Through Facebook, today, I learned that friends of mine are extremely worried about their child’s health. I should be more explicit: through the “real me” Facebook I learned this. That’s an important point, because this whole post would be different if I’d learned it through my Bookworm Facebook account.
In the Bookworm Facebook account, as I’ve often witnessed when people have put up posts about health concerns, their friends send prayers: “You’re in my prayers.” “I’m praying for you.” And because the people who write these comments are religious, they are genuinely seeking divine intercession on behalf of their friend. They are doing something.
On the “real me” Facebook site, the people who responded to the post about the worrisomely sick child are, like me, atheists. This means that, instead of prayers, they send “wishes.” “I wish you well.” “I’m sending you my thoughts and good wishes.”
Reading all these “wishes,” I had an incredible sense of foolishness. We’re all too sophisticated and rational to believe in God, yet we’re perfectly content with magic. Bibbidy-bobbidy-boo! I wish you well.
And therein lies the atheist’s conundrum: What do you say when bad things happen? You don’t believe in divine intervention, and the vocabulary of sympathy leaves you with nothing more than passive thoughts, unrealistic hopes, or foolish wishes.
All of this may well explain why I always have a dreadful time writing condolence cards or get well cards. It’s not that I can’t cope with people’s loss or sorrow or fears. Instead, it’s that I lack the vocabulary and the belief system that allows me to say anything meaningful. I’m left with empty platitudes that, sometimes, seem almost insulting in their vapidity.Email This Post To A Friend
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