Non-Religious Americans Grieve After Tragedies, Too

Lawrence Krauss asks a pretty fair question in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings: “Why must the nation grieve with God?

We are told the Lord works in mysterious ways but, for many people, to suggest there might be an intelligent deity who could rationally act in such a fashion and that that deity is worth praying to and thanking for “calling them home” seems beyond the pale.

Let me be clear that there may be many grieving families in Newtown and around the country who have turned to their faith for solace in this difficult time. No caring person would begrudge them this right to ease their pain. But the question that needs to be asked is why, as a nation, do we have to institutionalize the notion that religion must play a central role at such times, with the president as the clergyman-in-chief?

In times of grief, we don’t need the President to offer us a universal fake Band-Aid. We need him to take action so that these tragedies won’t happen again. Anything else is pure platitude and it distracts us from reality. My worry is that by turning to prayer, some people will accept that this is just “God’s Will” or part of some divine plan and that it’s useless to try and stop it. If that seems far-fetched, remember that we have politicians who use that exact excuse to not take action on Global Warming.

Atheist Lutheran adds:

… having the president offer prayers, without even acknowledging that some of us don’t worship a deity, is more annoying than comforting. The endless discussion of religion in the media doesn’t help, either. Some members of the families of the victims may not be religious, and there are certainly nonreligious people in America trying to come to grips with this tragedy. Offering some thoughts of a more humanistic nature might help comfort them. Offering religion up as the only possible consolation doesn’t.


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.

  • LesterBallard

    I think I am as strident and militant an atheist as you will find. Fuck all religion, fuck all ideas of deity. Not all, but most of the United States believes in “god”. I’m just not going to worry about being offended or represented when twenty children have been gunned down.

  • coyotenose

    I don’t have a problem with finding comfort in tragedy this way. I do have a problem in that it nearly always becomes a way to avoid taking real action. Religion does that for many.

    My worry is that by turning to prayer, some people will accept that this
    is just “God’s Will” or part of some divine plan and that it’s useless
    to try and stop it. If that seems far-fetched, remember that we have
    politicians who use that exact excuse to not take action on Global Warming.

    This is exactly the problem. Climate Change denialism is entirely rooted in Fundamentalist belief.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    The problem is that the default position is to “assume christianity”.

    I have seen no analysis saying that ALL of the families of the
    deceased believe in monotheism (a singular, not plural, god, rather than
    gods), nor that they ALL believe in an afterlife, or in a god who
    brings souls to himself after they die on earth, etc.

    I am sure that no one has (or should have) interrupted each family’s
    grieving/privacy to contact each family to ask what their religious
    views are.

    But the like of Mike Huckabee and Obama and so many media/politicians all
    ASSUME that they can impose their OWN religious views onto the deceased
    and the families of the deceased.

    It is just plain WRONG and insensitive.

  • Chris Wallace

    I’m grateful to see an article of this nature be featured on a major news network’s website. We need more exposure like this. The article was very well-written and thoughtful, without reeking of pompousness.

  • Mike Laing

    What if one of the victims was atheist? A family member died recently, and I told all my Christian friends not to pray for him, or say anything about heaven or being in a better place. They were all very considerate, though, and respected that while still giving me and family sympathy and support. Lot more open up here in Canada.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      From what I can make out of the demographics of the community, it would be unsurprising there’d be an atheist family among the 20 or so directly bereaved, but not expected — under 50% chance.

      My understanding is that the largest individual denomination were at least nominally Catholic; one family was Jewish.

  • Mommiest

    I don’t have a problem with the President expressing his grief this way. I think it’s genuine. Sometimes we get personal comments from elected officials. That’s the way it is. Given the changes that have come about on gay rights, something I could not have imagined when I was young, I’m hopeful that we’ll see the day when an atheist in public office can make a similar public statement from her perspective.

    But the President is also testing the waters on gun control. I would like to see action on guns, so I’m waiting. Patiently.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.”

    We can’t change what happened in the past. We can change what happens in the future. The downside of too much focus on the former is loss of sight of the latter.


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