The Problem with Atheism

by | Dec 16, 2010 | 3 comments

No, I haven’t felt much like writing this week.  Just logging into the account I have here makes me feel sick, so I’ve been avoiding it.

Tomorrow is your birthday honey.

I am sad that Audrey never got to celebrate a birthday with you.  The first year she was not even three months old and already sleeping when you got home from work, and last year you were away on the first European tour- ironically you celebrated your 33rd birthday last year in Switzerland- the same place you would die a little more than six months later.  This year she is actually really into birthdays- it would have been so joyful to hear her sing to you.  Even this morning she found the leftover party hats from her birthday, asked me to put one on, and sang a rousing rendition of “Happy birthday to mommy” to me.  I can’t help but smile to see her singing with her whole body to me when it’s not even near my birthday and I don a pointed purple paper party hat while sitting up in bed.

I told her we could light a candle and sing to you anyway.

I am very sad.

Birthday feels the most difficult so far.  Father’s Day will be the second most difficult I’m sure.  New Years’ will be no picnic.  But birthday…birthday means a celebration of life- your existence…your past and your future.  Your vacant birthday tomorrow means that you are not here anymore- our past is broken by the foreshadowing I see it with now, and you have no future- at least here on earth.  This is the first year since I was 23 I don’t get to wish you a happy birthday Dan.  But can I still celebrate you?  I think that’s fair.  I will meet with seven or eight of your closest friends in Koreatown tomorrow night for a simple dinner.  It’s a little early to be telling stories and laughing, but maybe we can share some memories and raise a glass to you- quietly in a loud restaurant.

I am in disbelief every day, but I also think as I near the six month mark- a new reality is hitting me- it is cold and takes my breath away.

Audrey is grieving in a different stage as well- I can tell.  She is talking to your picture constantly – “invoking you into the present” a healthy thing, the counselor says.  She also drew a picture of you and colored you black.  The counselor tells me that as I suspect, “Yes, this is very significant.”  Black is the color of grief and anger, she says.

For a few days, Audrey insisted that all of her favorite stuffed animals be taken out of her crib saying, “I don’t like you anymore,” to each of them.  She kept just my t-shirt and yours.  The counselor says she still wants comfort and security.  Little by little over the last week, she’s tossed them back into the crib herself.  I am glad to hear her talking to them again at night while falling asleep.  “Santa Claus is coming to my hooouse Hello Kitty!” she says.

The other day I tried to decide on atheism.  (Now doesn’t that sound silly- as if I could sit here and make a decision)  It seems easier than trying to believe- not just because of this loss- this tragedy- but because of the way it’s caused me to view the world with all of its brokenness.  Many say that is exactly what makes them believe- they tell me, “Doesn’t it just make you believe there’s more?  Because it’s such a nightmare?”

Another young widow points out to me that from her vantage point (her husband died a slow death from illness), she could actually see the separation between soul and body taking place, and she found herself instinctively, no longer talking to the body that lay in the hospital- but into the air.

Another dear friend visits me one night this week- after I blogged about someone coming over to sit and cry with me, she emailed right away and volunteered.  Anyway when she visited, she pointed out that one life has been lost, but she believes my life is just as precious and she doesn’t want to see mine lost as well.  She wants me to take care of myself.

This seems to be an ongoing theme- self- care.  Something the counselor also mentioned last week.  Being kind to myself.  A skill I’ve certainly never had.  The counselor even tells me to go shopping.  Another friend I speak to weekly on the phone brainstorms with me last night about ways I can do this.  I tell her on my giant to-do list I have “get teeth cleaned” and “take vitamins” under self.  “Oh, that sounds like lots of fun, Julia,” she replies sarcastically.  She suggests a glass of wine, a bath, and a good book in bed.

Though none of these things ease the pain- I suppose they can’t hurt.  Maybe they will temporarily distract.  I don’t know why I’ve always been one to avoid distraction from the task at hand or help in a painful time.  When I get a headache, I don’t want to take aspirin.  No, I had to try to do natural childbirth.  And no, I don’t want a TV or any other comfort.  No antidepressants for me thank you.  Am I punishing myself?  I’m not sure.

Your death becomes more real to me when I hear others talk about it- maybe that’s another reason it’s helpful to keep talking to friends who help me process.  I don’t really talk to my own parents about it much, but when I do hear them say something about it, I think, “Wow, Dan actually died.”  It reminds me of when I first reached them on 9/11.  I spoke to my dad from my old cube at Random House in Times Square and he was choked up on the phone.  I hadn’t realized at that time- I think it was before both towers fell, how bad this was or what it meant.  But when I heard him, I knew.  It’s like that now when I talk to others about you Dan.  I speak aloud here, and I write and write, but when I hear it from someone else’s mouth- I understand it as a concept outside of myself and my own mind that has actually occurred.

The problem with atheism is this.  It feels very dark.  Duh.  It provides absolutely no standard for good or evil so therefore, even your death can’t be called good or bad.  Professor Siittser, the man who lost his wife, daughter, and mother at once, puts it this way:

“If there were no God, there appears to be no ultimate reason why we should feel one way or the other, since emotions like grief or happiness have no grounding in a greater, objective reality outside the self.  In an atheistic worldview, it becomes all but impossible to establish the absoluteness of truth and falsehood, or good and evil, or right and wrong…It is the fact that we identify something as bad that makes me want to ask, “Where did we get the idea of good or bad in the first place?”

My friend says the fact that I view atheism as dark means that I’ve known something else.  Yes, of course I have.  And that other young widow last night while chatting late online says, “So if you get to the end and decide on that, that’s how you’re going to live your life?”  Something like that.  And you see, that’s the problem.  What I decide- or where the process leads me, certainly won’t determine where you are Dan, but it will determine my life and in large part, Audrey’s childhood.  How can I possibly raise her to believe in a meaningless world with random acts of tragedy like yours that can’t even necessarily be termed evil without any absoluteness of good or evil in the first place?  In an email you wrote to me not too long before you death- maybe a week or so before, you wrote that you wanted Audrey to believe in beauty.

I do too…I do too.


December 16, 2010


  1. Brooke Simmons

    Julia, I just finished a book called "God's Will" by Leslie Weatherhead. You might enjoy it. As someone who has also toyed with atheism, doubts, and lost faith, I found a new perspective in this book. One that includes God in a way that is easier for me to swallow in the aftermath of losing my husband. On a separate note- I can also relate to the idea of punishing myself. I chuckled when you said you won't take aspirin for a headache- I'm exactly the same much to the chagrin of my mother who is a nurse and doesn't understand not making the pain go away. I too refuse antidepressants because I want to feel this whole experience. Perfectionism is my achilles heel and I think the root of my self-punishment. We are kindred spirits, you and I…

  2. Francis Sills

    I just read a bunch of your posts. I hesitated on writing any comments for fear of saying something stupid or whatnot, but I wanted to let you know that I pray for you constantly as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Your writing is beautiful and amazing. This month must be especially hard for you…you'll continue to be in my prayers.

  3. Susan Cho

    didn't think you were going to take us there. thanks… you have a gift.


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