I am an agnostic (tl;dr – I don’t know and you don’t either)
One of my pet peeve responses from believers in my experience when we discuss our differences vis-à-vis religion is the misbegotten idea that because I don’t draw my morality from the same source that they do I can’t draw any morality at all. Which is terribly condescending and dehumanizing. I have said time and again to anyone who’ll listen (so mostly Megan and Will) that I am a better Christian in terms of outlook and relation to others than I ever was when I had faith. Without institutional grace there’s no real leeway. But I don’t miss being judgmental. I don’t miss trying to recreate the secular world in a smaller, shoddier, Bowdlerized version of itself because faith shouldn’t mean you ever have to give up anything.
But I do miss ritual.
Ritual is hard to recreate outside of institution because when you endow things yourself you can see the seams. When something comes to you endowed with sacredness or even simple tradition the seams matter less.
In theatre I like ghost lights and not saying Macbeth or whistling in the theatre and greenrooms that are actually sickeningly green and wishing each other broken legs. I loved putting a six-pack of Cokes up in the loft of my high school theatre pre-show every run for our resident ghost who had been the owner of the local Coca Cola bottling plant. Those things are links to our past, corny as they may be, and in an ephemeral art form I think those things matter.
Religion can create that in life, or living close to family and spreading or creating tradition with them.
But I live far from my family and my Fourth Family is an active one whose schedule is often not of its own choosing. We have few traditions or rituals.
And of course with no god and no religion, I have no ritual for death and mourning. My Nana passed a few weeks ago. It was my first death inside the circle. I have been extraordinarily blessed and she is by far the closest person to me that has passed yet. She was a champion for my life before I knew what life was. But of course she was 97, had lived a full life and had earned her passage. So as sad as it was it was a gentle parting not a tearing.
But it pointed out how absolutely screwed I am. I can borrow ritual, in this case a mostly very nice Catholic service, for such passings which are, if you’ll pardon the seeming coldness, logical, and allow my mourning to play out in gatherings with family and in shared remembrance.
But I have no mechanism for true grief. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe there is a better place. I don’t believe that somehow somewhere the dead are mingling and catching up. Grief is selfish, but when Other has ended there is only Self. And I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen when death comes to the inner circle. When it comes for my parents or my sisters or gods help you all when it comes for Megan. There is no rationalization available to me to make me feel better about it.
So my early notice to believers:
Don’t waste your time pitying my lack of grace, forgiveness or fellowship.
Pity me that I won’t have 2000 years of death cult tradition to ease my grief when I could really use it.