Amanda Marcotte discusses this Post Secret submission based on the famous “Falling Man” image from the 9/11 attack:
Amanda’s takeaway from this, which I agree with, is that this sort of hand-wringing puts the lie to the notion that religion is necessarily comforting:
I’m generally not a big fan of the notion that big lies are fine if they give people solace, even if it were true that said lies actually did. But there’s no real evidence that the big lie of religion gives that much comfort, on the whole. It’s far more likely to give people irrational fears and make them think uncharitable things by suggesting that it’s “god” that told them so.
Indeed, if religion leads us to analyze every action in the fear that it may have violated some byzantine set of rules, it’s not a comfort at all. Religion ceases to be a comfort when the rules themselves take precedence over the spirit of the rules – the spirit of the rules being “love your fellow humans.” When you put the rules first, you end up worrying yourself about whether or not it would be okay to lie to the Nazis about the Jews hiding in your attic. That’s an old ethics thought experiment, but it’s also one that nobody with any kind of internal moral compass whatsoever would spend more than two seconds thinking about. Whereas if your moral compass comes from an external source, you risk getting caught up wrangling with the thought, “Oh crap, this book tells me that lying is always wrong no matter what.“
I can only really speak to my own personal experience here – I won’t claim that nobody finds comfort in religion. I’m sure plenty of people do, although that has no effect on its actual truth or its ability to describe reality. But religion was an enormous source of anxiety for me as a child. When I finally gave all that up, I found that the idea of rotting in the ground after I died was far more comforting than wondering whether eternity in heaven would get incredibly boring after a while.
Pertaining specifically to suicide, I recall a time when I was in middle school, and two of my classmates approached me to ask me a question. At the time, I was devoutly, outspokenly, fundamentalist…ily religious, and while that didn’t win me a lot of friends in middle school, in this one instance it brought these two girls to me in an attempt to resolve a question that was bothering them.
One of them had an uncle who had just committed suicide. Was he in hell? They were genuinely worried about this, genuinely concerned for the fate of his eternal soul. I’m not trying to mock them; for a person who believes in both eternal souls and hell, such concern is both inevitable and humane. And they wanted to know where God stood on this whole suicide thing. I didn’t know where God stood. But I felt at that moment that making this girl feel better, easing the gnawing fear within her that her uncle was burning in hell, was far more important than holding fast to the rules.
So I told her that suicide would not send him to hell, that if he was the kind of guy who would have gone to heaven anyway, suicide wouldn’t stop him from getting there. I didn’t know if that was true; I didn’t know what I believed about it. I had never been confronted with the situation before. All I knew was that if God was a god of love, he would want her to feel better more than he would want her to hear a fire and brimstone sermon.
That doesn’t mean that we should embrace comforting lies. But if you’re going to embrace a lie at all, why would you choose the judgmental, authoritarian lies? Why spend your time worrying about whether the man in that picture is in hell? One thing that I learned as a devoutly religious person was that the “truth” that I believed in was highly malleable and subjective, contrary to the claims of an “objective morality” that Biblical literalists claim to follow. Although that realization later led me to simply discard religious doctrine entirely, at the time I at least felt that “love your fellow humans” was a given, and that one’s worldview should follow from that. If you’re determined not to love your fellow humans, your worldview is going to come out a lot uglier – and if you find that worldview of godly vengeance and retribution comforting, then you are a scary person.