When a horrible tragedy strikes, Christians are occasionally told of how they trivialize death and suffering by encouraging people who are going through these horrible experiences to place their faith in Christ. It confuses me when I hear that atheists are somehow morally offended at the thought that we can offer the hope of Christ in the lowest of times in someone’s life.
For example, imagine a close friend or relative is rapidly approaching death due to an aggressive cancer. As a committed atheist, what could you say to this person that would be consolatory while simultaneously being consistent with an atheistic worldview? Nothing, consolation and atheism are incompatible. In this example, the notion of consoling this individual infers value and meaning. If life was meaningless and purposeless, what is there to be consoled about? Life is associated with meaning because each person values his or her own life along with the numerous others that value their life, not to mention God. The atheist would have no recourse because the atheistic worldview holds to the idea that life is purposeless and meaningless. Everything in this universe is nothing more than a cosmic accident. Our galaxy is nothing more than a speck of dust located within our incomprehensibly enormous universe. In the grand scheme of things, in a world with no God, death is just as meaningless as birth.
Christianity approaches the situation very differently. Christians understand that every human life is valuable and created in the image of God. Comforting our dying friend with the message of Jesus Christ and letting them know that as long as Jesus is their Lord and Savior that there is a Heavenly Father waiting for them when their soul passes this world and into the next. I’d say that the Christian form of consolation is much more comforting than hearing about how purposeless and meaningless their life was.
This isn’t an argument for the existence of God but it is a defense of the claim that Christians are somehow insensitive when consoling the ill. The reality of the matter is that atheism isn’t consolation at all. In fact, it’s hugely depressing. That’s why you don’t see atheists who are fully committed to their worldview because otherwise they’d be very cynical individuals. The reason you observe atheists who are morally upright is because God has written his morality on their hearts regardless of whether it is acknowledged by them.
I have many atheist friends and there isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t console this dying individual with love and emotional support. However, it is abundantly clear that these morally virtuous qualities are not inherent to the worldview of atheism. While I adore my atheist friends, I am disappointed in the disingenuous trivializing of the Christian faith that goes on within many atheist groups. Once morality becomes involved, atheists somehow turn a blind eye to the concept of objective universal morality.
As it turns out, an atheist who consoles a dying loved one is really borrowing the moral virtues of Christianity without the prayer and hope. Consolation of a loved one who is struggling is hard regardless of your theological beliefs. Nevertheless, consolation is impossible without treating the individual with value and meaning. This is something that atheism cannot do on its own.