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.
My sister passed away on 14 April. I have found myself wishing I were able to believe that there is something beyond this world. I think it's a matter of not wanting to tell oneself 'it's over.'
@ Kevin - I am very sorry for your loss.
My condolences. At this point in my life, my brother passing would be the only death that would truly shake me at my core.
I understand that feeling too well, Kevin. My sister was murdered on June 5th last year. It's difficult letting go. I agree that the feeling of I don't want this to be the end is probably where the idea of an afterlife came from to begin with, but that doesn't make the truth any less true. I suppose being a naturalist made that easier for me to accept. It was preparing for her funeral that I realized just how much I had really let go of any concept of God and the supernatural. I had considered myself an agnostic, but looking back, I realized I was an atheist.
I don't know the circumstances of what you are going through, but I can say that time lessens the pain and sense of loss. It never really goes away, but slowly it gets better. Accepting that loss was for me the first step to healing.
And Sean, I do see clinging to religion in times of sorrow as a pitfall. I can't blame people for doing it. My parents, brother, and extended family are all currently doing that. It brings comfort. It brings a definitive community. At the same time, once you start believing that the person you care for is waiting for you in eternal paradise, you stop accepting that they are gone and are instead just waiting to see them again. Now on top of it all, to leave behind the idea of a divine entity is to also leave behind the idea that you will never again see those you love and care for. You'd have to break open all those old wounds and finally deal with that loss. This is not to mention the complete load of baggage that comes with returning to religion, the needless shame for the things you've done, the needless guilt of denying that a god-like being ever existed, and all the rules, hypocrites, and stupid bullshit that probably encouraged you leave in the first place.
A quote I've always liked from the infamous Jack Sparrow, "The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do." You can either accept that death is the end or you can't, but either way you've got to square that by your onesie, savvy?
I'm very sorry to hear that, SH!
i doubt that when anybody close to me dies, that i will convert back. but sometimes i find myself wishing there was at least a point after death where you can meet your loved ones one more time before its really over but who knows what really happens when we leave this place.
My second question, a more personal one, is when someone close to you dies, is it a pitfall to convert/reconvert to religion?
@Sean - No, I don't consider it a pitfall (for myself). Just because you desperately want something does not guarantee you will get it. However, I suppose one could hope to be united with loved ones after death, but even it turns out you are able to be united, somehow, it still does not mean there has to be a god involved. I will say I have yet to lose someone who is close to me, so I am not speaking from experience.
I have an uncle who found religion (well before I was born and ended up a minister. I don't know if he was an atheist pre se before that, but I'm pretty sure the whole family was irreligious or indifferent. He eventually became a minister, and from my limited interactions with him strikes me as an intelligent man well-versed in Christian theology, so regardless of what set him on that path, I don't think he stayed for purely emotional reasons.
A few people I knew when I was younger also took up religion after participating with youth groups. I imagine the sense of belonging and the group atmosphere played a big part in their conversion.
I have talked to at least one person who took up some form of theism because they found it a reasonable proposition. I don't recall his exact views, but it seemed to be kind of a general of respect for various prophetic figures and spiritual leaders throughout the ages coupled with a sense that there was something larger behind the scenes. While I didn't share his views, it seemed like he was sincere in his convictions. His beliefs didn't really include any after life and he had no congregation or other community benefits. That's just what he came to believe.
I try not to speculate too much on why people convert to religion or return to it. If it comes up in conversation, I try to take the explanation at face value instead of jumping instantly to 'no true Scotsman'. I haven't really encountered many people who have converted from atheism to some form of theism or religion.
With regard to your second question, no, the death of a loved one doesn't move me toward religion in any way. Thus far, death just hasn't bothered me that much. There are moments where I am suddenly preoccupied with the sad realization that I will never see the deceased again, but I try to just embrace it for what it is, then move on again. Most of my fears concerning death were resolved before my age hit the double digits. Growing up with that perspective, nothingness after death just seems natural and proper. The prospect of eternal existence actually makes me a little uneasy when I really think on it.
Some of my close relatives have died, and it did not affect my disbelief. As long as you keep in mind why you disbelieve, it will not affect you too much. You may wish you can believe it, but you wont, because you cant. To me it just sounds like this individual believes because he needed to ease the pain.... wishful thinking..we are all human in the end
Yes, my best childhood friend was an atheist and is now an apologist for the Catholic church! I've lost grand parents, a brother, both parents, and numerous other friends and relatives, and have never considered converting nor wishing to.
I just recently lost my cousin who was my best friend. After all that it actually made me face that I'm really an atheist and accept it. I was never really religious before, just did it to keep the family happy. Once he died all people would say was, "It's God's plan. He needed him more than we do." And I thought, wtf? Why in the hell would an all powerful invisible man in the sky, need my cousin? I just had an anger towards everyone using religion as a crutch. This got me to thinking more on the subject for once and I finally realized, I don't (can't and never can) believe an angry, jealous, and all powerful being could really be up there controlling everything. Because he's doing a shit job if he is.
Anywho, the death of a loved one had the opposite reaction on me. And I would love to believe he did go over to some wonderful place and I'll see him again, but I just can't. What helps me through is just knowing while he's not here, I still have the memories of our time together. But it does seem like it's been a lot tougher for me to get through than the rest of my family that believe it was "God's Will". It sucks but with time I know I can move on.
My Nana died, we were extremely close, but I still didn't believe in their religion despite her piousness. I'm ok with never seeing her again because we had such an amazing 18 years together.