Atheism and grief

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According to a study performed in the United States by researchers Wink and Scott, very religious people fear death the least.[1] See also: Atheism and death

A significant body of research suggests that religion helps people cope with dying.[2][3]

USA Today reported about atheism and grief:

When Rebecca Hensler's infant son died in 2009, she received numerous condolences from friends, colleagues and even total strangers she met online.

Rebecca Hensler started a support group for grieving atheists to help them deal with loss and death without religion.

Rebecca Hensler started a support group for grieving atheists to help them deal with loss and death without religion.

Rebecca Hensler started a support group for grieving atheists to help them deal with loss and death without religion.

She knew their intentions were good, but their words weren't always helpful. And in the rawness of her grief, Hensler found some of them downright hurtful.

Hensler is an atheist, so when people described her three-month-old son Jude as being an angel, or part of God's plan, or "in a better place" than in his mother's arms, the pain sometimes overwhelmed her.[4]

Atheism, grief and tragedies

Dennis Prager wrote:

Last week the New York Times published an opinion piece that offered atheism’s response to the evil/tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. What prompted Susan Jacoby to write her piece was a colleague telling her that atheism “has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”...

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared with the religious message that we humans are not just matter, but possess eternal souls.[5]

Atheism, pantheism and lack of consolation

See also: Hopelessness of atheism and Atheism, agnosticism and pessimism

Gary DeLashmutt wrote:

Atheism promises only personal annihilation. Bertrand Russell said: “No fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life from the grave...Brief and powerless is Man's life; on his and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day.” The best you can do is try not to think about death!

Pantheism may sound more hopeful with its belief in reincarnation, but this holds no promise for reunion with loved ones. Our spirits come back in different forms, and ultimately are absorbed into the impersonal oneness—which is just another form of personal annihilation. Aldous Huxley rejected atheism and embraced pantheism. But when his mother died, he had no comfort for his sister: “My dearest sister, I offer you no consolation, for I know of none. There are things which each must bear as best he may with the strength that has been allotted to him.”[6]

See also


  1. Fear of death: worst if you’re a little religious?, World of Science]
  2. “Meaning Making Narratives among Non-Religious Individuals Facing the End of Life,” in New Dimensions in Spirituality, Religion, and Aging, ed. Vern L. Bengtson and Merril Silverstein (Routledge, 2019)
  3. The Effects of Religion and Spirituality on Coping Efficacy for Death and Dying
  4. Grief without God is a challenge for nonbelievers
  5. The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook
  6. [Hope in the Face of Death] by Gary DeLashmutt