Tiffany White, writing in The Guardian (9.29.13) comes out of the closet and admits she is an atheist. Although she doesn’t quite know how or when it happened, there it is; and she finds that the hardest part is not knowing how to console others. Since her new belief – or lack of it– eliminates references to God, she cannot pat and comfort with the usual religious nostrums like “She is in a better place”; or “She is with Jesus now”. but she feels uncomfortable with the passionless “I’m here for you” or “I’m sorry for your loss”. What’s an atheist to do?
Well, first, get over it. Having to resort to Hallmark Card nostrums is the least of your problems. Try looking into the deep, dark abyss.
Atheists are a funny lot. Most of them are not yet comfortable in their skins. The number of atheists’ clubs, conventions, websites, and jamborees is increasing by leaps and bounds. It is not enough to simply say “There is no God” and go back to washing up. Atheists need to reconfirm their guilty rejection of God by assembling with other, like-minded people. They, like their revivalist brothers and sisters who jam mega-churches very Sunday, need a pastor to hector, cajole, and threaten; and they need fellow non-worshipers to validate the experience. “You don’t believe in God? Wow, cool. Neither do I. Let’s have lunch”.
Atheists put up billboards, construct websites, wave banners, and rave in solidarity.
Atheists need to embrace causes, like prayer in the schools. For them the issue is not the separation of church and state, but religious indoctrination. Pro-choice is not only about a woman’s right to choose, but about the legitimacy of doing away with a godless, soulless, lump of matter. Atheists fume over Congressional prayer breakfasts, burn dollar bills to protest against ‘In God We Trust’, and go apoplectic at the sanctimonious references to God by American politicians.
In other words, atheists like Christians need something to believe in and something to be against.
Hinduism is a very sophisticated and complex religion, and there is something in it for everyone. For the ignorant peasant, there are the mythical divinities like Krishna, Siva, Durga, Ganesh, and Vishnu. They can be worshipped without thinking and the worship alone is uplifting and satisfying.
The more spiritually evolved can consider the nature of Oneness, Creation and Destruction, the nature of Free Will, reincarnation, and enlightenment.
The same is true for atheists. The lower orders can raise their banners, protest outside the Supreme Court, and hear blood-and-thunder secular preachers at conferences.
Intellectuals can see Rationality, Secularism, and Humanism as the philosophical underpinnings of their belief system. Everyone is happy.
The statistics collected by the Census Bureau are organized into the following Non-Believer categories – Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist, No Religion – but the most important category of all, Don’t Care, is not reflected. There must be millions of uncounted Americans for whom religion is simply irrelevant. They don’t think about it, love it, or hate it. They are indifferent. God never comes up except in secular and historical ways. There is no way to understand civilization without studying religion, no way to appreciate art, music, and dance; and certainly no way to make any sense of today’s violent world without considering secular conflict. However, looking for spiritual salvation or redemption; searching for higher meaning in death; or answering the Great Questions is beyond them.
This is not a kind of agnosticism, an indifference based on maybe or “We’ll soon see”. It is not a belief or disbelief in anything. Don’t Cares do not live within a religious world, nor deify reason and rationality, but are neither mystified by chance or randomness. Don’t Cares do not feel bereft of anything or wish they could believe. They do not conjure up images of God and feel fearful.
It is often hard for believers and atheists alike to understand Don’t Cares because both are religious at heart. Both need a structured belief system which provides a context bigger than themselves; and they do not understand how anyone could live in such a soulless, passionless world.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Don’t Cares experience as much passion, conviction, and ecstasy as the next guy; but just don’t talk about it.
Most importantly, they could care less about godless remarks. “Have a nice day’ is just as good as “God be with you”; and as far as consolation is concerned, a warm hug and a few tears do just fine.