How does religion give you hope when tragedy strikes?

Just for background: I was raised in an evangelical family and went to a Christian liberal arts college. About half way through college, I completely lost my faith, and became an atheist.

One of the few things I miss about religion is having something that felt meaningful to say when tragedy hit a loved one. Being able to say to a loved one that God has a plan or that you will see the departed again felt like it was a comfort to the one grieving.

Does it? I know for me, such platitudes would make me angry. An extended family member is suffering through end stage cancer. His family is all very religious. I know the things that will be said: God is calling him home, he is in a better place, etc. Obviously if that makes people feel better, great. I just don’t comprehend it.

This is probably a convoluted way to ask the old question, whey does God allow suffering, but I am more interested in whether or how religion causes comfort when suffering occurs.

I went through a crisis of faith, for what little I had, back when my mother was dying from cancer. A family friend said it was god’s plan, the suffering she is now going through will be redeemed when she goes to heaven. I told her that god’s plan sucks and if that is not the way I want to go when my time comes. She said I was headed to an afterlife in hell. I asked her if she had any proof of an afterlife, she said that it is in the bible and I should read it. I let her know that I had read the bible, front to back, and that is why I question the book. I have since read the book 2 more times, each time it’s more like fiction to me than truth.

I lost faith in the Bible a while back and can only really count on anecdotes or testimonies to keep going. I do agree that many religious platitudes are absolutely maddening in times of grief, and I’ve quarreled with fellow Christians over that.

That is what I am trying to avoid, when I head back to the funeral. I hope to have enough sense not to pick a fight about religion at a funeral, but I just cringe inside every time I hear those kind of statements. I’m wondering if anyone finds them (or any other aspect of religion) useful during bad times.

A religious co-worker was talking to me the other day about a sick friend of hers. She’d been praying for the friend, and she told me that if the friend died, it would be fine because Friend would be with God in Heaven. If the friend got well, she’d know that God had answered her prayers. I thought, “Well that’s…neat.” She added, “I know some people don’t believe, but it gives me comfort.” :woman_shrugging: I guess she just goes around thinking everything’s okay, no matter what?

If anything, Christianity should be a source of distress in many tragic situations. Scripture states that the vast majority of people who die go to Hell.

FWIW, this phrase is always my cue to dismiss the speaker as an asshole and never engage with them on any topic of substance again. But I’m an atheist asshole myself, so grain of salt with that.

OTOH, and more to the OP’s point, I have heard devout Christians and Jews describe poignantly how their faith helped them endure tragedy. It’s never very cut-and-dry (e.g. “all part of God’s plan”) but more along the line of needing to believe the world has something at its core. We may not understand it, we may not always believe in it, but it’s better than believing there’s nothing but a meaningless void.

People who say “you need to read the Bible” generally mean “you need to read it according to my specific interpretation of it, which is the only correct one.”

I didn’t realize what a godless lot we have here on Straightdope. Its probably why I have been reading it for so long.

More often I find it means, “I’ve never read the Bible so I can’t give you the cite, but I’m sure it’s in there.” I find the same thing when people swear a certain parliamentary rule is in Robert’s Rules. More often than not they’re wrong.

I assume that some significant number of people who say such things to others take comfort in them themselves.

Because I don’t believe something doesn’t mean that nobody else believes it.

In a similar vein, I’ve often wondered how religion satisfies anyone’s curiosity about the origins of anything. Yes, evolution is kind of a mindf*ck, but how is an omnipotent, omniscient deity who could spontaneously create the universe any less of one? Where did he come from? It just raises more questions than it answers. But I think for some people, it just ends the questions in a way that’s comforting. God doesn’t have an origin story, and we can’t comprehend his plan, so that’s it; that’s the end of the line of inquiry. I feel like there’s some interesting research to be done on the brains of people who prefer that kind of explanation versus those who can’t stand it.

Religion tend to (though not always) have inbuilt support systems. So you have a number of people who generally spring into action to help grieving families (food trains, etc). Pastors can act as therapists to those processing grief.

The community gathering around one who is grieving tends to give people hope.

Dumb platitudes are because people don’t know what to say, so usually it’s best to just be there and be sorry that the loved one is gone, or a divorce has happened, etc.

When I was in the psych hospital back in '07, there were periods that I don’t even remember, because I wasn’t lucid enough for them to stick.

One thing my pastor told me is that he came in one day during a non-lucid period, and I asked for communion. He used a hospital-provided cup of grape juice and a saltine cracker. I don’t remember that experience, but within a day or two, I was starting to feel normal again.

You can call it the placebo effect; you can call it two more days of allowing the medications to work; you can call it a spiritual experience, whatever. I know the placebo effect is a definable scientific theory, and of course, more medication in my system over time helped stabilize my brain chemicals. But I really do believe that feeling the touch of God in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine helped. To a believer, medication, therapy, and communion all together goes a little bit farther than just medication and therapy by themselves.

I don’t claim to have unassailable proof that God exists; I don’t think anyone can say that for a fact, and anyone who claims they can is either a liar or a religious zealot. And I certainly don’t believe everything the Bible teaches. (Just yesterday, I had to stop from rolling my eyes when my landlady and landlord wondered why the Smithsonian is whitewashing the historical existence of Goliath. “It doesn’t fit the narrative that someone could stand 12 feet tall and lift 3-ton blocks”, he said. Every time I start to admire his intelligence, he says something like that). But there are parts of it that work for me.

Is that what is being asked of religionists when the question “What solid evidence do you have?” comes out in conversation?

This, more or less. As I recently shared and now can’t seem to shut up about, my wonderful niece Sky was killed in a car accident in 2018. The authorities eventually found it was 100% the fault of the other driver. In the meantime, they had to test Sky’s body for alcohol and drugs and this meant no donating her organs. That really got to me.

But, believing that there is justice after this life, I do believe she’s in a better place. I grieve for the world that has to go on without her. I grieve that it will be decades before I see her again (assuming I make it into the good place).

Re Read The Bible

I never understood that argument. This book is true because it says in it it’s true? I believe in seeking G-d in your life and your heart. If you find Him, ask Him what to do.

It’s pretty classic Dope. Somebody asks a question about how religion works, and 9 out of 10 responses are from atheists.

Folks, let’s try to stick to the OP, who is trying NOT to ask why God allows suffering, and I presume the OP is even more strongly trying not to ask about God’s existence. The OP is focused on how religion causes comfort when suffering occurs.

To me, my comfort comes from my belief that this Higher Intelligence has reasons for the suffering. Those reasons have not occurred to me, and even if God tried to explain it I would probably not understand, but I believe that He does have valid reasons.

Here are two comparisons that I like to refer to: (1) A baby bird has difficultly getting out of its eggshell, but someone who helps the bird may be unwittingly denying the chick some necessary exercise. (2) A baby human is crying itself to sleep; the parent is heartbroken over the painful loneliness that the baby is going through, but knows that the baby must learn to get through it.

Since there isnt and necessarily cant be any evidence either way. Our senses and the limited abilities of our brains prevent us from understanding the fundamental nature of the universe.