Atheists - do you ever *wish* that you believed in God and heaven?

I would categorize myself as atheist with a slight touch of “What if it really is real?”. I tend to believe that when we die, that’s it, and there’s nothing beyond that.

But my mother – my best friend – passed away a few days ago, and I’m having a really hard time coping with it. It was not COVID, thankfully, and I was able to be by her side in her last hours, and I’m thankful that she’s no longer in any pain or discomfort, and that she was alert enough to know that my Dad and I were there with her.

But now I’m trying to find whatever comfort I can. My mother was well loved by everyone that ever met her, and the condolences rolling in remind me of that. During her lifetime, and my childhood, she had two best friends, that were also neighbors. Their families were our families, and one of the daughters was (and is) one of my own very good friends. One of those wonderful ladies passed away some years ago, and the other passed away just this past year, leaving my mother as the remaining member of the trio.

So in talking to the daughters of both of my mother’s friends, I said to one of them that “I like to think that my mom is now up there chatting with both of your moms, having coffee and gossiping.” Similarly, I like to think that she’s also reunited with my grandparents, and all of her brothers, whom she outlived.

But the thing is, I don’t really believe that’s happened, yet I keep telling myself that it has, because it makes me feel better. I can’t quite reconcile these things. Am I the only non-believer that has struggled with this?

I’m sorry for you loss Hansey. She sounded like a lovely person.

I think there’s a couple questions there; can you believe or do you wish to believe? The shortest answer is that the universe is more unbelievably large and yet finite than probably anyone in history could have possibly imagined, so perhaps there’s still a hope for things beyond our imagination.

Very sorry for your loss @Hansey. I don’t have any answers, other than to remember with love who she was.

Sorry for your loss @Hansey.

This may not answer your question but this is what I believe/do not believe, maybe it resonates with you:

When I was a child my mother said to me “We make our own heaven and we make our own hell, if we decide on having that”.

I don’t believe in “God”, a single, ultimate being.
I don’t believe in religion.
I don’t believe that death is the end.

I believe in an “energy”, that we’re all connected, everything is connected. I believe there is a source, a large “pool” if you want. That’s where “we” have come from and when we die that is where “we” return to. When in that “pool” we are still ourselves but we are everything aswell.

I believe that we (as humans) have the “mechanics” to tap into that “pool” at any stage but we don’t know how exactly. I believe it happens by chance sometimes, leading to advances in art, technology, etc.

I know your mother is there and that she is aware of you. I know you can feel her and she can feel you.

It’s a bit “reiki”/spiritual.

All the above said, I strongly respect other peoples beliefs. I also believe that most religions have some of the best lessons and guidelines that you should live by (and that I try live by, highest being “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”).

I’ve always been an open minded person. I can be convinced, if the argument is sound. I just have yet to see any convincing arguments that it’s real. (Or at least that meet my standards.) I think that I do want to believe, and I think that I could, but I’m not sure what it would take for me to be convinced.

That said, despite the knowledge we have of the world today, I think we still only understand a tiny fraction of everything in the universe. No one five hundred years ago could have imagined even the possibility for the technology we have today, or the discoveries we’d make in space, or discoveries of things that happened thousands of years ago. I think there’s plenty of room for actual evidence to exist, I just can’t comprehend it.

I, too, respect the beliefs of others. Religion is not for me, but if it enriches someone else’s life, then it’s not my place tell them they’re wrong. The only exception is if someone else’s beliefs actively harms someone else. And that does happen, sadly. But for most of the religious folks I know personally, their faith harms no one, and if it brings them comfort, I’m all for it.

I don’t believe that religion, or faith, or a belief in a god is required to make someone a good person. Some of the finest, most caring people I know are atheists. I think social upbringing, and society in general makes someone decide to be a good person. But I agree that the bible, for example, has some good stories of morality, and can serve as a good teaching tool. But I tend to compare it with an edition of “Aesop’s Fables” rather than a factual telling of things that actually happened.

Thank you for sharing your own personal beliefs. Some of that resonates with me, some I haven’t ever really considered. I’m not entirely certain it answers my question, but I don’t think there is an easy answer. It is helpful, though.

I’m sorry for your loss, @Hansey. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person and your relationship was clearly really deep.

I believe in heaven, but it comes to me as part of a whole matrix of Christian beliefs that add up to “We are made to live forever with the God that brought us into being.” Some of that is probably a long bridge to cross for you.

But even so, there are some potential truths in the very understandable feelings you’re having. For instance: Hope. Even in a Christian context, we have to be honest that we don’t know what the promised life after death is really like. We can’t conceive of it. But we can have hope. Hope that, in some form, those we’ve loved don’t simply disappear into nothingness. That while we know them in their bodies, and those bodies die, that nonetheless there is part of them that seems to transcend the material, and maybe that part remains somehow.

A philosophy teacher once had my class read a chunk of Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical novel, Look Homeward Angel, and it’s always stuck with me. Wolfe’s beloved brother, Ben, contracts Spanish Flu and dies young. It leads Wolfe to this conclusion:

We can believe in the nothingness of life, we can believe in the nothingness of death and of life after death–but who can believe in the nothingness of Ben?

I suspect you feel this way about your mother. It’s clearly a natural impulse. But maybe, just maybe, it also points to an radical truth. Maybe our instincts are somehow right, and the person we know in life–that presence that impresses itself on us, and the places they inhabited, the things they were close to–maybe they don’t seem to totally go away because they don’t totally go away.

@jpinard brought up some of these questions about a year ago when his dad got sick. There was a lot of philosophical conversation there, if you feel like diving into it. Either way, I hope you find comfort in your loss.

I’m so sorry about your mom, @Hansey. I can 100% sympathize with your feelings. I wish I believed in an afterlife, I wish I believed there was a higher force we could call out to for help. But I can’t make myself believe something. It’s hard to reconcile traditional religion with what I know of science, and what I know of the larger church organization and how it functions politically and economically.

I’m on the edge of agnosticism, because I truly do feel you have your time here and that’s what you get. Even if we do continue to exist as energy in the universe, without continuity of consciousness, how much is that post-you you actually you?

That said, I’ve certainly heard enough stories that can’t be explained scientifically that I feel like I can’t know 100% that there’s no existence after death. I would like nothing more than for there to be one, to get that chance to reunite, to have some hope to exist past our time here. But I can’t just decide to believe something.

That said, I’d love to be presented with something, to feel something, or to just have an internal epiphany that would make me feel different. No objection whatsoever. But I’m not feeling like that’s likely.

I know those who we lose exist in our memories and the influence they had on making us who we are. My grandparents are gone, but my grandfather’s interest in how things work – and his straightforward scientific athiesm – still exist in me. My grandmother’s sense of humor still brings me joy. Even if they are longer part of this universe in a conscious manner, their impact remains.

I’m sorry about your mom, and I wish I had something more reassuring than verifying that I essentially share the same viewpoint, and I share a similar wish that there is more. About the only reassurance I can add is that while my belief is pretty strong, I do feel like we can’t know for sure, and that last bit offers a little sliver of hope.

Sorry for your loss.

I’m so sorry for your loss.

When I lost my mom, I found the church to not give me the solace I was looking for and I haven’t been to church since (Methodist). Weird how after 30 years of going to church, her dying was the catalyst for me to not return.

I turned instead to having conversations with her and have since worked her into my every day life. It’s not that I have a conversation per se, as she doesn’t really talk back, but talking to her and remembering her on an almost daily basis for the past 23 years has brought a lot of solace.

I have a lot of fond memories of my mom always wanting to make our family life special, and to that end, I attribute a tremendous amount of positive things to her making them happen. I’m late for an appt and the lights all magically line up? Thanks Mom! A 75 degree day on the Oregon coast in May for my birthday weekend? Thanks Mom! A mistake in the shop that could have screwed up a project because I didn’t account for something - but it turns out that I randomly got something right? Thanks Mom!

The first few years are very tough as anniversaries of many things will trigger a lot of emotions. But it’s those memories that have her still living. My mom wore a certain perfume. One of the things my sister and I did was to split all her earrings & pendants because she loved them. A bonus was that I put them in one of those containers with the nice pleated linings that hold jewelry and the scent from the jewelry is still there today after so many years.

You’ll find your solace, but it will take time and religion doesn’t need to play into it.

Thank you to everyone, both for your condolences and your thoughts. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about this forum is the extensive range of varying opinions, and the ability to discuss them civilly and respectfully.

@Nightgaunt - I do remember reading that thread back when it was posted, but I think perhaps I’ll give it another read, now that I have new, personal context to apply to it.

@DennyA - Your viewpoint does indeed seem to mirror my own, and I’m glad I’m not alone in my struggle. You are correct that there is that tiny sliver of hope that there is something more, just because we can’t possibly know everything.

@Tman - Thank you for your perspective, especially regarding what I should expect in the next few years. This is, by far, the worst thing that has ever happened in my adult life (I am turning 50 next year) so the pain is so crippling right now. I already know that I will continue to talk to her, even though she can’t answer. I also do quite a bit of writing, and I plan to also start a separate journal, to write her letters that I know she can’t ever read. But I think these are the things I need to do, for me.

Sorry for your loss. And sure, I sometimes wish I could believe, it’s a source of comfort for many, but for me there’s also comfort in believing that dying is just taking an eternal well rested, dreamless sleep, without worries or pains.

Deepest sympathy, Hansey.

Sorry for your loss. Growing up in a Catholic household we were taught it was all about faith. I dont think anyone will ever be able to convince people because there are no facts or proof

I wish I could. I still have my mother but she’s doing very badly, the last month has been the hardest time of my entire life.

I’ve been a pretty hardcore atheist since I was 10, I just read too many other mythologies to buy it. That, coupled with not having any Catholic influence where there was an escape valve (my generation in Appalachia pretty much believed any sin meant you were damned to Hell without recourse, silly but kids) I rejected it completely.

I went the other way, rather than being a bad Christian I became a bad Zen Buddhist. We are as we are and our world comes from our brains. You can train it, you can avoid doing or saying things that trigger negativity for yourself and others, and in the end the brain still has the last laugh. So friends, hobbies, realizing the bad thoughts are only just thoughts. We all die, and it’s never easy, I just try to focus on the good times.

Very sorry for your loss.

To give you another data point: I have been where you are (not with my mother, thankfully), and I did find myself wishing that I could believe in a heaven. In the end though, my experience was the same as DennyA’s; I just can’t make myself believe, even when doing so might bring some comfort.

And honestly, I don’t think that the grieving process was any different or more difficult without religion to fall back on. People talk about religion being either a crutch or a comfort, but for me the grieving process was the same when I was a believer as it was when I was not.

Also, I have not found my atheism to be a barrier to cherishing my lost friends and family. I still smile when things remind me of them. The phrase, “She would have loved this,” is just as comforting without the religious subtext.

My condolences on your loss, Hansey.

I’m comfortable in believing that my dearly departed friends and relatives wound up in whatever afterlife model they preferred, even if I don’t personally believe in them or (and this is key) if their afterlives are incompatible with each other. Grandma can be reunited with Grandpa in a posthumous marital bliss even if Grandpa is romping through his own hedonistic hunting ground. Aunt Peggy (name changed) got her own planet in the hereafter, Uncle Jim finally found the permanent oblivion he sought in the bottom of all those bottles, while Bob, a friend of a friend, haunts the land until his own murder is solved.

I like thinking that they achieved something personal and eternal, in their last chance to achieve anything. I might personally believe that, when my time eventually comes, there is no life after death (not counting the memory of me handed down in the minds of friends, family, and forum posts; also, noting memorial structures erected in my honor, the dissemination of my paltry estate, and the atoms comprising my body being reused as whatever else happens to them). But I try not to let my theories impose on theirs. I don’t want to let my conjecture on the unknowable get in the way of working through my grieving processes or poison my memories of the departed. I don’t see a point into getting into metaphysical arguments about, if my poor little nephew is now an angel, whether he and his fellow choir-babies could dance on the head of a pin. It’s an adaptation of my generally atheistic/agnostic “live and let live” policy. Except here it’s more “afterlife and let afterlife.” If they wanted to be happy forever, I hope they are happy forever, and I don’t think I have to turn in my atheist card for that.

I am very sorry for your loss, Hansey.

It feels recent, but it has been 4 years now since I lost my mom, and then my dad 3 months after my mom. They were both deeply religious and brought us up in that environment. My mom’s parents I adored, and were also very deeply rooted in the church and strict beliefs. I have to admit it caused difficulties for me over the years when I realized maybe my own views didn’t follow my family, whom I have adored and looked up to my entire life. I remember early conversations, I believe even by pastors, and pretty sure from my own grandparents, and maybe even my mom too, where they used fear that you would never get to see your loved ones again after you pass, if you didn’t follow even the same type of church. That never sat well with me.

I spent most of my adult life, especially while my parents were alive, avoiding letting myself even think or explore what I believed, which would sometimes cause some trouble. I would just focus on the things I had control over; my job and responsibilities and taking care of my family. Since then, I had a very close friend recently die of cancer that had a completely opposite view, and we shared many deep conversations right up until the day she passed. I guess I haven’t really let myself think about it too much.

I will say that believing gave my parents great peace, it seemed, and comfort as they were convinced they would meet again soon. My sister’s family has the same views and I am glad that works for them. I am just not convinced it does for me.

I am not sure I am ready to explore this anymore here in public, but if you need someone else to share some view or stories, Hansey, just shoot me a PM. I would be happy to try to offer some support.

I too send my sincere condolences on your loss @Hansey. The pain one feels at the loss of a beloved mother is different and somehow more complex than other losses I think, and somehow harder to bear. .

To answer your question, I lost a very dear friend to suicide earlier in the year and all I could do to lessen the grief was to hope. I hope he is in a better place, I hope he found happiness… I don’t really believe that anything happens when we die, but I still hope.

Oof. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend, Indyls.

I’m sorry for your loss. I think a lot people engage in similar mental exercises and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s ok to temporarily have contradicting ideas when they improve your mental state.

As for wishing to believe, no, never. Why would I let a simple coping mechanism rule my life? Why would I worry about what comes next when I go to sleep every day and lose consciousness, which shows me exactly what comes next. Why would I ask myself where my loved ones are when I know there was a time when they didn’t exist, where were they then?

If the ones we lose live on, they do so through us. If we want them to be around their friends and loved ones, we should be around our friends and loved ones. Living life to the fullest is the only way to show them how much they meant for us.