• SIN Series – Death: Dealing With Prayer Sympathies

    prayersI recently received a heart wrenching message from an atheist who is about to lose her husband of 23 years to a terminal illness. His doctors have been able to prolong his life a great deal, but the inevitable is becoming more and more inevitable. Her concern is that after he dies, she will receive an onslaught of prayerful messages and religious laced sympathies from family and friends.

    She doesn’t want to hear religious believers tell her that he is “in a better place” or that they are praying for his soul. It is bad enough that they have continued to credit their deity for all the times his life was prolonged through the hard work and dedication of medical professionals and the continued research into his medical illness.

    These are very real and legitimate concerns. We live in a society where most people believe insane things about the world we live in and when we have to deal with really hard life events like the loss of a loved one, we don’t really want to be reminded that the inmates run the asylum so to speak. The loss of a loved one is very emotional and having to deal with religious wackiness in such trying times can easily cause us to lose our shit and lash out when we might otherwise have the self-control to shrug off such absurdities.

    It is important to note that many religious believers express their religious sentiments in these times because they simply don’t know what else to say. They might want to be comforting and these religious expressions are the only way they know how to do that.

    That being the case, my advice is to be proactive about this. First, I think it is better to deal with these issues before the person dies whenever possible. Also, it is better to address these issues from the person who is dying whenever possible.

    Another thing to consider is that these criticisms of religious sentiments can be addressed while providing a positive alternative. For example, we could remind loved ones that we don’t believe in an afterlife but that we are grateful that they have been in our lives.  In fact, a follow up message from the person mentioned above talked about how she had  a sort of “living wake” for her husband where friends and family could gather and talk to him about old times and great memories.

    Another suggestion is to express that instead of prayers we would prefer small donations to medical research into the illness in question. Here we can point out that our dying loved one has received the best medical care and that it is important to pass that gift on to others.

    When someone we know dies, we often feel powerless and rightfully so. We want to do something and the reality is that there is very little we can actually do. Religious believers express their sympathies with religious platitudes, but those platitudes aren’t really helpful and when a loved one dies, we just don’t want to hear these meaningless platitudes. Giving religious believers a more constructive way to express their sympathies is empowering and way more meaningful.

    Category: AtheismdeathfeaturedPhilosophy


    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.