Capture Your Grief: Day 14 – Beliefs and Spirituality 

(This is a slightly modified version of my recent blog post The Only Athiests In The Congregation)

I feel like I should preface this post with a warning. I have very strong anti-religious views. Although I strenuously disagree with the view that religious beliefs should be respected and not criticised, in the interest of choosing kindness I will try to be as moderate as I can in what follows. However if you think you might be offended by anti-religious sentiment, then please don’t read on.  

I don’t know how much I ever really believed in god as a child, however I know my atheism was cemented during my Psychology undergraduate degree when I studied a Religion and Psychology module. It just seemed so obvious how man-made religions are, how culturally and temporally contextual they are, and how they originally fulfilled a function for people who didn’t yet have methods of understand the world or how it came to be. People desiring to feel like they could exhibit some control over their lives, to justify the unfairness and hardship of life with the promise of reward in another life, and to assuage existential questions and fears of annihilation. 

I always used to wonder how my atheism would be affected when someone close to me died. I wondered if I would be so desperate to believe that I would be reunited with them, that I would start to believe in a god and a heaven. If anything though, losing Isobel has reinforced my certainty that there is no god, that religion is a man-made, politically driven enterprise which preys on the human desires mentioned above. I’m glad that I don’t have to try and reconcile belief in a loving god with their failure to protect the most vulnerable and most innocent of their people. The idea of Isobel being anywhere without me would cause me extreme distress, not comfort. I am reassured that I don’t think of her as existing anywhere and yet I can still find her in nature, in beauty. I feel all the more keenly my need to make the most of the one life that I have, knowing that is all there is. I find it tragic to think of other bereaved mothers living their days, ticking time away, believing they will be reunited with their baby someday – that’s if the poor unbaptised baby is lucky enough to be cleansed of their original sin(!) and manages to actually get to heaven.  

I know religion in general is in decline, but the extent of belief in the baby loss community continues to astound me. I just genuinely don’t understand how anyone in this century can believe in a god, or would even want to, never mind someone who has had their precious baby taken away from them. How can a parent who has lost a child continue to trust in a god who had either decided to kill their child, or stood by and watched them die when they had the power to save them? I see such hypocrisy in the religious community. Most Christians completely ignore the horrors of the Old Testament, recognising that it is completely ridiculous and nonsensical so they focus on the New Testament. Their god is praised for the beautiful and the good – if a child lives it is thanks to prayer and the grace of god. Yet this same god is never held to account for the ugly and the bad. If the same child dies it is not because god failed to act, it is because there is a bigger mysterious plan we are not party to. If god has a plan why even pray? 

When I was pregnant with Theo so many people said they were praying for him to survive. I found this hugely insulting. The implication being that I had failed to inform god that I wanted my first baby to live and therefore she had died. Theo lived because not because people prayed. He lived because of science, because doctors and researchers know they can’t rely on a god to save babies, and so they study and research and use medicine. 

I don’t believe in any of the gods mankind has invented over the years but I believe in Dr Alex Heazell at the Placental Research Centre in Manchester and I believe in Dr Alyson Hunter at the Royal in Belfast. They are my gods. 

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10 thoughts on “Capture Your Grief: Day 14 – Beliefs and Spirituality 

  1. I’m not entirely sure where I stand religiously, though my husband and his family are Lutheran. All your points make sense though, which is why I can only believe in God is a deist sense (a God who obviously doesn’t intervene here). I don’t know… I’m admittedly one who inexplicably finds comfort in the possibility of heaven, but also fully acknowledge that this very well be the only life we get, so we better try to live each day to the fullest. Even though my views differ slightly, I appreciate your voice. The overtly religious talk in the baby loss community is annoying – I certainly don’t relate to it.

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    1. I think it’s not hard to understand why people want to believe they will see their child again and they will be whole again, it’s the ultimate fantasy and very appealing in a way. I actually came across a lot of similarish to mine Instagram posts for Day 14, usually it’s all angels and heaven. I guess those who don’t believe are less vocal about it. Hope you’re doing well xx

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  2. “If God has a plan then why even pray” … Yes, I used to be quiet religious before we lost Ciara, we were both brought up Catholic & as I’ve gotten older I have come to understand & enjoy my religion… But I have to say , since loosing her, my faith has been tested considerably! I think I may have even out grown my religious beliefs! Initially I still needed to believe in God & all of his might out of fear that I may never get to see or hold Ciara in the next life! But now, I cannot believe in my God the way I used to, he robbed us of our life with Ciara & of her life with us!! What kind of a God does that! So I do not pray to him anymore & I may never again but I have also come to love nature & all of its forces, I feel extremely close to her when im out running in the wind & the rain ( even though the neighbours prob think I’ve lost it!!!!!) , so I will continue to carry on with what works for me now & I will continue to politely decline all of the Godly anecdotes that people offer me.
    Thank you again for your honesty , it really means a lot to know I’m not on my own .
    Warmest Regards
    Anne Marie Queeney

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    1. Thanks so much. I completely agree that the power and beauty of nature is the best way for me to feel close to Isobel. Keep on running in the wind and rain Ciara’s mummy xx

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  3. As a fellow atheist and a babyloss survivor, I agree with most of your sentiment. There is one place I think you need to tread a little more carefully: you seem quite condescending when you say,”I just genuinely don’t understand how anyone in this century can believe in a god, or would even want to…”

    There is a single word for why it’s possible….INDOCTRINATION. This ramming of religion down your throat since birth by an extremely devout family and community. You’re taught from the moment of consciousness that you can’t question, you can’t doubt, you can’t think of any other way of life…or you’ll be shunned by the people who love you and care for you. The power of this should not be underestimated. Perhaps you might look into the psychological effects of child indoctrination to give you a better understanding of why religion exists today.

    Here’s a video I like which explains some of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlbUw5hjeKI

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    1. Part of me wants to apologise for appearing condescending but also I think it’s hard not to be condescending when to your mind something is obvious and others don’t see it.

      Your point about indoctrination is certainly true and I think why humanists and non-believers should be more vocal to provide an alternative narrative – starting with school children. I was brought up in a very religious Catholic background in a country (Northern Ireland) where religion is a defining factor of every aspect of your life. Having managed to see beyond this myself, and recognising that most atheists have been brought up in some level of faith, I suppose the idea that indoctrination is the only or even the main reason for the continuing faith of adults doesn’t ring true to me.

      I will definitely have a look at the video when I get a chance though.

      Thinking of you and your little one xx

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      1. I have know several lifelong atheists who were raised in a religious family but never “took” to religion. There are reasons for this, the first one being that some minds are just wired to think more logically and are not so easily coerced or swayed by others (psychological tests show certain personalities are more easily influence than others).

        Also, I think the degree which indoctrination was pushed is also critical to whether or not it had the desired effect. For example: were you physically punished in your family for non-compliance with religious activities? Were you physically punished for voicing a doubt? Did your church leader publicly call you a sinner when you asked a simple question about a contradiction in the bible? Did your family show you pictures of hell with children burning in it to convince you to believe? When you were older, did your family, friends, and community completely shun, reject, and abandon you when you didn’t believe as they did? The answers you give will reflect the level of indoctrination you faced.

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      2. Do you genuinely believe that the majority of people who believe in god were indoctrinated to that degree?! I think that is clearly not the case. Most are very moderate believers. In fact I would suspect that extreme treatment like you are describing would be more likely to alienate people as they grow up.

        I’m a Clinical Psychologist, certainly no expert in religion but I mention that so you can stop putting things about psychology in brackets for me 😉

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      3. In islamic countries you get killed for not believing in mohammad…so yes, in large places of the world indoctrination is very extreme. In the US (in the midwest areas and the southern areas) indoctrination like I described is totally routine.

        It is a great gift you did not suffer through intense indoctrination. For the many people that have, please don’t minimize their experiences.

        We are on the same side…I am a staunch anti-theist and work in the field of psychology. As you are a psychologist, I hope you will enjoy this link to information about RTS, Religious Trauma Syndrome.

        http://www.babcp.com/Review/RTS-Trauma-from-Leaving-Religion.aspx

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  4. Oh goodness I wouldn’t want to minimise the impact of anyone’s experience. What you described is clearly child abuse and horrific. I think questioning the scale of religious indoctrination to that degree is something entirely different to minimising its impact. I still don’t agree that the majority of people who believe in god have been subject to such abuse which is not the same as denying that such abuse exists and has a significant impact on those who experience it.

    Regardless of how we individually arrived at our beliefs it’s lovely to know that I’m not the only atheist in the baby loss community so thank you for commenting and your links which I will look at x

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