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← The first time I spoke out in defense of atheism in public.

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Ted Foureagles

Standing up for reason is important, and I applaud you for handling this situation as you did. However, in the context of grief counseling, quiet discretion is usually best. My wife and I ran a hospice in our home some years back, and so we frequently dealt with the grief of those who were dying and their loved ones. Then was not the time to challenge beliefs that may have been their main comfort, but instead a chance to provide support. I would never outright lie to someone looking to me for spiritual confirmation, but neither would I confront them with my view of their belief.

Perhaps the most difficult of my challenges during that time came when a lovely old lady I'd come to know during her time with us was minutes from death. She clenched my hand and asked, "Is that you Jesus?" (some physical resemblance to the popular western image, at least back then). I could have more honestly said, "No, it's just me, Ted". Instead, I held her hand and said, "I'm here". Her (agnostic) daughter was with us when the old lady died, and she later said, "I can't tell you how glad I am that when Mother passed she thought that Jesus had her hand".

Was what I did a lie? Well, yes. But at the time it was not about me. These scenarios in more or lesser shades of drama play out in everyday life. I live in Upstate South Carolina, where almost everyone is deeply religious, and very often frightened of those who don't share their particular beliefs. For me to hold forth on a rant about how ridiculous those beliefs are while at their table would just be uncivil. At a bar, or in my backyard -- different matter.

One of my dearest friends, and posessor of one of the finest minds I've yet known, inexplicably became a fundamentalist Christian in middle age. We do challenge one another regularly but, sadly, those discussions seldom go far. His religiosity and my atheism form a wall between us that seems unbreachable, and it makes us both sad, We can still befriend one another in superficial ways, but the depth is gone. When he posts something gratuitous on facebook about the power of prayer, I'll jump all over his ass, but when he recently lost his home to foreclosure I certainly didn't pipe up to add to his distress.

We're profoundly social critters, and the road we follow in common is anything but straight. And I wouldn't want it straightened. I'd love to see our species mature toward reason, but do not want to be reason's Prophet. They nail ya' to boards for that!


Mon, 04 Jun 2012 01:04:28 UTC | #945378