Grieving as An Atheist.

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.

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21 Responses to Grieving as An Atheist.

  1. Casey Friday says:

    I really like this. You already know I feel the same way. This is likely why when we left the scene of the crime, I immediately focused on what we were going to do next in our lives, rather than dwell on why this would happen to us, etc.

    Hot damn, Carl Sagan is awesome. I can’t wait to finish reading Cosmos!

  2. Chandelle says:

    First, your writing is flowing wonderfully, I think your writing process is really paying off. Second, I’ve been an atheist for several years, so what you say here is true for me as well, and I appreciate hearing it after spending a crazy-making week with my Mormon in-laws. Carl Sagan is as close to a saint or prophet as we atheists can get, I think. I’ve found comfort in his words many many times.

    • iamchesapeake says:

      Thank you for the compliment! It means so much coming from you!

      Sagan really is the best. Happy to see people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan still out there fighting the good fight.

  3. Diane says:

    I’ve never heard this Carl Sagan speech before… I really like it, thanks for posting!

  4. Jessica says:

    I could never put my finger on why I wasn’t quite so miserable…I just had a light bulb moment reading this. Thank you.

  5. Donna Salinas says:

    “Some people find the vastness of the universe terrifying.” I’m one of those people.
    “It simply exists, in the same exact way that I exist.” Thanks for giving me a new view to contemplate.

    • I was fully expecting to get flaming troll comments for this post, so I’m really happy that it made you consider things in a different (positive) light. Thank you for letting me know!

    • iamchesapeake says:

      I was so afraid of getting flamed for this post. It’s nice that it might help someone! Thank you for letting me know.

  6. I love when people are as authentic as you are AND can write about it. Always super refreshing :)

  7. Serra Elle Arp says:

    Thank you for posting this! I came across your blog by chance due to your tiny house misfortune, and although I am terribly sorry that you and your husband had to go through such a horrible ordeal, I am so happy you both were able to recover your house, and choose a new path living in the city that fits better with your life dreams.

    I was raised in a christian fundamentalist religion, and spent almost twenty-two years in it before I left everything, and everyone to become an atheist. It pains me greatly that I was forced to spend so much time believing in something, worshiping, and serving a non-existent being in the sky. But, I am truly happy that I get to spend so much more of my life, choosing for myself, instead of allowing religion to dictate it for me. I can grieve logically, I live with far less fear than when I was in religion (of things like death, hell, and the rapture), I can express myself fully as I am no longer hindered by the archaic writings of misogynistic men, and I get to experience the amazing writings of the universe by Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, and many others.

    I’m thankful that when bad things happen, I can just logically know that bad things happen some of the time instead of worrying about being tested by a “loving and merciful god”, and wondering why calamity has befallen me instead of someone else. The peace atheism brings is incredible, and during hard times I listen to talks on science/the universe, and many others who speak on logic and reason like Carl Sagan. :) They are uplifting, positive, and mentally stimulating.

    I appreciate how candid you are about your atheism, and look forward to reading more on your blog. Wish you and your husband great success in your future endeavors, and good luck in your new city life!

    • iamchesapeake says:

      This is the best comment!!!

      It’s amazing how much certain kinds of religion are actually abusive relationships. I didn’t realize it until I stepped away. I have a chronic illness, and I cannot describe how much better I feel about it without the idea of god looming over me. My atheism has freed me in so many ways.

      Hitchens! Not a month goes by that I’m not pulling up a video to hear his incredible voice and words. I’ll be sad for the day when I reach the end of all of his YT videos. Wish he could have been around longer. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  8. I also find the vastness of the universe comforting. See also; graveyards and anatomy museums. There’s nothing like a head in a jar to provide reassurance.

  9. Bill says:

    On atheism, Sagan commented in 1981:

    An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.

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