Forgive me if I come across as unsympathetic, but I’ve been there and I know what you’re feeling, and there are just some things in life that you can’t gloss over with pretty words and happy fantasies. I’m going to tell it to you straight and I hope you can eventually appreciate this.
It is times like these that provide all the reason in the world to drop the expectation or hope that there is more to this life than what you see and pick up a healthy appreciation for each and every day that you are given the luxury of experiencing life. All too often we take this life for granted and then feel cheated when we don't get what we expected. Really, we should be incredibly grateful for what we have had. Not knowing whether death is the end or not, we better live for today. Regardless of what you believe about an afterlife you can never get this life back, so everyone should live it to the fullest.
You should look at the time you shared with your friend as a gift. While it’s completely understandable to be sad that you don’t get to share more with your friend, it was never guaranteed and you should be remembering that time with joy, not sadness. Whether you ever get to see your friend again, what you shared should be utmost in your mind. You will lose loved ones in the course of this life. That is inevitable. Believing that you will see them again does not make that loss any less painful. Does the delusion really provide any comfort, or does it merely provide a distraction? In the end, your friend is still gone.
The idea that “it doesn't make any sense to me why someone as charitable, kind, and Christ-like as my friend was, would be allowed to die” is obviously ludicrous. Everyone dies. Why? Because our bodies can only keep regenerating their cells for so long. That’s the only why or how or purpose or explanation. Your friend’s life was cut short because s/he sustained injuries that could not be fixed by his or her body. That’s the why. It happens to millions of people each and every day, young and old, rich, poor, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, and one day it will happen to you - all because that’s what life is and how it works. As humans we get these ideas that we’ll live forever, that bad things only happen to bad people, that all of life should be puppies and rainbows and that’s just not reality. We might be able to cover over that glaring gap between our ideal and reality with wishful thinking, but when we find ourselves staring reality in the face, as you are now and will find yourself doing more and more as the years go by, that wishful thinking just isn’t going to cut it, no matter how much we want to cling to it as a comforting security blanket.
Your wonderful, beautiful friend is gone. Nothing can change that. There is nothing to do but accept that. How you do that is to appreciate what you had, not be mad or sad because you didn’t get more. It’s doing a disservice to your friend’s life to focus so completely on his or her death. Learn to appreciate life for what it is, and appreciate every moment of it, because nothing is guaranteed so you better live it now, not tomorrow and not yesterday – right now. Don’t let beliefs hold you back from living and appreciating life. Let reality provide the ultimate appreciation for what is, instead of worrying or fantasizing about what might be.
I am sorry for your loss, but I prefer to think of what you shared with your friend as a gain.
Dealing with losing someone you love is never easy. I still get pangs of sadness over the death of my grandmother, and it has been over 20 years since she died. It'll never truly go away, but it will get easier to bear, Axl.
As much as the thought of seeing my grandmother again in an afterlife may be attractive and comforting, I cannot bring myself to abandon fact for fiction, no matter how good it might feel.
Personally, I'd rather have the truth, even if it is a sadder truth, than to comfort myself with fairy tales. As George Bernard Shaw said, "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one."
When it comes to coping with the death of a loved one, I focus on their life, the good times we had, the memories which will live on for as long as I do. In a way, as long as I remember them, they're not truly gone, they are still having an effect on the world, if only by proxy.
Sadly, death rarely makes sense. If it did, if good people died peaceably of old age surrounded by loved ones, while the wicked died early, then there would perhaps be some evidence of a guiding hand. But the truth is, our lives can be cut short by the most unexpected and trivial of events, without rhyme or reason. There is no 'allowed' or 'not allowed', no great overarching plan, things just happen, and we must deal with the results.
@Nelson- Thanks, I appreciated the part about coming to atheism due to logic, not because of pain, or anger towards God.
@Pam-I think that's a very good point about focusing on what time we had together rather than on losing him. In other words, not relying on an idea to give me comfort, but rather relying on people. (That's how I took your answer anyways)
@Stacy B- Thanks for the honesty, the part about "puppies and rainbows" made me laugh (something I haven't done in a while) I also liked how you threw in how believing that this life may be 'all we've got' actually makes you live life more fully.
@Dave G- I loved the example about relating drunkenness with believing in something with the sole purpose of making me feel better. I guess drugs or alcohol give you a false sense of happiness that doesn't last. I see how it relates. Thanks.
So hopefully I'm getting more or less what you all are trying to say. I'm trying to have an open mind to new ways of thinking.
Okay so last couple of questions I need answers to, then I'll be outta you guys hair: One thing that really helped me stick to the principles that were force-fed to me, was being able to read the Bible\Book of Mormon every day. It helped me to constantly remind myself what I stood for, and got me in the state of mind to be the person I wanted to be. What do you do to stick to your morals (whatever they may be) and become the person that you envision yourself becoming. Last of all, please recommend one good book about atheism.
THANKS so much for your answers, it really means a lot to me.
my answer to that question would be to ask you a question in turn. that may sound like i'm dodging the question but bear with me and i think my point will become clear.
where do you get the morals to be able to decide if what's in the bible or the book of mormom is something that you should rely on to inform you of what you stand for or to decide the person you want to be?
if you get those morals from those books then no matter what they say is moral right? if you get your morals only from reading and believing that those books are divinely inspired then even if one or the other said that murder was moral it would automatically be moral. if one or the other said that keeping slaves is a perfectly moral thing to do- and the bible DOES say this- then is that automatically a moral thing to do? well, no, of course it isn't. murder is wrong no matter what the bible or the book of mormon says about it. slavery is wrong despite the fact that the bible never says you can't keep slaves and even lays out instructions for how to keep your slaves.
so where do you and i get the morals to be able to know that murder and slavery is wrong? not from the bible because as we've seen we'd understand those things to be wrong even if the bible or the book of mormon said murder was moral and despite the fact that the bible says slavery is ok. the only other place we get those morals from is from ourselves. we get them partly from evolution- altruistic behavior ensures the stability of, first, the immediate family group, and later, larger communities made up of distant relatives, and so therefore is favored by natural selection- altruistic behavior makes society more stable and a stable society is one that's more conducive to the individual being able to pass on their genetic code, including the code for altruistic behavior, on to the next generation. we also get our morality from a social contract. we're social animals, we seek a connection with other members of our species, we crave acceptance- murdering someone will not get you assimilated into society, it won't result in your connecting with very many people, and you won't gain acceptance- so we generally don't do it unless our other more primitive urges overcome the social contract (but reading the bible doesn't stop people from murdering others and indeed has often throughout history has been the reason people have murdered others). the social contract is fluid and is informed by the context we live in and the progress of society. people used to believe all sorts of obviously immoral things about African peoples, and some still do, but according to their social contract there was nothing wrong with that- yet we today acknowledge that those beliefs were still immoral even back then just as they are now. finally, we get our morals from thinking about them, from considering the angles and coming to a decision on which position to adopt. for many people abortion is a moral issue. those of us who don't have a dogma that prevents us from seeing all the subtle nuances weigh the life of an unborn fetus without consciousness against the rights of the mother to do what she wants with her body. some people, even some without any dogma, find that the unborn fetus without consciousness has more rights than the mother, some of course feel otherwise, but the decision, again for those without a dogma that demands seeing things in black and white while ignoring the nuances, is a considered one arrived at after some thought (and with some emotion too of course).
so we come full circle now and i can answer your question directly. i stick to MY personal morality. my morality exists as a result of evolution, of the social contract, and after careful consideration of the nuances involved in every moral question i am confronted with. i carry that with me no matter where i go and it informs my ideas about what is right or wrong at every turn. it directs me to become the person that i envision myself becoming because my vision of who i want to become is based on that as well.
i need no book to tell me how to behave or to tell me the person that i should become. first and foremost because what reason is there to let the ignorances of desert dwelling goat herders and farmers of 3500-2000 years ago inform my morality but also because what happens to a person who bases their morality on that book and then that book is proven to be wrong- as it has on so many occasions through biology, archaeology, astronomy, etc. does that person suddenly become immoral or amoral? honestly, i don't understand how a person relies on a book for their morality or to help them become the person they want to become.
Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that he does good not because he is forced to do so, but because he freely conceives it, wants it, and loves it.
-- Mikhail Bakunin
I would ask did the Bible and Book of Mormon tell you what you stood for, or did you focus on the parts of the Bible and the Book of Mormon that fell in line with what you stand for on your own? I highly doubt you stand for killing disobedient children and women keeping their mouths shut in church and being willing to kill your own child because you think some god has told you to. You don't stand for offering up your own daughters to be gang raped in order to keep your guests safe and you don't stand for punishing an entire people for the evils of their ruler. So did you get your morality from those books? Did they tell you who you are and what you stood for? Or did you merely take from them the good parts that naturally appeal to you and use them to illustrate what you stand for?
For all the good lessons taught in the Bible (I'm not familiar with much of the Book of Mormon except its dubious origins) there are other fables and stories that teach the same lesson without the religious rhetoric. If you need analogies to remind you of those lessons, there are other books out there. Aesop's Fables is a great place to start. However, all you were really doing when reading the Bible and BofM was to bring to the forefront of your mind the lessons you have learned. You can do that without either of those books. Just look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself who you want to be today and how would that person act. Use real life situations to remind you of what you stand for. Learn from reality.
What do I do to stick to my morals? What purpose or reason or incentive would I ever have to NOT stick to my morals? Why would I want to do something against my nature? What could possibly make me want to do something "wrong"? I know who I want to be. Why would I ever be something else? If you need a book to remind you who you want to be, then you have no idea who you want to be. You need to figure out what's important to you, not what's important to your church leaders or what some book says is important or what you think is supposed to be important. What is important to YOU? It shouldn't be too hard to follow that path if you have truly analyzed why those things are important to you. If you know why something is important then you don't have to remind yourself what is important. The right things just are important. Your morality and what you stand for and who you want to be is internal, not externally embedded in and drawn from a book.
I'm not sure that there are really any books about atheism, per se, but certainly some that explain some of the issues and fallacies of some religions. You can't go wrong with The God Delusion by Dawkins. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are some well known authors of books on the general subject.
Now, as to my morals. My morality comes from my reason and millennia of evolutionary adaptation. Humans are a social animal, we're adapted to live in groups. Much of our morality comes from advantageous adaptations to that environment. Altruism, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, and many more virtues were selected for due to their evolutionary advantages, and are borne out by our success and by rational thought. One of Daniel Dennet's books, I think Darwin's Dangerous Idea, has an excellent chapter or two on evolutionary stable social strategies and how things like altruism and honesty can be selected as advantageous traits.
Although many religious people will not admit it, their morality comes from the same source. Religious texts get their morality from humanity, not the other way around. Every time someone reads the Bible or the Koran or the Vedas and picks which sections that will obey, they are using the innate sense of morality that developed as a part of human nature to judge the historical morality that their religion imposes. The Bible, for example, clearly states that anyone working on the Sabbath is to be stoned to death.
One of the dangers that religion poses is that religious indoctrination can override a person's innate sense of morality. Again using the stoning on the Sabbath example, I (and I would guess you) would consider that immoral, to kill someone for working on Sunday (or Saturday for Judaism). Yet in some ultra-orthodox areas of Israel, groups of people *will* throw stones at people working (or even driving a car) on the Sabbath. Again, in one of Dennett's books (I enjoy reading Dennett, can you tell? :D ) he talks about how certain situations, when presented as a moral dilemma, will get one answer if the dilemma is presented as involving characters of the person's religion, and a totally different way if presented as involving characters of other religions.
So, in short, my morality springs from my humanity, modulated and directed by my reason.