Atheists have different responses to tragedy. The usual response is to use every tragedy as a pretext to attack the Christian faith. However, that leaves unanswered what positive response, if any, an atheist can offer in the face of tragedy.
Some atheists resent Christian eulogies. They resent the claim that they have nothing to say in the face of tragedy. They get very defensive.
If atheists were truly honest, this is what they’d say:
You know what? You’re right. Atheism can’t offer any consolation in situations like this. Atheism is a creed for the living, not the dead.We’re sorry about that. Sincerely. We wish there was something edifying we could say. We wish we had some uplifting words to offer you in your time of loss, but we don’t. We’d be fooling ourselves, as well as you, if we said otherwise.We don’t say that to be callous. We wish for our own sake, as well as yours, that the story had a happy ending. But we can’t just make things up. That’s not the world we live in. No use pretending.Reality is whatever it is, and–unfortunately–the reality of the situation is grim. It’s just a cosmic fluke that humans even exist on one lonely little planet in the vast, indifferent cosmos. We are here for a blink of an eye, and that’s that. No encore. Unlike lower animals, we are just smart enough to know that you and I are screwed. I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better than that. We were dealt a losing hand. There’s no way to prettify the situation.We don’t say that to sound courageous or superior. We say that because that’s all we can honestly say.However, Christians and atheists are in the same sinking boat. The difference is that atheists admit it’s taking on water.In reality, Christianity has nothing better to offer. Sure, Christianity can promise you eternal life. But that’s a broken promise. So there’s no point comparing the wonderful, but futile hope of Christianity to the hopelessness of atheism. That’s not a real comparison. You’re comparing something with nothing.
But in practice, atheists usually find that frank, stark reply deeply unsatisfying. They themselves can’t live with that. Instead, they try to make a virtue of atheism. Turn bleak necessity into an inspirational pep talk. They say things like:
Atheism is liberating! It frees us from the shackles of ignorance, superstition, and oppression. No longer must we grovel at the feet of a cosmic tyrant!Atheism is a creed for grow-ups. We can make our own decisions. Chose our own destiny.Immortality would be boring. The prospect of death is what makes life so precious. Every moment counts!Even if heaven did exist, we’d opt for godless mortality over eternity with a morally repugnant Deity.