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Heaven a way of grieving?

  1. Jul 18, 2004 #1
    Heaven...... a way of grieving?

    A little boy with tears in his eyes goes up to his mother and asks what happen to Sam the pet dog. Mom says Sam has gone to heaven to help her son with his grief at his loss.

    Is heaven a creative creation that mankind has used to help deal with grief?

    In the cave did man use this as a way of soothing his pain at loosing something dear to him.

    Could it be that religion especially ideas of heaven have developed purely as a palliative response to death? Is it a form of Santa Claus type creation that happened to stick and gather strength due to the intractable nature of death?

    Recently I had to council a friend who had suffered a loss and her grief was strong and I found with out the belief in heaven I was tempted to use the heaven scenario to try and help her cope with her pain.

    This prompted me to think that religion is really handy at times like these but because of my lack of belief in heaven I couldn't help her (with any words any way)
    Care to discuss?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2004 #2
    I agree with you. I think that the idea of heaven is also used to ease our fears of our own deaths.
  4. Jul 18, 2004 #3


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    Some years back a prominent local family lost a baby due to illness. A well-known singer who knew the family went to the funeral. The local news gave a brief interview with the singer. I remember him saying, "I guess God needed another little angel in Heaven." So I think you really are hitting the nail on the head when you say that the Heaven concept serves as a mechanism for coping with grief.
  5. Jul 18, 2004 #4
    i think heaven can be, and often is, perpetuated by grieving people but that that doesn't prove it does not exist. i'm not sure if "heaven exists and some people visit it when they die" is even a falsifiable claim... that being said, i am really not SURE, like as sure as that i exist, whether heaven exists or not.

    i think it's more like other dimensions that we visit before being reincarnated and i don't think they're necessarily paradise either (or hell for that matter).

    heaven seems to be a state of mind or state of soul that maybe could be perpetuated after death if there is a soul. likewise for hell. i'm putting my money on that rather than heaven being a place.

    with santa claus, we can at least falsify that by noting that no one lives on the north pole and no one gives presents to all kids via the chimney. heaven on the other hand is more difficult to falsify. that also means there's no emperical reason to believe in it either but empericism is not the end all and be all of knowledge.
  6. Jul 18, 2004 #5
    from an athiest perspective how does one offer comfort to a person who is grieving their loss?
  7. Jul 18, 2004 #6

    Tom Mattson

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    I do it by being there, by remembering and honoring the lost loved one, and by pointing out all the ways in which he still "lives on" through his influence and offspring, if applicable.
  8. Jul 18, 2004 #7
    also a long time ago I wanted to work as a volunteer in a palliative care hospital were I was supposed to offer support to those persons dying, including children. This posed a real challlenge, with this question in mind.
    Possibly because people are so used to being supported with the use of heaven and religious concepts that I dfound no way to fit in.
    But it is interesting I guess that when it comes down to the final moment, that moment of death that teh truth of our personal principles and philosophy comes to the fore
  9. Jul 18, 2004 #8


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    Scott, to a person that believes in reincarnation, the thought of dying and going to heaven and being stuck there is not pleasant.

    It is sad that religion is so prevalent. I do agree that a lot of people need the emotional crutch of "being loved" being forgiven", being accepted", etc, etc, etc... but it is also a disease that causes as much anguish as it gives comfort.

    I turned away from religion when I was 8 years old. I realized it was all made up and I was actually better off without it.

    One needs only look back in history to see the horrors man has carried out in the name of some God.

    I cannot say if there is a God, although evidence shows there is none. I can say religion is man made and is therefore subject to the prejudices and flaws of man. I might believe in a God, but I would never believe in organized religion.

    So why the dilema with comforting people?
  10. Jul 18, 2004 #9
    first thought that came to me was
    "because it is not me I am trying to comfort"
    However this is not entirely true. I wish to relieve the grief not just for the benefit of the sufferer but also for myself, as I too share empathically their pain. ( general statement)

    I think what I am thinking is that sometimes we are too aggressive in our pursuit to rid the world of delusion, that limited delusion is sometimes necessary, a form of escapism like going to see a sci fi film at the cinema.

    As you say though it is dangerous turf and that sometimes the delusion blows up in your face.
  11. Jul 18, 2004 #10


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    You are right in that time of great distress is not the time to attempt to change a person's beliefs. Personally, if my goal was truly to comfort another person at a time like that, I would go against my own personal beliefs and reaffirm theirs, like the belief in them going to heaven. It does not hurt me to do this and does no good for either me or them to hurt them in their last moments. It's called compassion.
  12. Jul 19, 2004 #11
    Maybe a way at this time is to ask the sufferer what his or her beliefs are and work with them in that manner with out compromising your own belief systems.
  13. Jul 19, 2004 #12
    I would not directly address the person's beliefs, unless someone else brings them up. I would not do anything to intentionally acknowledge their beliefs as correct. I would do other things to comfort them, similar to what Tom said. This way, you are neither challenging nor reinforcing their beliefs.
  14. Jul 19, 2004 #13
    Scott I can certainly relate to what you're saying. I personally know the suffering that death causes and know nothing makes it easier except for ideas like "heaven". My own experience makes it especially hard for me to know what to say to others who have lost someone as well. Since men are from Mars and I want to fix everything, I find it especially frustrating. I can say things like "He/she isn't suffering anymore" and this would be true regardless of whether there was a heaven or not. But I feel so low saying such things:frown:. The things that Tom suggested make a lot of sense as being appropriate things to say to someone, but I'm not sure how effective they are since these types of things never comforted me very much. Usually I end up just being with them, understanding every ounce of what they're going through and keeping quiet, right or wrong.

    And what kind of evidence would you expect to find to indicate the existence of a being you know nothing about?

    When people say there is no evidence, they are usually referring to a fairytale conception created by religion. But to others who aren't tied to such things, there is evidence everywhere.
  15. Jul 19, 2004 #14
    Along the lines of what Dan said, I don't think you should confront their beliefs in a time like that, but nor should you reinforce those which you do not also believe. In fact it's probably best to stay 1 level above that topic. By that I mean, you can float around it by discussing the good/bad aspects of a person's life, what affect that person's life had on others, that person's dedication to whatever his/her beliefs were (not the griever's beliefs), etc. Remember, you don't have to agree with a position to respect it.

    If the person you are comforting knows you well, and you discard your own beliefs temporarily for the sake of compassion, then they will know you are doing this. Regardless of intentions, this boils down to dishonesty. If you truly respect a person, you'll find it possible to relate things to them that are above religion and beliefs, even if you've never met the person before! I feel it is very important never to compromise your own beliefs for any reason. Either reveal them or don't, but do not misrepresent them.

    The best thing you can do is relay your beliefs with emphasis not on what they are, but what they accomplish. Whether or not the griever believes your paradigm, if they are open-minded then they will still see the value in the outcome and find comfort in its meaning. For example, a muslin might tell a grieving christian that their father followed Allah's footsteps and brought inner peace to those he knew. This statement has nothing to do with believing in Allah, it merely says that the father was a good person.

    On the other hand, there are those people whose lives are so pathetic that their only comfort is the hope in their own God and a joy-filled afterlife. For such people, nothing you can say will bring them comfort without at the same time doing much harm. It's best to politely avoid the topic altogether and merely discuss physical aspects of the parting one's life. For example if they are insistent that you tell them "do you think my mother is in Heaven right now?" or such questions, when you don't believe in Heaven, you can respond something along the lines of "if there is a Heaven worthy of her grace." You see in this answer, in his/her mind (s)he has no doubt there is a Heaven so your answer is exactly what (s)he was hoping to hear, but at the same time you are being honest to what you believe (unless you think her mother is burning in hell, which might be a good place for some compassion). Remember, it's not what you intended to say that people hear, it's the difference between what you said and what they expected to hear.

    Coming back to the original topic, there's no doubt that the strong desire for a higher purpose is the reason for the dominance of religion throughout history (insert Agent Smith reference here...). The god figure is the centerpiece of religion, but the afterlife is the heart of religion, the engine that sustains its motion and ensures its survival. Fear of the afterlife, or anticipation of the afterlife, or the mere idea of an ultimate justice, gives people that extra bit of weight to balance the scales in favor of "good" rather than "bad." Since a great portion of the population are bound to rest in the center of the scale, this slight tipping of the scales has a HUGE effect on the world. I think that religion, while false, is a good thing. The sad part is that a culture based on exploiting blind faith is just asking to be preyed upon by the evil-hearted such as the many pastors and bishops out there today who take from their followers to please themselves.
  16. Jul 19, 2004 #15
    If we know nothing about him, how can we know evidence of his existance?

    In other words, what you call evidence, is in fact just your interpretation of an event which may or may not have had any relation to a higher being.
  17. Jul 19, 2004 #16
    Like with most religions athiesm is also subject to questioning. I as an athiest am questioning my athieism.

    A question that haunts people is simply:

    Can I with absolute conviction state that heaven is not possible in it's existence even if there is absolutley no "real" evidence to support such a contention.?

    The pegasus analogy does not relate to this unless the pegasus is part of the afterlife and exists in heaven.

    The problem is that to maintain a truely rational perpective one can not for the sake of reason state absolutely in the impossibility of heaven.

    This leaves me, an atheist in a vexatious position, because if some one is greivig and reckons that heaven exists I can not state absolutely to the contrary for I have no evidence to support it's non- existence.

    Do you see my point here?
  18. Jul 19, 2004 #17


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    If someone is grieving deeply, why should you as an atheist WANT to assert to them that heaven does not exist? Just simple kindness would lead one to keep his mouth shut, I would think.
  19. Jul 19, 2004 #18
    Exactly. That was my point. How can you say there is no evidence of something when everyone defines that something differently? It's just me inserting my usual "there's too many semantic issues here" statement.
  20. Jul 28, 2004 #19
    Fair Dinkum. That's what I think. But if the concept of heaven helps soothe people's pain, then let heaven be.
  21. Aug 1, 2004 #20
    it doesn't really matter if you believe in heaven or not as long as your friend believes it. i think it is quite a nice thing to say to your friend and will probably work too because that is what everybody wants to hear at time like this. maybe one day when she will find out that the heaven does exist, she will remember what you have once said to her; or if it doesn't, she will understand that you were kind enough trying to comfort her.

    if you are trying to get evidence of the existence in heaven, i am afraid i can't help you with that for i can't bring you there or show you nor i can ask the santa claus to show himself in front of you just to give you the christmas present.

    nobody can force you to believe if you don't want to or you are just not ready. perhaps your perspective will change when you see something in the future, when the time has come ...
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2004
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