4/29/2015—It is hard not to be religious. It is hard to know what to do. This is more a question of ritual and practice than of belief. Consider the book review by Meghan O’Rourke of The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander.
The book is a memoir of the sudden death of Alexander’s husband and her response to it. He was relatively young. They were very much in love. It was sad.
That said, my point here is the difficulty. Here is how O’Rourke puts it: “One might argue, of course, that the recent swarm of grief memoirs is just another manifestation of our confessional culture of self-disclosure. I’m biased — I wrote one of these books myself — but I think what we’re seeing here is something deeper and more useful: a desire to understand and give shape to an experience that defines us, an experience that is ethical and social in nature. How we grieve alone tells us something about who we are together. These books teach us that grief is not something merely to endure, medicate away or ‘muscle through,’ but an essential aspect of life — even a kind of privilege. ‘What does it mean to grieve in the absence of religious culture?’ Alexander asks, devastated by her seemingly unbearable loss, searching for meaning where none initially presented itself.”
You never hear about things like this. But this is what a religious tradition really gives: a way of living. Something to do when your spouse dies. In contrast, the secularist does everything herself. And who can bear that?