Bad Grief

Certainly there is some rage against the idea of God, but the idea that theists are stupid because they’re theists is a stupid idea. Anyone who cares to could find out in about five seconds that there have been many theists who were frighteningly intelligent. There are many now. I don’t think belief in God is a question of intelligence to begin with, but I do think it’s a question of values. This isn’t a criticism. In the amusing documentary, Religulous, Bill Maher said to a few trucker-Christians that he considered atheism a luxury. He was right. Atheism is a luxury.

This is why atheism is a luxury:

Consider the point made by Ian McEwan in the ‘Unbelievers‘ movie. He pointed out that, at a funeral, a believer has no need to be upset because he should believe he will see the departed again in an afterlife. So why feel grief? McEwan suggests a funeral, for a believer at any rate, should be like waving someone goodbye at the quayside. Okay, goodbye, but I’ll see you again soon. This logic is perfectly sound.

Now take the logic and consider the psychological mess that Tennyson gets himself into at the end of the prologue to ‘In Memoriam’:

Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.

‘Confusions of a wasted youth’ is detestable. What torment Tennyson’s ‘speaker’ must be experiencing: the earnest agony at a loved-one lost, yet more agony he tortures himself with because the grief he experiences is itself a sin. He won’t accept his own feelings because his grief is a sign of weak faith.

Good grief.

Betrand Russell states in ‘Why I’m Not A Christian’ that persons don’t accept religion on the argumentation, they accept it for emotional reasons. This is why atheism is a luxury.

Those who achieve atheism, given serious emotional reasons to hope for an afterlife, deserve respect; those who believe in God for emotional reasons deserve respect; those who claim to believe in God for purely intellectual reasons deserve to be mocked.

Is that unreasonable?

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7 thoughts on “Bad Grief

  1. JD, I agree with your first paragraph, but Ian McEwan’s logic that human grief is illogical doesn’t quite work. The death of someone close, especially if they are young, deprives one of their presence for a great deal longer than a short holiday!

    I also disagree about your interpretation of Tennyson’s lines too. I think he is referring to the possible loss of faith of both he and the friend he mourns and most Christians experience at such moments in life or death.

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    • The logic McEwan talks about is the same as Tennyson’s, which is why I put them together; it’s just that Tennyson pushes the logic to the utmost, causing himself no end of trouble.

      When you say ‘he is referring to the possible loss of faith of both he and the friend he mourns’ I’d say your almost half right. His dead friend’s faith isn’t being discussed, but Tennyson does see – quite logically – that his own grief is a sign of weak faith.

      And it is.

      It’s what he’s geting at when he says his ‘wild and wandering cries’ – the grief – stems from ‘confusions of a wasted youth’.

      His grief stems from a ‘wasted youth’? It’s tragic and detestable in equal measure.

      ‘most Christians experience at such moments in life or death.’

      So they do – but why? Christians believe that, after they are dead, they will continue to be alive. They believe their loved-ones remain alive after death.

      When a Christian is grief-stricken at the loss of a loved one, it is indeed a sign of weak faith. Tennyson knew this, and the logic is impeccable.

      Cheers

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      • I think you overestimate the strength or indeed the substance of Tennyson’s belief in Christianity, JD. He had to leaning towards agnosticism and pandeism. Elsewhere in “In Memoriam” he writes,”There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds”.

        Do any or all Christians believe that grief is a sin or a sign of weak faith?

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