What Can Atheists Do When Horrible Things Happen? December 15, 2012

What Can Atheists Do When Horrible Things Happen?

When horrible, seemingly unpredictable, chaotic things happen, what can atheists do about it to help?

We can’t pray. We can only do. But what actions can we take?

General Guidelines

  • Be thoughtful. What’s the greatest need? What are you capable of doing? What action will make the most impact? Ex. Sending flowers may not be as helpful to a family who’s lost a loved one as going over and cooking meals for them while they grieve or starting a collection fund to help them through financial problems they may now be facing.
  • Be compassionate. Offer words and acts of comfort as best you can. Sometimes that does means sending flowers. Sometimes it means giving hugs. Sometimes just giving someone the space they need to grieve is what’s best. Greta Christina offers excellent advice on how to comfort those who are grieving.
  • Give what you can; do what you can. Don’t think you have to take on and fix all of the world’s problems.  Do your part with the skills and resources you have. Over extending yourself will lead to burn out and will make you much less able to help in the future. And remember, you’re not alone in your desire to help out.
  • Find the source of the problem. I know, easier said than done. It’s easy to become bogged down with symptom management and while that’s still important, only applying your energy to the symptoms won’t prevent issues in the future.
  • Take care of yourself, too. You can’t help others if you’ve run yourself into the ground. That means taking care of your own needs (food, water, sleep, emotional taxation, etc.) Lean on others you trust and listen to them when they remind you to take care of yourself.
  • Take time to reflect on what is important to you and what values you hold dear. Remind others around you to do the same. When the world doesn’t make sense and crazy things happen for no good reason, the act of reflecting over what you care about is a powerful tool to center yourself and bring you back down to earth. It can also protect you from superstition thinking.

Specific Actions

  • Donate blood. Our hospitals are always in need of blood to save lives. You can donate as often as every other month.
  • Take a First Aid & CPR class. Knowing how to preform CPR and other life saving techniques will be useful regardless of what kind of crisis you’re facing.
  • Donate. Giving to organizations that specialize in crisis situations is the best way to increase the impact of your donation.
  • Support mental health services. Whether preventing mentally unstable people from doing harm or helping people through trauma, mental health services are vital. Most people take their mental health for granted but we really can’t.

Where to Send Money

  • American Red Cross is a powerhouse of good work. They respond quickly to all kinds of disasters, natural or human-caused. They provide help with the basics to survive (medical care, food, water, & shelter) and with the emotional needs of those suffering through trauma. They also provide classes on life saving techniques.  Give without hesitation to this wonderful secular organization.
  • Mental Health America is an advocacy organization devoted to increasing access to mental health services and providing education to the public about mental illness and behavioral health.
  • MercyCorps responds to crisis situations but also focuses on long term recovery efforts around the globe.
  • Doctors Without Borders sends experienced doctors to places around the world to crisis and epidemic situations.


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