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Apr 20 2013

Godless and grieving about Boston

Hi! My name is Brianne, and I’m godless!

I have something that I want you to know, and then to deeply and fully understand and accept: “godless” doesn’t mean “evil”.

The idea is that to know God means to know love. And that must mean that if you don’t know God then you don’t know love. And “love” means “good” in this version of the story.  And if God = Love = Good, then Not God = Not Love = Not Good, i.e, Godless = Bad.

All of which is bullshit…and poor logic to boot. But these ideas about the relationship between god, love and goodness abound in our culture, and “godless” gets rolled out every time people do bad things, with the Boston Marathon bombing being no exception.

Yesterday Michael Sullivan, a Massachusetts Senate candidate, was reported as having described the bombing as a “horrific, cowardly and godless act”. After the news hit social media, his campaign quickly offered a clarification that the would-be Senator did NOT say “godless”, but rather “gutless”. A quick glance through the comments on that FB status update show that a lot of people support the originally-reported “godless as synonymous with evil” label.

You don’t have to believe in God to be a good person (hi!), and you can feel that you have a devout and healthy relationship with God and still do horrifying, cowardly things. Belief in a god or lack thereof are not strong predictors of one’s behaviors or attitudes. So let’s stop using “godless” as a negative term, k? 

Grieving and Interfaith Services – A note to those advocating for interfaith services in times of tragedy.

Atheists in Boston (and across the state, nation and world) are grieving, as are people of many different faiths. Most people would agree that after a tragedy of the type and scale of the Boston Marathon bombing, we need a place to gather, to share our grief across many shoulders, to heal. That place, for me, would not be an interfaith service. When it comes to grieving and honoring our dead, interfaith services leave me cold. Here’s why:

A major part of being an atheist is coming to grips with the idea that we are mortal creatures and that there is no afterlife. Because of this belief I feel that when people say things like, “they’re in heaven now, they’re with the angels, they’re with god” we trivialize our loss. As an atheist I believe that after death a person is very much gone, erased from existence, never to reappear. There is no do-over in heaven or through reincarnation. There is no silver lining to an unfair death from cancer, accident or intentional violence, or from a death of old age for that matter. Upon someone’s death, we have well and truly lost that person. Many atheists hold this life to be so very precious and strive to make it better because we believe there is no afterlife. This is the only chance we get to have a fulfilling life and a positive influence on the world around us.

When people are robbed of their lives through tragic circumstances, I don’t want to join in at your interfaith service if the congregation will be singing praises to god (who via his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence could prevent all tragedies), and listen to sermons about god’s divine plan and afterlife and how victims are in a better place.  It causes me pain to realize that I am suffering what I perceive to be a permanent loss, while others have the confidence that the loss is merely temporary (this happens anyway, but when the person leading the service is authoritatively talking about heaven and such, it makes it worse. It draws a line – believers on the comforting afterlife side, me feeling like I’m on the cynical side refusing to be comforted) . We’re on different wavelengths, and we are grieving differently.

What we do have in common is our shared grief over the suffering and tragedy that has befallen us, and that we have lost friends and family and community members who are no longer with us in this life. This is the shared human experience to which we can all relate. And together we can mourn our losses, and remember and celebrate those lives. But I have a hard time doing that at a religion-based service that praises your god and thanks him for “calling them home”.

And I’m not saying don’t have interfaith services. If you insist on following a religion, I implore you to do your damnedest to reconcile the conflicting views and attitudes that you have with other religions, as they do with yours – for all of our peace! Join hands in prayer to your various gods and take comfort in the fact that you all believe that your loved ones live on somewhere else (and try to avoid banding together against those who don’t). But don’t make your interfaith service the only service. Don’t make your interfaith service a government-sanctioned service. And don’t make it the PRIMARY service, with a little secular vigil tossed out as a bone to those of us who don’t believe in gods or an afterlife. As a representative government, let’s make the primary, official memorial be a secular recognition of the loss in our community, so that all people can gather to share our grief and to unite against the darkness of our own eventual mortality.

3 comments

  1. 1
    Mriganka Bhattacharyya

    Great blog Brianne!

  2. 2
    dickspringer

    Exactly right.

  3. 3
    grumpyoldfart

    There were lots of tweets after the bombing; many of them saying that the bombers must be “godless”.

    Religious folk use that term because they know that they can twist it to mean whatever they want it to mean:

    (1) If the bombers do not believe in god then they are godless.
    (2) If the bombers belong to a different religion, then that religion is declared false and the bombers are defined as godless.
    (3) If the bombers belong to their own religion then it is decided that are not “real” [Christians/Sikhs/Muslims] and therefore they must be godless.

    It’s a win-win situation for the religious. No matter who commits the crime, religion gets off the hook and the godless take the blame.

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