I stopped believing in God when I was 12. The thing is, I miss God. I feel a deep sense of loss and heartache whenever I happen to sit in a quiet church. Is it possible to grieve for the loss of an entity in whose existence I no longer believe?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Mona,

Whenever I read your postcard, I go back to the poem “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Your question is whether one can grieve for the loss of something in whose existence one no longer believes. - Hopkins suggests that it may not be obvious what one is grieving for, and that what sorrow springs from, may be the loss and death that belongs to human life. When you sit in a quiet church, you may feel the loss of the God you don’t believe in, but what you are aware of then and there is deep human loss. That’s how I see Hopkin’s suggestion, but I can’t go into the rest of what the poem expresses. (He himself doesn’t write from a loss of God.)

I’d also suggest that the sense of loss that you describe was profoundly felt by Iris Murdoch. You can see it in the essay “On God and Good”. In response to what she takes to be the loss of God, she suggests that we might try to live instead with the Idea of the Good as a transcendent object of attention, but she says she isn’t sure how far her positive suggestions about Good make sense. Readers of Murdoch will see this part of her philosophy in very different ways, and will struggle to find how to do justice to her own attempts to see clearly.

Cora Diamond

Philosopher's profile

Cora Diamond


Iris Murdoch has, over and over again, and in many different ways, opened up what moral philosophy can be. I think, for example, of the way she has emphasized the importance of not working with a a narrow delineation of what constitutes moral philosophy, a delineation which can exclude much that matters in moral life. I think also of the importance in her work of what is true to our experience as moral beings, and what in philosophy can distort that experience.

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