A few years ago a young boy was kidnapped by a pedophile in the southeastern United States. The news networks swarmed over the story as police, friends and relatives mounted a massive search. After two weeks of relentless searching, the mother of the child agreed to an interview. There she said something I’ll never forget:
I would rather find his dead body and know his fate than to not know and worry that something bad is still happening to him.
In other words, uncertainty is more unbearable than loss. If the boy is dead, the pain and anguish is over, and the uncertainty is gone; replaced with the much less painful grieving of loss. (the boy’s corpse was eventually found in the woods, after which the mother reinforced her statement, proving her sincerity)
For years I had been baffled at the reason why I and many fellow atheists had noted that—counter to our expectations—we had been far better at coping with the loss of loved ones than Mormons who attended the same funerals despite in some cases being much closer to the deceased. We don’t expect to see our loved ones again, but they believe death is just another stage of existence.
According to Mormon beliefs, when you die what happens to you is contingent on how “good” you were by Mormon standards. The trouble is that the standards are entirely unattainable without at least justifying the bits you don’t follow, meaning that to believe you are going to the Celestial Kingdom requires being in some sort of denial. When a loved one dies, under that belief system, I can think of no way to better describe it than to say it’s completely uncertain. Families can be together forever, but it’s never implied that they always will.
By contrast, an atheist doesn’t have to worry about the fate of their loved one. His or her pain is gone, their life has ended, and they no longer exist. As difficult and painful as this is in my experience it’s far less hard than uncertainty. This hypothesis was reinforced when I learned of a classmate at BYU who had a stillborn child. This is the only time I can honestly say I’ve seen someone comforted by Mormonism when faced with someone’s death. She was doing remarkably well. And so she should, her child is going straight to the Celestial Kingdom for free.*
I’ve heard the argument that it’s good to remain a Mormon because it brings comfort at a time of loss. It can in very specific situations, but it has become very clear that I’m better off without it even at the one time you would expect it to be beneficial. The deaths of loved ones are painful enough as it is without the uncertainty thrown in.
* While the church has no official policy on still born infants, and their teachings suggest that the celestial-kingdom-for-free only applies to children who were already born and younger than 8, remember that everyone has their own brand of the religion.