An atheists dilemma

This is based very much on a true story.

Case:
A 70 year old woman grew up as an atheist. She never attended a Church service in her life. She is now in her old age (divorced a long time ago) and her children are grown up. Her grandchildren are too busy with their own lives. She now feels very depressed and is suicidal and was recently admitted to hospital after an unsuccessful suicide. She is referred to the local community social worker who supports her through this challenging time. After many months of support it has been observed that she has been receiving psychiatric treatment for the past 20 years but with little success. She is on several medications but these have not alleviated her depression and suicidal thoughts. She expresses that she feels incredibly lonely and isolated. The social worker recommends various community groups but she expresses disinterest in these as she has tried them all before. In desperation, she suggests that she would like to attend her local Church on Sunday, even though she is an Atheist, as she feels it would be good to meet different people and to get out of her house (which has become her prison). The social worker supports her in this process as she has the freedom to choose how to live her life. After many months of attending Church the social worker notices a significant change in her attitudes towards life (which are regularly recorded in standardised questionairs). She has once more developed an interest in sex which has been absent in her life for 30 years and is now ready to re-enter into a sexual relationship. After several more months she feels she is no longer dependent upon her medications and no longer feels she needs to see her psychiatrist. She no longer has the suicidal thoughts which plagued her for the past 40 years. After several more months she began to develop faith in the Church and became a believer. After a year she discovered she had an aggressive cancer. After another year she died from the cancer (peacefully in her own home and supported by her newly found Christian partner).

The Question from an atheists perspective: What is the truth within this case study?

That it is explainable without recourse to the supernatural. The reasons she is given by the social worker did not say that she was doing badly because of satan or because of her sins or that she needed God to intervene in her life. Rather the reasons were the secular benefits of human companionship. What she could have found elsewhere but did not for some reason or another, was found in the institution that permeates the narrative of our society. It, the church, was better equipped.
Google an article I saw recently in Psychology Today called “The atheist next pew”.

The truth is that, both atheists and theists suffer mental heath problems. There are believers in mental hospitals.

The truth is that she found comfort at church and eventually in religion. That’s all. This, of course, says nothing about God. Religion can be very therapeutic for some people. But there are depressed people in churches, to be sure. There are also people in similar circumstances who go to church looking for relief and never find it.

I would say it was not possible to fulfil her needs in any other place than the Church. To draw an analogy, it would be like saying that a person who is dying of thirst can fulfil their needs elsewhere as there is plenty of water on the planet. The reality of this persons life was that her needs could not have been met elsewhere. She had exhausted all other possible avenues as our society is generally intolerant of others. If she ventured into this forum for example, due to her frame of mind she would have been abused and insulted by members of this forum (by atheist and non-atheist). There are not too many services out their (in the real world) that cater for a 70+ year old woman and then on top of this consider her mental health needs and medical needs. Hospitals, mental health facilities, and aged care facilities are designed to take care of specific needs (treat an illness) but they do not attempt to address the issue of personhood. How do we place our selves in the world we live in and how we connect to it and what is the meaning we derive from it… these questions cannot be answered within the walls of a place that is waiting for us to die. Indeed, the Church (to the atheist and non-atheist) was better equipped and it was able to alleviate her suffering.

In my village, many years ago, it was found that patients were being abused (sexually, physically, emotionally, and financially) in mental institutions (much like one flew over the cuckoos nest). The obvious solution was that we needed to shut down these institutions and that was the solution that was implemented. In the year following the police had shot dead 15 people in full view of the public. These people were released into the community with no place to go. The police took the confrontationalist approach and had no other option than to shoot to kill. The truth of this situation was that people suffered more when not supported.

If the atheist dream were granted and all religious organisation were shut down - I would consider this as a major form of abuse and neglect.
What social structures would be in place to fulfil the needs of millions of people?
And yes, we could raise hypothetical arguments but these simply encourage us to naval gaze and ignore the problem - reality is reality.
Religious communities fulfil a large proportion of the needs of both atheists and non-atheists.

In this situation, I would say there is a greater truth. This truth is lost in the ideological dogma of both the atheist and non-atheist.
We all forget that we are human and we die and there is a greater truth within each individuals sense of personhood.
This personhood cannot be expressed within any ideology - no matter how vigorous the logic.
This personhood is mysterious in all its wonder.

Have you ever spent time in a mental hospital? I have both as a patient and as a worker. Psychiatry and psychology are largely impotent in the real world - a many great theories and research that apparently yield miracles. Antidepressants have cured leprosy and given site to the blind.

This is trying to examine the depths of the ocean by looking at the waves.
We are humans and not beliefs.

What do you mean?

It’s actually quite simple. This woman was very lonely, she felt she had no one left in her life. Then she joined a church where she came to feel cared about, where she felt an inter-connectedness and solidarity with others. And we tend to wrap ourselves around the belief system of the people we spend a lot of time with. And very often, we take on their faith if it works for us. It’s very natural. Interest in sex grew when she was able to let go of her depressive state…when she became interested in life again.

"No man [or woman] is an island. As far as the cancer, unfortunately that might have been something always growing within her. Loneliness and depression tend to exacerbate cancel cells and speed up their growth. But she was fortunate enough to find someone with whom she could happy and someone to whom she could give herself. And ‘belief’ in her case helped to give her back her life so in this case it was constructive and positive and nurturing…and that’s all that matters in her case. And who would take that away from someone like her? But each individual case is different.

That is by no means characteristic of all atheists. I’m an atheist and I don’t want that. I would like to see God and taken out of the equation though.

It’s possible to need something that isn’t good. Like heroin for example.
Likewise, someone could need religion even if that religion was a big lie or worse.
Atheism needs to be upgraded, but in its desperate hour, it was convinced to abort all spirituality in many cases, even when some of this spirituality was neither of bad faith, or of bad religion.

I don’t know the statistics for mentally ill people getting help in churches, or for lonely people, ill or not, finding companionship through churches. Emtyness’s argument isn’t based on statistics but a long story. I could write my own long story, but I’ll just sum it up in a serntence. Two times, years apart, I tried going to a church to make friends, both times I was treated like I was trying to join some selective group that didn’t really want me their unless I could be as outgoing as them.

It’s true places for socialization for lonely people are rare. Being lonely is somewhat like starving for food, but a more accurate description is it’s like constantly eating food that doesn’t agree with them. One could be starving for food/companionship and find some food/companionship that makes them sick / treats them terribly, and then be hestiant to eat/socialize again. Churches may sap the strength out of lonely people, then leave them lonelier than before.

I would be steriotyping if I were to say that elderly people have less trouble being welcomed into a new church. But, let’s say it’s true, church is the last resort of elderly people, because other socialization is often hard to find, especially for the elderly in smaller cities. Someone with good intentions may consern themselves with the problems that lonely elderly people face, but perhaps instead of finding a solution they drop the issue after hearing about a local church and all its activities for members.

Lonely people are always going to be at the mercy of the people in whatever social programs are available, but in a church it’s already a given that they have to be able to stomach constant talk of religion. The lady in the story may have been a life time atheist for a reason, apperantley she had already been lonely for many years, it seems like attending church was a last resort, and in her case the support she got was such a nice contrast she could stand all the religion and even pretend to like it in order to fit in with her new friends.

What about the reverse, what if a small town only had a group of atheists that met every week? Perhaps this has never happened, but if it did a lonely elderly lady with a lifetime of deeply held religious beliefs might be tempted to go there for companionship. It would be hard for her to listen to all the talk contrary to her religion, but if she’s lonely enough she may find the patients to avoid arguing. Then she could make friends and live a good life.

Then I can imagine her religious children upon remebering the 1st commandment, finally visiting her, only to become outraged at the atheists that have led her away from the church.

Seems to me she regretted being a lousy parent and tried to make a new family in the one place that commits to family ideals. A church involves the folks that go there as family. It has nothing to do with Atheism or religion, just bad life choices. I mean if your kids and grandkids ignore you, you must not be doing it right.

Churches are a lot like family in my experience.

Yes, I attended a country church that was made up of a close-nit family. They were all related. I felt I couldn’t ever possibly fit in and like an interloper.

Hello emptiness.

— I would say it was not possible to fulfil her needs in any other place than the Church.
O- Which even an atheist could agree. You have to understand that atheist can see the unique benefits of church attendance and even belief. That said the issue is why. For the atheist the effects are explained psychologically, without referrence to God. For the theist the effects are explained as the blessing of God.

— To draw an analogy, it would be like saying that a person who is dying of thirst can fulfil their needs elsewhere as there is plenty of water on the planet.
O- Ask yourself: if this woman had grown in a muslim society or a jew, would a church had been as effective as a temple?

— The reality of this persons life was that her needs could not have been met elsewhere.
O- which tells us more about the person than about the religion itself.

— She had exhausted all other possible avenues as our society is generally intolerant of others. If she ventured into this forum for example, due to her frame of mind she would have been abused and insulted by members of this forum (by atheist and non-atheist).
O- That is your second prejudice (the first being your conclusion that only the church could’ve helped her). Perhaps it is because you’re new here and dont know most here.

— There are not too many services out their (in the real world) that cater for a 70+ year old woman and then on top of this consider her mental health needs and medical needs. Hospitals, mental health facilities, and aged care facilities are designed to take care of specific needs (treat an illness) but they do not attempt to address the issue of personhood.
O- You would be surprised. Doctors today are aware of the importance of a person’s sense of self, how they feel as a person, the importance of support groups. But you have to understand that every case is different, so the church is not the universal answer and that there are groups, perhaps not as ubiquitous as the church, which do provide such services.

— How do we place our selves in the world we live in and how we connect to it and what is the meaning we derive from it… these questions cannot be answered within the walls of a place that is waiting for us to die.
O- I agree. But hospitals are not supposed to be where we wait to die but where we get help to continue living. Psychology deals with the issues you just said and yet it is supportive of an atheist perspective.

— If the atheist dream were granted and all religious organisation were shut down - I would consider this as a major form of abuse and neglect.
What social structures would be in place to fulfil the needs of millions of people?
O- Again, even an atheist would agree. There is a difference between atheism and anti-theism.

— This personhood cannot be expressed within any ideology - no matter how vigorous the logic.
This personhood is mysterious in all its wonder.
O- We disagree. You show no compelling evidence. You jump to a conclusion rather than examine the causal links you draw.

Have you ever spent time in a mental hospital? I have both as a patient and as a worker. Psychiatry and psychology are largely impotent in the real world - a many great theories and research that apparently yield miracles. Antidepressants have cured leprosy and given site to the blind.
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Omar, you differentiate between atheists and anti-theists. The latter I assume is virtually always the former as well, the former not nessesarily the later. But, many people do use the two terms interchangably. So to clearify what I’m talking about here, I’ll speak of ‘non-believers’ and anti-theists to describe people regardless of how they would classify themselves. I would argue, and I believe you’ve already heard me make this argument a month or two ago, that most people are ‘non-believers’ whether they attend church or not. In person I’ve only know a few anti-theists and they weren’t ‘born’ that way, their church chewed them up and spit them out. I had the same experience, I don’t know if I would qualify as a anti-theist, but I wouldn’t be offeded at that label.

Something I wonder is what it takes for most people to make the claim of being an atheist rather than a non-believer, when telling others they’re ‘undecided’ is so much easier.

Well there are four stances before the concept of God. Of course one is to believe and that we call a theist. Those that are undecided I call agnostic. Those that have decided they don’t believe are atheists. Anti-atheist, as you correctly point out are atheist as well but they differ from atheist in as far as how they regard religion.
You can be sure that God doesn’t exist while still acknowledging the salutary effects of church membership and therefore, if not pro religion that person could recommend someone to go to church.
An anti-theist sees no salutary effects but the contrary and hopes for the abolition of church.
In my experience, anti-theists form the minority of atheist.

I don’t know if there’s a name for this concept; where something or someone is good for lack of a better alternative. That dogmatic religions are useful for some is beyond a doubt, but I would argue that the dogmatic part of it isn’t the benificial part.

This is obviously another one of thous stories of conversion. I don’t care if it’s a non believer converting to a believer, or if it’s a believer converting to a non believer. These stories take away from the true argument; God.

They avoid the reasons, logic and evidence for believing in what they do.

I think this woman found comfort where she has no where else to turn, the emotional part of our beliefs. Since atheism is based on logic and not emotion she converted not for the lack of logical reasoning but for the lack of emotional connection in her life.

Let me just say, your local church isn’t the only place to find an emotional connection…especially if you are a atheist.

Also I think she didn’t mind converting because she had to choose between a new found love and a proclaimed belief. At that point in her life her emotional well being took over, so she put aside her differences and adopted this new hope (not religion really) i think it gave her support more than anything.

The number of false ideas which are capable of benefiting the believer are limitless.

The Doorman