Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Grieving atheists

@AtheistRepublicWhat is the best thing to say to an atheist who is grieving the loss of a loved one?  
That's a tricky question, and there's more than one way to broach the answer:

i) Is this one atheist taking to another atheist, or a Christian talking to an atheist?

ii) Are the Christian and the atheist on friendly terms?

iii) Is the atheist expecting a word of comfort from the Christian?

iv) There's the danger that the atheist will view the Christian as exploiting the situation. But there are ways to guide the discussion. 

v) It depends on the mood the atheist is in. 

vi) What if atheism has no comforting answer to give in that situation? What if there's no comfort answer to give the atheist? What if the honest answer will be hopeless and depressing? Are you forbidden to give a frank answer if that's depressing and despairing? If you're not allowed to give an atheist honest atheist answers to existential questions, what does that say about atheism when it comes to the issues in life that ultimately matter? 

vii) Instead of attempting to encourage the atheist, supposed a Christian begins with questions. Sometimes it's more effective to asking probing, leading questions rather than spoonfeed him the right answers. That enables him to think it through for himself. Asked him how he feels about the situation. What did the person mean to him? How is his death a personal loss? 

From there the conversation might gravitate to what, if anything, makes the life of the dearly departed important. Was his life important because it was important to decedent or important to others? 

What, if anything, makes human lives important? What if the dearly departed never existed? What difference would that ultimately make? Are we just dandelion puffs blown by the wind? Most never germinate, and those that do merely produce a new generation of dandelion puffs, swaying in the breeze on a dry grassy, forgettable hillside? Repetition for repetition's sake. 

viii) Depending on how the conversation goes, a Christian can ask the atheist if there's a point of unresolvable tension between how the bereaved misses and values his lost loved one and the intrinsic significance of his lost loved one if atheism is true. And if there's a point of unresolvable tension, what gives? Should we cling to the nihilistic consequences  of atheism, or cling to the significance of human lives? If both can't be true, which outlook should take precedence? What's our staring-point? 

If naturalistic evolution is true, then we cherish certain experiences, not because they have intrinsic value, but because natural selection brainwashed us to project illusory value on things with no inherent value inasmuch as that confers a survival advantage on the species. We're the product of mindless, amoral psychological conditioning. 

ix) A standard atheist response is that they continue to live in our hearts and memories. But that's a cheat. They no longer consciously participate in life and love and memory. Your fond memories can't be a substitute for their personal experience. They're gone. 

x) I'm not suggesting Christians always have happy answers. Unless you're a universalist, some stories have bad endings. There is, though, a fundamental difference between hope for some and hope for none. 

In addition, a world of universal oblivion, where all choices good or ill are erased at high tide, is far worse than a moral universe in which some choices have enduring consequences. 

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