Amir and I had a great many personality traits and beliefs in common, one of which is atheism (or, at the very least, agnosticism--we had not discussed it in some time and though Amir knew that I am an atheist, I can't say whether he had come to the same concrete realization, our shared fondness for Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens notwithstanding). We had talked about the lack of evidence for any type of god or god-like higher power in the world and how glad we were to be part of a loving family in which religion was never important nor emphasized as an essential part of our family life. For me, the term "higher power" meant nature and the living, breathing world around us, oxygen, water, our universe, our planet, our loved ones--all the things that keep us alive in both the physical and emotional sense. My family and friends are more of a higher power in my life than any god conjured up by me or any religion could be.
I have found heartfelt and helpful support through a Facebook group called "Grief Beyond Belief," which brings together those of us grieving a loved one without the comfort of belief in god. I'll admit sometimes I wonder if I'd have an easier time accepting my brother's death if I believed he was in "heaven" or that he was with our deceased grandparents or that I'd see him again someday. Would mourning him be easier if I didn't believe death was final? If I believed he was still "here" in spirit? I wonder about these things often. The religious find comfort in ways we atheists never will--they express their grief through prayer and belief in god. They glean comfort from their fellow believers and the notion that their loved one is "with god" or "in heaven" or watching over them, a guardian angel.
Comforting as those ideas may be, my logical brain prohibits me accepting those ideas for which there is no evidence. I can only find comfort in my memories of my brother, the life he lived, my memories of him and the love we all have for him. I know that only my own death with be a release from the pain of losing him and other loved ones.
Members of the Grief Beyond Belief group post stories of their loved ones or share their grief in ways that I find comforting, particularly from those who have lost a sibling. I feel a strong connection with people who have lost a brother, just as my mom has found comfort from stories of those who have lost a son.
One member of the group, Amy Teel, recently lost her 17-year-old son. She wrote a long, insightful post that resonated deeply with me and I asked her permission to share it here. An excerpt:
"The problem of evil is one of the main contradictions when I consider the idea that a loving, omnimax god exists.
It cannot. No logical definition for a god has ever been introduced, i do not pretend to need one when tragedy strikes.
The characteristics of all gods on offer are dismantled when a guy like Jake dies.
My son is not the only important & good human to have been taken too soon, to have died while being stellar.
If there was a omniscient god, it would have known this was going to go down prior to February 6th.
If that god was omnipresent it means it stood by and watched.
If it is an omnipotent god, that means it was powerful enough to stop that event in a plethora of ways, but it didn’t.
It stood there, present in the 20 seconds my son was conscious, and did nothing.
If it is an “all-loving god” and it didn’t prevent this event, it cannot be omni-benevolent.
It is logically impossible that that god exists and is "all loving."
The god is dismantled and must be taken out of the equation, and because I consider myself an honest person, it’s gone. Logic dictates, and I do my best to follow only that road.
Some people have said, “God needed him more, he needed another comedian”
A god that needs anything is not a god.
Some have said, “He’s watching over you” or “He’s in a better place"
His optic nerves, his entire body is ashes now, he cannot watch anything. “He” is not a conscious thinker or intender, anymore.
Consciousness, as evidenced, is the result of a brain, nervous system, physiology. It cannot exist without those components.
The dead are dead. The facts are cold, and I don’t need or find any use for an emotional crutch to save me from this bitterness.
Time will carry us to a place where we don’t feel broken.
I am in one piece, I will be able to accept my fucked reality and not find it taking me to my knees, some day. I will do this, because I intend to.
I can take actions that are contrary to the way i feel. I can walk into life and participate, even if I don’t think I have the strength to. We all can.
Jake in skin, is done. There is no evidence that a soul exists.
The ambiguity of supernatural ideas concerning what a soul or spirit would be doing are a mind fuck that my prioritizing of evidence saves me from.
Thank you for understanding, and if you don’t understand, thank you for respecting my lack of belief and instead focusing on being close, loving and fully present."