Category Archives: agnosticism



A lovely young widow named Droste
Couldn’t face that her husband was toast
Suitors pursued her
But no man who wooed her
Could get her to give up the ghost
As always, just thinkin’ out loud here, people.
Comedy is easy. Dying is hard. Wait-
Years ago I used to get Newsweek delivered. At one point they completely revamped the magazine, adjusting the layout and fonts and column titles and whatnot. Part of that “rebranding” involved changing the obituary page to a page they now called “Transitions.” This confused the hell out of me. Every week it messed with my head. I’d flip through a new issue and see something like “Oscar-winning actor John Smith has transitioned….” And I’d automatically think, “Cool! He’s real old so it’s especially inspiring to hear a guy his age is trying different things. Wonder what he’s up to?” I’d read on excitedly, only to find out they meant he died. Their euphemism fooled me every week. I never learned.
But I supposed to some believers, death is indeed a “transition” (beyond simply being a clear transition from a living thing to a dead one). Which brings me to the subject of this post: My advice to the devout about how to behave when an, um, not-so-devout person has someone close to them, um, “transition.”
Here goes.
Dear Religious Folks Who Believe in Life After Death,
When an atheist or agnostic friend or family member suffers the loss of a loved one, please try to be respectful in how you speak to them. Yes: be supportive, be giving, be loving, and express sincere condolences. Be there for them. Bring multiple-beaned casseroles and mango-filled cakes and sappy Hallmark cards and plenty of frosty adult beverages. (Non-frosty ones will do, too.)  Listen to them. Hold them while they cry. Let them talk. Let them babble incoherently, even. Hug them (avoid any untoward groping, though). Offer a monogrammed hanky from the breast pocket of your brass-buttoned blazer, if you’re old-school classy.
But please, if at all possible, take care not to say things like “he’s in a better place,” or “she’s with her maker now,” or “you’ll see him again one day,” or “God has called her to his side,” even if you sincerely, deeply believe those things. I know it’s hard, but keep that stuff to yourself if you possibly can, and – oh, yeah – try not to use expressions like “transitioned,” “went home,” “passed on,” “crossed over,” “entered the great beyond,” or “slipped beyond the veil.”
Just say “died.”
I get why you do all these things. It comes from a good place. I know. To a fellow believer, such sentiments are kind, sweet ways of offering support, comfort, and trying to ease suffering. But to an atheist like myself, in the darkness of that bleak moment it sometimes feels like you’re saying, “Hey, your loved one didn’t really diedie, dude, so what’s the big deal?”
A painting I did of our dear cat, Elric, after he died.
Note the fabulously furry halo and wings.
Implying that the dead person is still “out there somewhere” may give fellow believers great comfort, but to a non-believer it feels kinda like you’re trying to deny us the honest grief, pain, and devastating loss of death; trying to whitewash the finality of it and the brutal, soul-wrenching sadness we experience in its wake. It feels, in our anguish, like you’re desperately trying to snap us out of our mourning by explaining to us that, hey, the person’s still kinda hanging around somewhere out in the ether. That our Loved One is actually just fine and dandy, playing Parcheesi with Jesus, bowling with that treasured pet gerbil they lost as a kid, or sharing cheese sandwiches with 72 freshly fluffed & folded virgins… or some such thing.
The bottom line is to be respectful of the survivor’s beliefs (or lack thereof) during their bereavement. Yeah I’m an atheist, but I would never go to a funeral and walk up to a grieving friend who sincerely believed in the afterlife and presume to say something like: “Face it, they’re gone, kiddo. They don’t exist anymore. They’re nowhere, dude. But, hey, you’ve got your memories, right? That’s what matters. And I brought a harmonica – would you like to hear my rendition of ‘Dust in the Wind’?”
The point is I happily shut up about my own beliefs and just listen and support and love and hug (sans groping) and bake (okay, maybe not) and fetch them some generic-brand tissues (since I’m not old-school classy enough to have monogrammed booger-collectors). I’m just gently asking you devout ones to please try your level best to be sensitive and show us non-theists the same kind of respect we try to show you nice folks during these tough moments.
A friend’s loss is not the time to display to the world what you believe, it’s a time to put yourself aside and be of service to the person suffering. Follow their lead.
That said, I’m transitioning my butt out of here.



An atheist hailing from Sweden
Was reviled in our land as a heathen
When aside, he’d confide,
He could never decide
Exactly whom not to believe in
The post below is a bit lazy. It’s actually a guest post I wrote on DANGERdanger’s blog a while ago.  I’d write something brand new, but I really need to floss. Hey – at least it’s semi controversial, subject-wise!

I’ve been stuffed but until now never mounted
Funny, He Doesn’t Look Elkish
So there’s this Elks lodge all my young buddies are joining. Partly because the beer is cheap and the steak dinners are apparently yummy, partly to have a funky, centrally-located gathering place to talk business and hang out, and partly, well, “ironically.”
The Elks Club is great. No joke. From the outside it could be a tool-and-die factory, but inside it’s an episode of Cheers as directed by David Lynch. There’s a meeting hall, a high-school-cafeteria-esque dining room, a cement courtyard for outdoor BBQs, and, of course: a bar. Ah, the bar. The bar rocks. The not-unpleasant, ever-so-slight smell of old beer & mildew lingers in the air. And under that wafts the familiar sweet/sour faint odor of Clorox-mixed-with-stale-sweat I’ll forever associate with 1980’s Time Square porn palaces (um, not that I ever frequented such places….). The lighting is dim and the décor is early Holiday Inn meets late Sizzler.
The TV behind the dingy bar is permanently set on Fox News, there’s a whiteboard tracking the progress of some on-going Elky golf tournament, and I think I caught a glimpse of a dusty pool table and maybe a dartboard somewhere along the boxcar-like rows of small back rooms.
The bartender has just enough of an “Overlook Hotel” creepiness to make ordering a three-buck Bud Lite interesting. All the male patrons look like white-haired Barney Rubbles, and most have that old-school, macho friendliness peculiar to veterans. A sturdy Semper Fi warmth. The few women bellying up to the bar mighta been beauty queens back in the day before their features & figures got weathered by hard knocks and even harder drinking.
In other words: the perfect place for a bunch of young (ish) dudes to hang out. “Ironically” or not. And, to add to the charm, in order to join up one must be interviewed, approved, voted on, and initiated. There’s even some kind of endless (and unintentionally humorous) old introductory film you have to sit through. Awesome.
Come on. How cool is all that? Two of my buddies have already passed though the process, a third is halfway there, and a forth will probably start the procedure when he’s back in town.
So here’s the rub. They tell me there are two “deal breaker” questions they ask during the interview. The first is: “Are you a communist?” No problem there. I can easily say “no” to that one (though, as a Democrat, some Fox News aficionados might think me almost there). Then there’s the “Do you believe in God” question. Uh-oh. Apparently you’ve got to answer “yes” to be considered for induction into the wonderful world of Elk-dom.
I’m one of those “don’t ask/don’t tell” life-long atheists. (Though I suppose, technically I’m what they nowadays call a “Tooth-Fairy Agnostic,” but that’s another story.) The point is when people wax all spiritual or religious around me I tend to just smile and nod and try to politely change the subject. Since I realize my non-theistic position is unusual – even controversial (especially here in America) – I mostly keep my lack of belief to myself. But if asked directly, point-blank across a wobbly metal desk in some dark back office by some scrotal-skinned, white-haired Barney Rubble? I’d kinda have to tell the truth. No getting ‘round it.
So I guess I’m out of the game. No secret handshake, no initiation ceremony, no decoder ring for me.
And here’s the thing that just occurred to me today, and it’s why I’m writing this (perhaps too serious – sorry) blog. If, hypothetically, all my friends joined some social club but then subsequently discovered I couldn’t join along with them because I was black, or gay, for female, or Jewish, or Muslim, or some such – I think we’d all feel very different about the situation. Frankly, I think we’d be up in arms. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends didn’t instantly quit that fictitious club in angry, disgusted protest. Or maybe they’d stage a raucous, Norma-Rae-style poster-waving demonstration.
Horns of a dilemma
And, I – that hypothetical black/gay/female/Jewish/Muslim me – would probably be equally outraged and alert the media in squinty-eyed righteous indignation, bellowing war cries of “bigotry!” and “unfair!” and yadda yadda. But in this particular case, both myself and my buddies shrugged it off, joked about how quaint and goofy and sweet them-there old Elk rules are, and let it slide.
So I just won’t join and they will. Maybe I’ll attend occasional events there as a “guest.” No biggie.
But it’s an interesting issue, no? It’s as though “non-belief” is the last thing left on the list it’s still okay to be openly exclusionary about here in America. Recently I read an article about how — though we now have a black president and will one day soon probably have a female one, and though we have assorted Jewish, Hispanic, and “out” gay members of congress, etc, etc. — the way things are going it’ll probably be at least a hundred years before we in the U.S. are comfortable with openly non-religious politicians. It’s the final frontier of American, er, closet-leaving.
Ah well. If you need me I’ll be nestled back in the walk-in between my wrinkled Dockers and my pit-stained polo shirts.
With Godlessness,

A Closet-Dwelling Heathen