I recently meet a person through a friend and the subject of religion arose. I talked about my lack of belief and my reasons carefully as I didn't know the person. To my surprise he told me he was an atheist 'once'. Intrigued my this I asked for a little more detail.
He told me a similar story to mine, he was born into a very religious family and when he questioned himself about religion he realized he actually had no belief in any deity. Then he told me a close family member had passed away and that he had 'found' his faith again and did so because he couldn't imagine there not being a place where he would meet this person again.
After some thought I have two questions as a result of this conversation I'm hoping some of you can answer.
Mainly for interest's sake has anyone ever meet an person who was an atheist but converted to a religion without the influence of a family member, close friend's death, terminal illness etc. You know just one day upped and choose to be religious without an underlying reason.
My second question, a more personal one, is when someone close to you dies, is it a pitfall to convert/reconvert to religion? I have been extremely fortunate not to have someone close to me die yet, but after having this conversation I have wondered what I will do once this inevitability does happen, as I can see it as being the weakest and most vulnerable time that will befall me. I know this isn't something that everyone will be comfortable discussing, and I apologise in advance if this question upsets anyone.
Leaving the adendum "especially after someone has died" aside, the philosopher Norman Malcolm is said to have converted after he formulated a variation on the Ontological Argument he found persuasive. You can google it if you're at all interested.
1) I've never met anyone who converted back to religion merely for comfort after a death
2) My wife and I actually had to put one of our kitties down on Monday. Luna loved us and especially followed me around like a kid following around it's daddy. So, to suddenly lose her was really hard on us. Part of me wished there was another life for her, or that she would be reincarnated. But through it all, I realized that it was just wishful thinking... a way to try and make myself feel better about losing a friend. But if I'm honest with myself, I know that the lovable kitty she was, died with that injection that ended her suffering, but also the brain activity that made her uniquely her. She'll be greatly missed, but she's gone now. I'm just so thankful that we rescued her, and got the years that we did. We did plant a rose tree over her though, so in one sense, she'll live on when her matter is recycled. :(
I don't personally know of any atheist who has reverted to religion. I know of some but I never met them.
The atheism of a seasoned atheist shouldn't be at all phased by the death of anybody, loved one or not.
I knew someone online who claimed to have been an ex theist and reconverted because 'I saw an angel'.
The gist of the story was, she was walking along and there was a man walking front of her, he turned a corner, she followed hime round it, and tah dah, he was gone. No-where he could have gone, apparently.
Seems pretty flimsy to me. I refer you to my story of the man on the moped in another thread somewhere.....
When someone suffers a bereavement they can have a number of negative reactions. I admit to drinking heavily and taking drugs when a man I was in love with died. My mother told me she had sex with a lot of strangers after her father died and her first husband left her in the same month and this was not something she was happy doing before this - it was a comfort thing and she felt disgusted with herself afterwards. My friend turned to Christianity when her husband left and she felt very alone - she was an atheist before in that she had never thought about gods existing (we are in the UK where that is possible) and when she felt stronger she stopped going to church. In short, yes, people can seek a crutch of some kind when they are feeling very low and this includes religion.
However, apart from the fact that most of us cannot believe what we don't believe even if we want to, most of us don't want to. We seek comfort from friends and family. It is people with shaky mental health in the first place who may not deal with grief well. That was me then but since then I have suffered grief and handled it realistically. If you are someone who finds you still miss some aspects of faith and also have not completely lost all your superstitious fears, I recommend reading some atheist books - deprogramme yourself fully? I needed to do that - I had not believed since I was 16 but it took me until 30 to get rid of all my faith. Then when you do lose someone, you are unlikely to sink back into religion for comfort. Its not a good idea because it is a crutch and stops you working through the grief - also there are numerous reasons why religious belief is not good for anyone. The God Delusion deprogrammed me but I may have misunderstood your meaning and you have no vestiges of belief left.
My grandfather was somewhat religious, though in the personal and non-proselytizing way, and he screamed a lot for a few weeks before he finally died. My parents were both flabbergasted and annoyed at his behavior as it was undignified in comparison to the rest of his life. My parents may not be particularly atheist, but they neither believe in an afterlife nor do they fear death. The experience have left them stoic and prepared, their major worry is that they lose their minds and horrify us (their children) the same way they were mortified of my grandfathers undignified passing.
My best friend lost his atheist (medical doctor) mother a few years back from cancer when she was in her early sixties. The story of her bravery of calmly and heroically facing her last days, as retold by him, is quite strengthening for me when it comes to how a purely rational human (should) act when faced with the inevitable.
It isn't a pitfall to be desperate, it is a very acceptable human weakness which none of us can truly say we will not do until faced with the situation. The totality of life must be measured, not the tail end of it.
I have never met anyone who had converted back to theism, but I have heard various stories from theists saying that "God has power enough to help even atheists" etc..
In my opinion, it is often the people who are not the atheists that debate, use logic, and that use constant questioning of the idea of a god that are the ones that convert back. It is the ones that have an attitude of "I don't have time to think about what I believe or why I believe it, so by default I am an atheist". That, or the ones that are angry at everything (because we all know those kinds of atheists). Then because they have no true basis for being an atheist, they may easily be persuaded into the 'acceptance' and 'always loving' lie that theists advertise their beliefs as.
I do believe, however, that after a major crisis or life changing event we are all vulnerable to things that we may normally not do. We may start to think in ways that we never did before.
My grandma passed away about a year and a half ago, we were very close as she pretty much raised me from when I was a child. I knew then that I was truly an atheist as I was not grieving her passing, but the fact that I was never going to see her again. I found comfort in the fact that she had a long and good life, a life that a lot of people were never given the chance to live. I am glad that I did not need to turn to a nonexistent excuse for death such as "God has a plan" and such as this would have just made me angry.
Different strokes for different folks I suppose. :)
I was just stepping into Atheism when I lost my Grandfather to cancer. I was only 16, I was confused and hurt, and yes, for a moment I did lapse back into Christianity. It lasted about a week, enough time to deal with my grief and come back to my senses. I look back on it now as a learning experience, understanding how weak I was, and a bit disgusted with what I viewed as a cowardly regression to a state I had thought I'd put behind me. I've lost more family since, but that was my only relapse.
I recently had a Grandpa die and it was very hard for me to see him in his last stages of his life. before he had died i question the religion that my family has which is catholic, but my religion or lack-of is still in questioning i haven't made up what i believe, but i can tell you is that people may convert based on the hopes of the deceased will go to heaven when he or she dies, thus giving the person hope and converting. it was shortly after his death that i came to this site for answers that i couldn't find im my own home.
I have to change my answer a little because I thought back to last year when I lost my cousin (something I avoid because it was the worst two weeks in my life), I realized I did somewhat revert. It was desperation. He was in a coma for a week before he died. I was going through finals week and could do nothing, not even go up there to see him. I was desperate to try to do anything that I prayed. I prayed it would be me instead of him. Once he did die a few days later, that's when I saw how stupid that was. And that's when I really started questioning religion.
Also, thanks to people who have responded. I don't feel so alone anymore. :)
Belief can be simply a tool and can be used to achieve goals, such as coping with loss. Whatever works.