Hi everyone! My name is Jessica, and I am atheist.
Quick primer on what this means: I hold no belief in any kind of God, gods, or creator of the universe. The end.
Being atheist means nothing more or nothing less that this. It imbues me with no other characteristics. Atheists have no creed, mission statement, or set of common rules attached to atheism. There are nice atheists and mean atheists, short atheists and tall atheists, mustachioed atheists and clean shaven atheists. Just like there are mean people and nice people, etc. We have no code to live by as a result of being atheist. We have to find morality elsewhere, outside of religion. (And it’s easy to do; actually easier than parsing through a holy text to find what is right and what is wrong. I could dedicate an entire book to this singular topic).
Really, the word atheist shouldn’t exist. There is no word for people who don’t collect stamps or people who do not participate in roller derby. But the status quo at this point in time is holding a belief in one deity and/or another, so the word atheist is necessary to distinguish those who are different from the societal norm.
The last week and a half has been devastating. But the loss of our tiny house is not the only bad thing that’s happened to me over the last few years. I’ve suffered through a lot in a short amount of time, just like a lot of people. I wanted to address a common question that is offered to atheists: “How do you grieve without God?”
I realized I was atheist in September of 2012. The last few years have been stressful emotionally, physically, and financially. I have a chronic illness that I deal with on a daily basis. I’ve lost personal relationships. I’ve had financial losses. I’ve watched bad things happen to the people I love.
I also suffered through terrible events when I was Christian. I feel like I have solid comparative material of experiencing grief both as a religious person and a non-religious person.
I prefer grieving as an atheist.
Let me rephrase that: I strongly, absolutely much, much, much prefer grieving as an atheist. Grieving as an atheist is not only preferable, I actually suffer less now than I did before as a Christian.
When I was Christian and something bad happened, I had to stop and ask myself a lot of unanswerable questions. Questions like “Why me?” and “Why would a benevolent God do this?” and “What is the purpose of this pain?” and “Why has this test been put in front of me and what am I meant to learn from it?”
There was a lot of handwringing. A lot of misery, to be honest. Where many people find solace in religion, I find pain and discomfort.
Here’s what grieving looks like as an atheist: I go through all the same stages of grief that I did as a Christian, in varying order. I’ve been in denial, and anger. There’s bargaining, just not with God. And depression, and acceptance too. And back again.
All through these steps, I do my best to move forward. I take action. I don’t need to pray. I don’t need to meditate on it. I don’t need to wonder what things I did or didn’t do to deserve what came to me, I don’t need to divine some kind of meaning from the meaningless. I don’t need to wonder why this particular burden was “given” to me, because I know now that it wasn’t given to me. Bad things happens sometimes. That’s all.
I use the energy I used to expend on prayer and trying to fight my cognitive dissonance to take action to better my life.
I prefer grieving as an atheist. I don’t judge those who find solace in their faith. I just don’t find solace there.
When I need more comfort, I turn to Carl Sagan. Some people find the vastness of the universe terrifying. I find it comforting. Because I realize that nothing in the universe is trying to show me anything. The universe is not trying to teach me a lesson.
It simply exists, in the same exact way that I exist. The universe does not grieve as I grieve.
I don’t need it to.