And how can we help one another deal with that reality?
We talk a lot in the atheist movement about making atheism a safe place to land for people who are leaving religion. We talk a lot about how religion is, for many people, the only game in town when it comes to community and support in a time of loss and grief — and how, if we’re going to make atheism a viable alternative to religion, we need to build community and support networks to replace it. We talk a lot about the commonly-held belief that religion is necessary to give comfort and solace in the face of death and grief — and how the atheist community needs to not only make godless philosophies of death more widely known and understood, but provide one another with practical, on-the-ground support in the face of death’s reality.
Some of us are even doing something about it.
My friend Rebecca Hensler is one of them. She has just started Grief Beyond Belief, a faith-free online support network for non-religious people grieving the death of a loved one.
Her announcement about the network is below. She explains it better than I can, so I’m just going to let her have the floor. Please spread the word about it. This is something many people in the atheist/ agnostic/ humanist/ skeptic/ freethinker/ non-religious world are very much in need of — or will be in need of at some point in our lives — and we should let people know that it’s available.
In response to the clear need for grief support among non-religious people, Grief Beyond Belief launches today on Facebook. The Grief Beyond Belief page offers an online support network for people grieving the death of a child, parent, partner, or other loved one — without belief in a higher power or an afterlife. Atheists, agnostics, humanists and anyone else living without religious beliefs are invited to join and participate on the page. Bereaved people in the process of questioning or letting go of previously held religious beliefs are also welcome to be part of the community and seek support.
In many ways, Grief Beyond Belief resembles other online grief support networks and forums. However, religious grief support — including prayer, faith in god, and belief in an afterlife — is not welcome in posts or comments. In this way Grief Beyond Belief offers a safe space for atheists and other non-religious people to share and process the death of a loved one. Recognizing that the death of a loved one sometimes leads to reevaluation of religious beliefs, every effort will be made to make the page accessible to people who are still struggling with these issues. However, the page is not intended as a venue for debate, but as a space for shared compassion and support. While religious believers may participate on the page, they are required to follow these guidelines.
Once a participant has “liked” Grief Beyond Belief, she or he will periodically receive a thought, question, quote or link in her or his News Feed addressing various aspects of grief, often focusing on grieving a death without faith. Participants are also invited to post memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions they would like to share, on which other members can comment. In addition, the page serves as a central location on the web where members can link to writing about grief and loss that is coming from an non-religious perspective. Bloggers are strongly encouraged to post links to blog entries on this topic on the Grief Beyond Belief wall.
Grief Beyond Belief’s founder, Rebecca Hensler, discovered the need for such a group when seeking support for her own grief after the death of her three-month-old son. “I quickly found a network of parents who were also grieving the deaths of their children at The Compassionate Friends (a 42-year-old parental grief support group). But I often felt alienated by assurances from other members that my son was in heaven or by offers to pray for me, comforts that were kindly meant but that I do not believe and cannot accept. It wasn’t until an atheist member reached out to me in friendship that I understood what I had been missing.” Hensler soon discovered that she was not the only non-believer who felt a need for safe space to grieve without faith or belief in an afterlife. “I have been particularly moved by the experiences of non-believers who are attempting to heal from loss while surrounded by religious people pressuring them to join or rejoin their religions; at its worst that kind of so-called ‘help’ can verge on abuse.”
The need for faith-free space to share grief and healing has been addressed frequently on atheist blogs, such as Friendly Atheist. (Hemant Mehta. “Are There Resources for Atheist Widows?”, Friendly Atheist, June 2, 2011.) While a Facebook page may only meet a small portion of that need, Grief Beyond Belief serves to open the door to grieving non-believers seeking community and compassion.
Contact: Rebecca Hensler, firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Grief Beyond Belief by going to the Facebook page and clicking the “like” button.