grieve? The same things that anyone else can—just to be there and to share the grief by letting the mourner know that his or her pain is yours as well. Atheists harbor no delusions about an all-powerful being that will someday, somehow, in some totally mysterious and incomprehensible way make everything right. Atheists therefore are required to face the absolute finality of death with the grim honesty that sees the senseless as truly senseless and eschews pious bromides. Those who have suffered a tragic and pointless loss deserve such honesty, not a false comfort that candy coats and trivializes.