How do you deal with death -- your own, or that of people you love -- when you don't believe in God or an afterlife?
Especially when our culture so commonly handles grief with religion... in ways that are so deeply ingrained, people often aren't aware of it?
A new online faith-free grief support group, Grief Beyond Belief, is grappling with that very question. And the launch of the group -- along with its rapid growth -- presents another compelling question: Why do so many atheists need and want a separate godless sub-culture... for grief support, or anything else?
Grief Beyond Belief was launched by Rebecca Hensler after the death of her three-month-old son. Shortly after Jude's death, she discovered Compassionate Friends, an online network of parents grieving the deaths of their children. But even though Compassionate Friends is not a religious organization, she says, "I often felt alienated by assurances from other members that my son was in heaven or by offers to pray for me, comforts that were kindly meant but that I do not believe and cannot accept." And she knew there were others who felt the same way. (Conflict of interest alert: Hensler and I are friends, and I actively encouraged and supported her in launching this group.)
So about a year later, she started a Facebook page, Grief Beyond Belief. And the group grew and flourished far beyond her expectations. Once the atheist blogosphere heard about the group, news about it spread like wildfire, and membership in the group grew rapidly, rising to over a thousand in just the first couple of weeks. The group is open to atheists, agnostics, humanists, and anyone without belief in a higher power or an afterlife, to share memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions, and to give others support, perspective, empathy, or simply a non-judgmental ear. And it's also open to believers who are questioning, struggling with, or letting go of their beliefs. As long as you don't offer prayers, proselytize for your religious beliefs, or tell other members that their dead loved ones are in a better place with the angels, you're welcome to join.
So why do atheists need this?
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet: Memo to Religious People: Many Atheists Don't Want to Hear That Their Loved Ones "Are in Heaven" -- New Group for Non-Believers Helps Atheists Grieve. To find out more about this grief support group for atheists -- including why we need it -- read the rest of the piece.