Anthony Pinn sits down with licensed professional counselor and author Candace Gorham to talk about the Ebony Exodus Project and her book On Death, Dying, and Disbelief.


ANTHONY PINN: Something I found really interesting about your new book was your perspective on the religious right—that there’s often a tendency within humanist and atheist circles to simply belittle the religious or if a religious person happens to communicate with you, using their theology and theological vocabulary, they’re gonna catch a verbal beatdown, right? The religious person says “God bless you,” they will catch a verbal beatdown. But you provide a different perspective on this—the idea that when a religious person a theist uses that language, uses those phrases, they’re simply trying to demonstrate care, using what’s available to them. Can you say a bit more about that? I just found that so very appealing.

CANDACE GORHAM: When you are grieving, you are just at the bottom of the barrel, you have minimal energy, you have minimal life in you. Part of the point I make is, just don’t use your precious little resources in that moment to battle with somebody because they say “God bless you.” Or even “Can I pray with you?” You could say “No thank you.” But I don’t see the point of going into like a tirade behind that sort of thing.

The majority of Americans hold some sort of belief in an afterlife. So you can just assume that if you tell somebody that you’re grieving a loss, most of the time that person only has some kind of religious or spiritual framework to approach you from. That’s just the reality of the society that we live in. And so, when you already are scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get out of the bed and go to work in the morning, or go to school in the morning, why fight a fight that you’re not going to win? They’re giving you the only thing that they can think of. Grief is such an ugly, scary, lonely thing, if somebody is trying to give you the only thing that they can think of, I don’t see the point of responding out of anger.

But if they’re approaching you because they know you’re an atheist, and they’re trying to use this as an opportunity to get at you—like, “See, I bet you believe in God now”—then fine, give it to them. But if they’re coming at you because that’s all that they know how to give you, why turn this into an ugly moment, when you barely have the strength and energy to just breathe?

Listen to the full episode

Avatar photo

Anthony Pinn

Anthony Pinn is one of the foremost scholars of African American humanism, author of more than 20 books, and the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University.