Blogging the string in the labyrinth of Crete

Friday, April 20, 2007

Faithless Recovery and Where the Atheists Are

An anonymous commenter inspired me to write this post. Their comment was:

If you have no faith - how do you cope at such a time of loss.. And if you have faith what a test it must be to hold on to it and find reason and forgiveness...I'm from NY and no matter how many years go by,or how tight I close my eyes, 9/11 never goes away- my daughter and my life has forever changed since that day..the forgiving is slow and complicated and we will never forget.

Apparently, Dinesh D'Souza criticized atheists for not appearing at the memorial for the Virginia Tech students. D'Souza takes this as an indication that god exists (?), and that atheists globally are heartless.

Obviously, this is false.

Atheists experience the grief of loss of life quite as intensely as anyone else. Some may argue that atheists have a more final sense of loss, as many do not believe in an afterlife for the same reasons they do not believe in gods. And, unlike the contention of theists, most atheists attach value to people, valuing the lives we currently have over hypothetical future lives. Chances are, atheists are right with the others grieving, they're simply being courteous enough not to be outright insulting by gainsaying their beliefs at the time. I know well what that's like.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at my desk working at a respected, close-knit firm on one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center, Tower 2. That was at 8:43 am. A short time later, I'd lost over a third of my colleagues and friends.

The company sponsored a memorial service for the victims at a large church shortly afterward, which I attended both out of respect and the desire to see my remaining colleagues. Many were not immediately coming back to work, some never came back, and the company had found scattered workspots for each department so that even those who were working often saw no one outside of their close co-workers.

The memorial service was religious in nature. Listening to the eulogy was like being punched in the stomach over and over and over, to the point where I felt sick and numb at the same time. Those trying to be comforting extended the punishment.

"They're in a better place now"

"God decided it was their time"

"You should thank God you're safe"

The service and reception afterward was tortuous and traumatic. I'd never wanted to push my beliefs on others, and was thus a fairly quiet atheist. It simply wasn't a time I could bring it up with my coworkers; it would only have made them feel the same deep chasm that I felt between us. Possibly, they would recoil with revulsion at the idea that I could not imagine the victims with their dead relatives or continuing to watch over their living relatives as ghosts. I felt deeply alone and isolated from my coworkers.

Initially I simply worked to help the company recover. Remarkably, it did. Comfort came slowly, in dribs and drabs, mostly as I read less religious eulogies printed in newspapers and online. These simply celebrated the lives of the people -- describing, in pleasant terms, their personalities and idiosyncracies. In comments to the posts, I could see the outpouring of fond remembrances and the impact these people, even though many were young, had made in their lives. One could see what that impact had done, and the continuing impact it would have in the future both in their effects on others and in their children. It helped, and little by little the pain subsided. Passage of time itself helps, whether one's an atheist or theist.

Forgiveness is slightly more complex. After all, forgiving the 19 terrorists of that day, or Osama bin Laden, it largely irrelevant for them. It's not like forgiving your wife for cheating on you, or your best friend for crashing your car. I will not be in the position to have the terrorists answer to me. The only reason "forgiveness" is necessary is to keep me from personally obsessing over it. It's rather easy for an atheist not to obsess over 19 dead people who he never cared about in the first place. They're gone. It's only a slightly greater stretch not to obsess about OBL, who may be dead or alive, but either way I'm unlikely to ever meet him.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams.

Did you read Mapantsula's response to D'Souza?

It begins,
I am an atheist and a professor at Virginia Tech. Dinesh D’Souza says that I don’t exist, that I have nothing to say, that I am nowhere to be found.

But I am here.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, thank you for sharing that. What an incredible experience you had!

I do believe in an afterlife, but I don't pretend to be able to come even close to comprehending what that will be like. I am Catholic, and one concept the Catholic Church has that I like is that of the anonymous Christian. As I'm sure you know, many Christian denominations think that if anyone doesn't believe what they believe, those people are doomed to hell. The idea of "the anonymous Christian" is that anyone who truly lives according to their conscience will be just fine when this life is over. Even though you and I have different beliefs about this, I hope you won't mind if I think of you this way.

3:14 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I did read his response, which was excellent. I also greatly appreciated your list of contemptible ghouls. Actually, I don't think D'Souza was the worst.

The idea of a comfortable afterlife is a pleasant one, Dennis, so I certainly don't mind if you think of me that way. I've been told I'm going to hell often enough that it's a nice change.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good morning
I completely don't understand this--

I am an atheist and a professor at Virginia Tech. Dinesh D’Souza says that I don’t exist, that I have nothing to say, that I am nowhere to be found.

But I am here.

I am the one who prompted your writing about "Faithless Recovery" I have faith-a deep faith- but I can't say with certainty if it's god or budda or tiny fairys or all those that a passed ahead of me. I just know for certain that there is a force which guides and watches over my life. Be that as it may it never affects my opinions of those who feel there is no god or higher power. Do they not put there pants on the same way I do? Or get ticked off when there is no toilet paper left on the roll- are they no heart broken when loved ones die- Wether a person has or does not have faith should have no bearing on who you are or how you treat others- And forgive me for being in a Cacoon but who the hell is D'Souza and why would anyone value a person with such a narrow minded view- That's not true faith. And I have another question which has nothing to do with religion.. what is the difference between ego and pride...Well as par for my course I'm off to work like a herd of turtles! Have a wonderful and faithless day! thanks Crypticlife :-)

6:04 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm sorry you had to listen to all those inappropriate remarks. It amazes me how people are so inappropriate to people who are grieving. Even if someone does believe in an afterlife, hearing someone say "it was their time" or "they're in a better place" could give the grief-stricken person the message that other people can't handle their grief and don't want to hear about it.

6:28 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Well, I don't really think it's their collective fault. Many of them were grieving as well, and it's hard to come up with an appropriate response. I think they were trying as best they could.

6:48 AM  

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