In July of 2003 I was pregnant with twins. I was happy, excited, and nervous, and looking back on it now I feel like I was in a state of pregnancy-related ignorant bliss. I was one of those people who happily use the phrases “I’m pregnant” and “I’m going to have a baby” interchangeably and I could foresee nothing but a happy ending to the story.
I was 18 weeks pregnant when my water broke. My husband rushed me to the hospital and the doctor told us we had less than a 5% chance of things working out well. Indeed, the next day an ultrasound showed that both babies had died, and the following day labour would be induced.
About an hour after I gave birth to my babies, a nurse came in to talk to us about ‘coping with our loss’. We were understandably upset and in a bit of shock, and I wasn’t really listening to everything she was saying, but I did hear her ask if she could call a priest, or some equivalent, for spiritual guidance. Being atheists we declined her offer, but she persisted and asked how we could possibly cope without religion in our lives. I politely assured her we would be fine, but she was not content to drop it. She sighed and told us that it would “be much harder to manage without God’s help” and she promised to pray for us.
I was already an atheist when I met this woman, but I didn’t really know why. I’d always known that nothing about religion made any sense. Surely, if God wanted us all to obey him, wouldn’t he make the rules clear to everybody? If God had given us our brains, didn’t he expect us to use them to question the world around us? Since the religious answers to those questions always seemed to be somewhat unsatisfactory, I didn’t believe in any of it, but this woman showed me why.
I’m really an atheist because religion is selling ignorant bliss – and I don’t want it. She wanted me to accept, on faith, that I needed God to make everything better. She wanted me to avoid grieving for my babies by believing that they were in heaven and that God had a plan. She wanted me to take the easy way out, so that I would feel better. As long as I ignored all the contradictions in the bible, the lack of evidence for any sort of higher being, and all the problems caused by religion meddling in this world, I could be happy all the time because eventually we’ll all be in heaven – problem solved.
If I have to trade a bit of happiness for the ability to think for myself – done. Yes, I was ignorantly blissful about pregnancy, and losing my babies took a lot of time and work to cope with. But I did it. I went through those feelings of sadness, anger and unfulfilled potential that make up grief and (eventually) I came out the other side stronger. That strength helped me to cope with the stillbirth of my daughter the next year, and then the births of my son and daughter who are now 6 and 3, and I wouldn’t change a minute of any of it.
There are a lot of terrible things in this world, and each of us has to go through some real crap, but I won’t trade any of it for instant happiness if the price is ignorance. I don’t mean to make light of anyone else’s suffering, and I don’t pretend for an instant that it’s an easy choice for everybody. I just know that it is possible to cope without believing in Santa, and it’s possible to cope without believing in God. To me, that makes religion not only implausible, but also unnecessary; atheism is the only thing that makes sense.