I‘ve been reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville. Good book! More on that later.
The following passage on an atheist’s response to death seemed to perfectly encapsulate why we don’t need to turn to religion during the most depressing times in our lives.
The author talks about the mindset of an atheist who has just experienced the death of a loved one:
… Gradually, however, the idea of the person one has lost evolves from gaping wound to piercing nostalgia, to moving memory, to gratitude, and almost to happiness… At first, you thought: “How dreadful that (s)he should no longer be here!” But as the years go by, you start thinking, “How wonderful that (s)he should have lived, that we should have met, and that we grew to know and love each other!” This is the mourning process: It takes time and memory; it takes acceptance and fidelity. At the moment of the death itself, it is obviously impossible — there is nothing but horror and inconsolable suffering. How one would like to believe in God at such times! How one envies, temporarily, those who do believe! Yes, it must be admitted, this is where religions are virtually unbeatable. Is that any reason to believe? For some people, it clearly is. For others, including myself, it would almost be an additional reason to doubt, either because the ploy seems too obvious or else out of pride, rage and despair. Despite the pain we must endure, mourning merely reinforces our atheism. In the face of terrible distress, we consider revolt more appropriate than prayer; horror, truer than consolation. For us, serenity will come later. Mourning is not a race.
If we don’t need religion when we’re in the worst of times, we don’t need it at all.