Even in the Face of Tragedy, You Don’t Have to Lose Your Ability to Reason

Religious people often say to atheists that they’ll “come to god” when tragedy strikes. In jail? Break out the Bible. Alcohol addiction? Submit to god. Dying? That’s why Jesus invented death-bed conversions.

Jen Keane lost her father to cancer about a month ago. But, in spite of what her family is going through, she hasn’t lost her ability to think rationally:

In the weeks since, I have thought often about my own beliefs. As I’m not religious, and have no belief in an afterlife, there is no comfort for me in the idea that I will meet dad again when I die. I wondered whether, at a time like this, someone with no faith might feel hopeless or lonely, but that hasn’t been the case. In the deep sadness which has underpinned every action in the previous weeks, I have drawn comfort from friends and family, from the wonderful moments of happiness as we remembered dad in all of his grumpy, practical joking, leaving too early for everything, tv-hogging glory. I have been touched by realising how many people cared about my dad and my family, by seeing our very large local church filled to capacity and then some, by the constant hum of activity in our house as people came to see us and say goodbye to dad. I have found solace in all of the messages that I have received via twitter and facebook, from people who have simply been moved by dad’s passing.

In the past, it has been said to me that a critical thinking position will crumble when the issue is personal — i.e. when it is one’s own family member (or someone to whom you have a strong emotional connection) who is ill, rather than someone you’re reading about in an article. The past month has been one of the most emotionally charged and challenging periods of my life, and I believe, a fair test of this statement. Having tested the theory, I still don’t believe that having kids, experiencing death, or any other emotional upheaval will make me suddenly change the way I think, place less value on rational thought, or make me regret trusting conventional medicine. Or as I like to call it, medicine.

It’s a powerful story and you should read the whole thing. Be sure to grab some tissues first.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hikari.Pop Crystal Jenae Hollis

    Rather than seeking comfort in the possibility that I might see a loved one again, I find comfort in the fact that they’re not in pain and finally resting.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      Rather than “knowing” that I may be with my loved one again, I take comfort in knowing I will no longer be without her, one day.

      • amycas

         How do you “know” this??

        • Sindigo

          Well, other than the contravention of the physical laws of the universe that an afterlife must be, there is also no evidence for it.

  • Alyeska

    It was much the same for me after my father died. I was certainly quite sad, but I was examining myself with a critical mind. The stages of grief, mental blocks on memories.

    I learned to appreciate friends and family even more. I did not surrender my ability to think logically and I never once entertained religious beliefs. Instead it drove home the need to live life to it’s fullest and make the best of the time we have.

    I only have one life to make a difference in my community and amongst my friends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-Stephenson/718004746 Amanda Stephenson

    I found it comforting that there is no god when my mother
    passed. It is just life and that’s how life is. If I thought that there was
    some man who was responsible for her dying at the age of 40 I would have been
    PISSED. Being an atheist is very liberating.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    I think the people who make this argument, that you will lose your reason in the face of tragedy are giving us a glimpse into their own thought process. 

  • judith sanders

    Apparently the religious have a much different thought process.    “THE ONLY MORAL ABORTION IS MY ABORTION” 
    http://www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/articles/anti-tales.shtml 
    I wonder if this comes from years of accepting the contradictions in the Bible.   They can violate what they claim to be their most core beliefs and not realize that they’ve “gone from god.”

  • TMc

    When my atheist grandmother died, nothing upset me more than when the religious minority in the family said that they were sure she had accepted Jesus on her deathbed. Right. She’s going to put 94 years of rational thinking behind her just because it’s coming to a close. They had (and have) no understanding of her position. How DARE they diminish her integrity in that way, just so they can comfort each other that she’s not going to hell. She had a full life, she was ready for the end, and for them to take away her dignity by insisting that she would toss all of her convictions aside in the face of death…. It was years ago and it still makes me angry to think about it.

  • Bagomoldytangerines

    My mom was religious and when she died I had the hardest time dealing with the people who told and continue to tell me she is in a better place, smiling down on us, proud of me, etc. I don’t have the heart to keep reminding them that I don’t believe those things. I’m tired of the argument, but it still makes me sad. I wonder if religious people realize the true finality of death the second before it happens. In moms case her brain was cancerous and she was pretty much a floppy vegetable by the time she slipped away so she was spared that possibility I hope. Afterwards my dad became more devout when he was agnostic before…now he ‘knows’ there is a Christian god. in his defense though, he’s the most liberal Christian you’ll ever meet. If it brings him comfort and he votes for candidates and issues that support separation of church/state, women’s rights, and equality for everyone I don’t have a problem with it.

  • Itscraighansen

    My son has a previously-undiagnosed mass on his heart and went into cardiac arrest, on Mother’s Day.  He has a traumatic brain injury as a result, and we’ve been told he is not expected to walk or care for himself.  I was recently told on one online forum that my refusal to change my position on God meant that I “simply [don't] want healing that badly.”

    • Sindigo

      So sorry to hear that. Best wishes to you and your family.

      And the reaction of the people on that forum, whatever their religion, as you didn’t specify is disgusting. It exposes the religious mindset for what it so often is: a manifestation of mankind’s basest appeals to primitive tribalism.

  • amycas

    I can’t stand that some people are willing to use something tragic in another person’s life to try to gain a convert. They’re merely preying on vulnerable people. I can’t stand when people tell me that I’ll feel different once I fall on hard times. Newsflash: I’ve fallen on hard times in the past and in the present and it didn’t change my views on god or religion.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    When my grandma died, I gave her eulogy. The pastor later commented that a lot of what I said sounded a bit religious (I have a good relationship with this pastor, he wasn’t being flip) in tone on the “living on” ending. I told him that she WILL live on: in my memories, in my heart, and in the same of all who knew her. When I have kids, they’ll hear the stories too. I told him that THAT was true immortality to me. I honestly think the response startled him. Friendly or not, he’d been taught that non-believers must be miserable when a loved one passes. Sure, I cried for days (grandma and I were very close), but she’s still here with me in my memories of the better days.

  • Holly

    Similarly for me when I lost my dad 2.5 years ago. When I was younger (and Catholic) we promised to “come back” and show the other person that we were okay after we died if it was possible. We were very close; he was probably my best friend. When he died, I was on the agnostic/atheist fence. After he died, I do admit asking any hypothetical higher power to see him one more time, but I was so desperate and distraught and probably in the midst of a mini-nervous breakdown. For me, and I remember the moment clearly, it was about 6 months later, finally accepting that he was gone and I would never, ever, see him again, was painful but liberating. It was good to get rid of the, “just maybe…” thoughts and let go of false hopes. At that moment as well I got off of the agnostic/atheist fence and am now proudly among the ranks of the least trusted group in America. :)

  • Simbannister

    There is actually a psychological reason that people often turn to religion in the face of tragedy. In the face of intense mental stress, the body shuts down parts of the brain that  deal with logic and ones sense of self, as a self-defense mechanism against more destructive tendencies, such as drinking or suicide. Unfortunately, many religious people take advantage of these moments of mental weakness by using them as a way to implant their religious ideas into the mind of the person suffering. The persons persona if often completely replaced by the religion they’re being converted to, which is why adult converts are often much more religious than people who were indoctrinated when they were young.      

    It’s telling that the parts of the brain that are shut down during periods of mental stress are the same parts that are still developing in the brains of children and teens. That is why it is crucial for a religion to indoctrinate children- because that is when an individual is most susceptible to religious and other irrational ideas.


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