Ask Richard: Speaking Truth to Grief: An Atheist Responds to His Bereaved Girlfriend

Dear Richard
 
My background: My name is Elliot and I am a 28 year-old guy living in London, UK. I am a teacher and have considered myself an atheist for the last 8 or so years. I am open but not preachy about my beliefs and encourage my pupils to make up their own minds. However I recently ran into a crisis of “faith”.
 
Last weekend my girlfriend’s 21 year-old brother committed suicide. It was not without warning as he had had over 10 years of mental health issues including chronic depression and had made 4 failed attempts in the past. Despite this it was sudden, and she was understandably devastated. They are not a religious family, however in her grief she asked me: “where do you think he is now?” I was at a loss for words as I have never really had to combine comforting someone with an expression of my views. To tell her that he is nowhere anymore, that he simply has stopped being, seemed callous and uncaring. I went with “he is in a better place” (kind of an an opt out) as I figured that not existing anymore must be better than 10 years of depression.
 
My question is this: How do you convey to someone, about whom you care deeply, that the person they have lost is simply dead? Nothing more? How do you make this sound okay? Religion, despite its delusions, does give people who choose it much peace-of-mind (assuming they are not considering the  hell option) and I was wondering how I could convey this through atheism.
 
Any advice would be very welcome.

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Ask Richard: A Follow-Up Letter from a Teenage Atheist Four Years Later

Dear Richard,

I wrote to you back in 2009 when I was in the 8th grade and you really helped me and I wanted to thank you for that. I just recently rediscovered your blog and I figured I would write to you again. I’m now a senior in high school and in the time since the 8th grade I’ve completely reassessed my faith. For a little while I kept trying to be Christian, and for about a year I was. I feel like that was good for me though. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s a very unwise thing to completely disown one’s faith in middle school. I have, however, come to the conclusion that I am an atheist, and I honestly do not see that changing. I’m just worried about any fallout caused by this, and I don’t quite know how to approach certain situations that I face on a near daily basis. I’m trying to get some answers to questions preemptively in hopes that when I’m faced with these situations (either once again or someday in the future) I will know the best way to handle them.

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The Wrong Advice to Give to a Mother Whose Children Are Subject to Proselytizing in School

In a recent Slate column, Emily Yoffe offers far-too-cautious advice for a mother whose child is dealing with religious proselytization in the classroom.

Here’s the setup:

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New Video Series for Secular Student Group Leaders

Admittedly, this is total shameless self-promotion. However, it’s done with the intention of trying to help. 

Gordon Maples and I (Kelley Freeman) have started a video advice series for the leaders of Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups. We are both alumni of really strong SSA groups with at least six or seven years of group running experience between us. While this is not an official project of the Secular Student Alliance, we want this to be as helpful as possible and we take questions on Twitter (or in the comment sections of the YouTube videos).

We plan on doing a video every Monday night at 7:30p (ET) — and they are Google Hangouts on Air so they are live! So far, Gordon and I have covered starting your own secular group on campus and tabling effectively. This coming week, we will be talking about how to run meetings and choose meeting topics.

These videos shouldn’t last much longer than half an hour each week. Occasionally, we’ll have other experts on to talk about topics (Hemant has promised to show up at some point)!

Here is our latest video, about tabling:

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Ask Richard: How Was Church on Sunday, Richard?

I went to church yesterday.

Don’t worry, I’m still your friendly neighborhood atheist, and “neighborhood” is the operating term here. I’m literally the friendly neighborhood atheist because back in February two families right on my street were in the audience when I first spoke publicly as an atheist at the Master’s College. Everyone on the block knows, and so far, things are still friendly, but I must do more in the wider neighborhood of my home town:

Since starting the “Ask Richard” column three years ago, I’ve received hundreds of letters from atheists facing difficult conflicts with their religious co-workers, friends, and most often their families. Some of their stories are sad, frustrating, or infuriating, and some are downright appalling. They can be heartbreaking because the strife and suffering is so often unnecessary. The particular issues and situations in the letters vary, but one overriding theme hovers above almost all of them: The co-workers, friends, and families react to the atheist with fear, anger, hurt, and rejection because they believe the stereotypes, misconceptions, and outright lies about atheists that are heard and repeated, heard and repeated, with no one to challenge them, no one to say, “Hey, that is not actually true about atheists.”

Well, I’m tired of only responding to these letters, only being reactive, trying to fix messes that could have been prevented. I want to get out ahead of the letters, be proactive, and bring accurate information to the religious public about atheists before these families explode, before so much love is needlessly thrown away.
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