Grief Beyond Belief, A Resource For Bereaved Atheists

The “Grief Beyond Belief” Facebook page gets a write up in USA Today:

When Rebecca Hensler’s infant son died in 2009, she received numerous condolences from friends, colleagues and even total strangers she met online.

She knew their intentions were good, but their words weren’t always helpful. And in the rawness of her grief, Hensler found some of them downright hurtful.

Hensler is an atheist, so when people described her three-month-old son Jude as being an angel, or part of God’s plan, or “in a better place” than in his mother’s arms, the pain sometimes overwhelmed her.

“(Atheists) don’t think we are going to get to hold our children again,” Hensler told a group of about 30 members of the East Bay Atheists, a monthly gathering of nontheists, where her descriptions of people’s visions of her son as an angel drew a few gasps.

“We are facing an absolute loss, so when someone projects onto that the idea that we are going to be able to hold our children again or communicate with them, it is essentially dismissing the magnitude of that loss.”

As the atheist community grows and matures, one thing people are looking for is a way to process grief and sorrow without the trappings — or support — of religious ritual and belief.

Read more (including remarks from Greta Christina).

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • michaelbrew

    Ironically, my aunt just died this morning. I agree that the religious sentiments aren’t exactly helpful, though I don’t take it personally because I understand that people are being sincere in trying to make me or the family feel better. I think it would be nice, however, to have secular resources for grief counseling and the like.

  • Tony

    I just ‘liked’ the Grief Beyond Belief page. Two years ago, I lost the best friend I’ve ever had to a heart attack at the age of 29. This was such a devastating loss that I fell into a depression that still haunts me to this day. I remember driving back from dinner shortly after my friend passed away thinking how much I wished I could believe the ‘he’s in a better place’ mindset, but no matter how much I wanted to believe that, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. It’s ironic that many believers are so venomous towards atheists. There are many of us that can easily see the comfort that some religious beliefs accord. We just don’t believe those beliefs are founded in reality.

  • danielmchugh

    Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. When you’ve just lost someone close to you, and someone who never was half as close to the deceased presumes to tell you that your loved one is getting cozy with a creation of pure fantasy… that’s not only not comforting, that’s insulting. They don’t see it as such, but it isn’t your responsibility to accommodate their beliefs or be mindful of their feelings in the wake of your loss- and that is all too often what grieving atheists have to do.

    Having GBB as a resource to draw on- even just to rant about the stupidity of having to bend over backwards for others in my time of need- was immensely helpful. The value of being able to express grief over losing someone close (as well as frustration at having to dance around believers’ oversensitive toes) cannot be overstated.

  • Ace of Sevens

    I had an ex-girlfriend die in a car accident a couple years ago and her parents had the whole church trappings, including a sermon at her funeral. Her friends were very angry, because she was a Unitarian and an atheist and her own church should have buried her without attempts to push a religion she didn’t believe in.

    My best friend (a deist) died on December 23 at age 29, apparently of a stroke. Her parents had a minister, but it was all kept very generic heaven talk, held at the funeral home and there was no sermon. That wasn’t so bad. I feel so alone without her, though. My girlfriend didn’t really get along with her and it led to some fights and my family is full of religious platitudes.

    • Joe

      Death is dealt with on two planes 1. Physical 2. Spiritual and never do they both meet. Memories are the future the present and the past. Being is constant.In our lives we decide not that God exists but whether we Exist everything else is exiistential comedy.

  • Penny

    I’m a recent deconverted Christian, and I’ve struggled with my father’s death, which was followed by years of verbal and emotional abuse from my asshat stepfather, for several years. The absolute hardest part of deconversion was my inability to reconcile my desire to see my dad again and the simple fact that there isn’t an afterlife. Grief Beyond Belief is excellent.