A father’s first experience with fear since leaving his faith.
My five year old is sitting next to me as I write. I’m especially grateful to be able to write that first sentence after spending the night with him in a hospital recently. He’s home now and doing fine after being treated for some significant respiratory problems. This was the scariest thing I’ve gone through since leaving my faith and it left me reflecting on the experience of fear, pain, and suffering from a godless perspective. I’ve always been a pretty contemplative person, so the reflection on how life events differ now that I live a godless life is a natural progression for me. My son’s hospital stay was a far cry from a tragedy, but for any parents out there, a child in the hospital is no walk in the park. Although I’ve been an atheist now for over three years, I am still fascinated by how different things are without god.
God: The Last Thing on My Mind
I have a cousin whom I haven’t spoken to since the day he told me that as soon as I had to deal with seeing one of my kids in a hospital I would “find God real quick.” I have to say that God was the last thing on my mind while I drove my son to the emergency room. While the medical professionals worked with him, it never crossed my mind to shout out a prayer. I only hoped for great care from the medical professionals and for my son to be okay. Instead of laying hands on my son to pray for healing, I wanted hands reaching out to place the oxygen mask on his face, to take his vital signs, and to give him the medications that he needed. I wanted my hands to hold him and to assure him that I wasn’t going to leave his side as he got his IV and had all of these strangers handling him. I wanted his hands squeezing mine to let me know that he didn’t want me to leave his side. Asking for divine help from an invisible source didn’t fit into the equation.
This idea that an atheist will suddenly turn to god during times of trouble leaves me somewhat confused. I understand why believers turn to their god in times of trouble as a source of hope, but I can’t imagine why people think this is an opportune time for a nonbeliever to turn in this direction. I realize that this probably comes from the idea that once hope is the only thing left, then perhaps one will turn to god in a moment of weakness. It just seems that the likelihood of this would be slim. While this may seem like an obvious reaction to a hopeless situation for a believer, to think that suffering or hopelessness will cause an atheist to believe seems like a stretch. People like to fantasize about deathbed conversions of great atheists, but I just can’t imagine this being a widespread phenomenon.
The Problem of Suffering
The main reason this idea seems strange to me is because the existence of pain and suffering seems to point more towards the absence of a god rather than the existence of one. I suppose I wouldn’t deserve god’s favor as an atheist, but believers suffer tragic things every day. Thousands of young, innocent children die every day. Many of those that die have parents who adhere to a religion and are praying for a miracle in their last moments. Tragically, many of these prayers go unanswered. Regardless of whatever “man has free will” or “God is mysterious” nonsense that someone wants to say, an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent deity can’t exist with the suffering that we see in our world every day. Even when I believed, god didn’t seem closer in times of suffering. He seemed less real. He seemed apathetic to the suffering of man if he was truly all-powerful. I’m not denying the possibility that others may feel different, but the absence of god seems most real in light of the suffering in our world.
The fact that numerous innocent children suffer and die every day isn’t exactly convincing evidence that “the man upstairs” is looking out for us. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a better indicator that there is no man upstairs who is all-loving, has the power to do anything, the knowledge of everything that is going on, and the ability to be present anywhere at any time. This is because if such a being existed then suffering of the innocent would not.
The only other aspect of my reflection on this hospital visit is the awkwardness that ensued as people wanted to wish us well, but weren’t quite sure what to say. My friends who are atheists mostly just sympathized with us and hoped for the best. However most of our friends and family are religious. When I let everyone know what was going on, the responses varied. Some told us they were praying for us, others did their best to not offend as they struggled for the right words to tell an atheist, and some knew me well enough to joke once they knew everything was okay. Here’s a few well wishes and jokes that we received:
“Sending lovies his way.”
“Good thoughts to you, man.”
“Sending good juju.”
“Good vibes to you and yours.”
“May the Force be with him.”
We’re thankful to all of those who wished us good vibes, lovies, and even those who innocently said that they were praying for us, and appreciate the evident attempts to be respectful while letting us know that they cared. If I had vibes, lovies, juju, or prayers to send, I would return the favor. Until then I’ll just say that I appreciate the concern that my friends and family showed to us during this time. I understand the awkwardness that this brings and appreciate everyone not using this as an opportunity to proselytize. For the same reason that I would never approach someone in the midst of some acute suffering and pressure them to explain this in light of their beliefs, I also am thankful that no one used this time to urge me to pray and forsake my godlessness.
Contrary to the claims from my cousin that an event such as this would lead us to god, we’re just as godless as we were before this event. There wasn’t a lot of reflection going on in the moment, but there wasn’t any tendency to cry out to god and there was certainly no discovery of god through this event. My appreciation goes to all of the medical professionals who are often overlooked while people are giving credit to their god for good outcomes and excusing him as mysterious for the bad outcomes. Thanks to these professionals my son is home and breathing normally with the rest of us.
Photo Credits: Rklawton