My sister, who I live with, came back from work tonight and told me that a friend of one of my brother-in-laws was killed. Worse yet, the victim was killed in a car accident and my brother-in-law, who is a paramedic, was the first responder. He had the unfortunate experience of coming up to the accident scene and discovering her. She was a twenty-six year old police officer.
My sister, like myself, is agnostic on a conciliatory day and an atheist on all the rest. She asked me, “what do you say? As an atheist, what do you say?” She seemed to believe, I suspect momentarily, that because she didn’t believe in a god there was nothing of value she could say to console my brother-in-law. She was at a loss.
I was mildly annoyed. I said, “you tell him the truth. Shit happens. It’s unfortunate. It’s unjust. It’s absurd. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It doesn’t make any sense.” Now, obviously there are better ways to phrase those thoughts, but that’s the truth.
You could walk out the door tomorrow and be smoked by a truck. Little kids develop terminal cancer at the age of 7. People are born with debilitating conditions and mental illnesses. Some people are born with severely limited abilities. Life isn’t fair, sometimes, a lot of the time.
The atheist recognizing the unfairness of life, without trying to imbue it with some cosmic order, has a philosophy for life. I would argue the best one. Live life in accordance with your values to the fullest extent possible.
The average person lives approximately eighty years. Some people don’t make it out of, to pick an arbitrary number, their thirties. My grandmother lived to one hundred and two. There is limited rhyme or reason to who goes when.
You live life for life. You don’t live life for what might, I would argue won’t, happen 5, 20 or 50 years down the road when you die. Death should be a reminder of the importance of living this life well.
In summary: Bad stuff happens. Live your life.
I would also add, being at a loss is okay. There is no answer to the question why does a 7 year old develop terminal brain cancer? There’s a medical explanation, but it is unsatisfactory.
Post script: I do not need to presume there is an answer. I do not need an answer. There does not need to be an answer. I say those things recognizing that I, and most others, look for answers. It’s just that when I look, I recognize once again that atheism does have a response. Maybe those responses aren’t acceptable to some people, but they seem realistic to me, even if they don’t fit everything into a cosmic box that puts everything in order.