Today I was chatting with a friend at a party, let’s call her Ashley, and she mentioned she was an agnostic. Our conversation went like this:
ME: “Let me ask you something, and this is not meant to be aggressive, I’m just genuinely curious about what’s going on in your head. What do you mean when you say you’re agnostic? Like, even though I can’t disprove fairies, I’m not agnostic about fairies, you know?”
ASHLEY: “Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it much. Actually, I can’t really deal with that right now. I can’t think about death. It’s just…”
At that moment I could tell Ashley was fighting back tears.
Ashley has a great life, a great job, great adventures, and a great husband. She loves life so much that she can’t bear the thought of having to leave it behind.
And so she wants to believe in some kind of God, even if she has no reason to do so. The thought of leaving this world behind made her sad.
I quickly acknowledged her existential battle, changed the subject, and cracked a few jokes about something else.
Ashley is not a fragile woman. As far as I can tell, she is among the most mature and emotionally healthy people I know. But the thought of ceasing to exist was enough to make her cry.
I don’t know why death doesn’t scare me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read the stoics. Death is not an experience of loss, its an absence of experience… and all that. Maybe it’s just not in my brain chemistry to fear death. Or maybe it seems too far away for me to worry about it yet.
It’s easy for those of us who have made peace with death to lack some sensitivity for those who struggle with it. After all, death must be a pretty big deal to a lot of people for us to have invented such crazy stories to avoid facing it.
Believers can get mad because they think we atheists are just running around sadistically popping everyone’s bubbles. “God is imaginary, you fools! Grow up, children!” Ssome people aren’t ready for that. They may not be able to handle the loss of God, or the thought of real death, or whatever.
We all have sensitivities. I certainly do.
I don’t think people’s sensitivities should stop anyone from saying “I’m an atheist.” And I don’t think people’s sensitivities should stop anyone from arguing for critical thinking and truth.
But maybe we could have just a bit more compassion.
Well, I could, anyway.