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Atheism and hope

When theists say that an atheist cannot be motivated or cannot have “hope,” they are sadly mistaken. Their claim is that atheism doesn’t offer mankind the hope, comfort, happiness, and benefits that theism does. Of course it doesn’t! Atheism doesn’t offer hope via believing in a supernatural deity because a-theism is an absence of theism, it is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Of course it isn’t a stance that “offers” something. If theists want to make such a claim and actually make some argumentative headway, they should at least compare to a stance that is “for” something, something that atheists DO believe.

But atheism doesn’t define what a person DOES believe. Not all atheists are going to believe in the same things just because they happen to share a lack of belief in a god or gods. Conversely, atheists also often happen to be secularists, humanists, naturalists, materialists, etc… stances that do profess and/or offer something. These stances are separate from atheism. They are just stances that happen to portray what some people that may also happen to be atheists do believe in. So if theists must insist on appealing to consequences, what they should be comparing to are those stances that portray what a person “does” believe in, not what a person lacks belief in. Also, this “appeal to consequences” theists use is a logical fallacy, that “you should believe in god because it gives you hope,” when used in an argument to conclude that we should believe a god exist because they consider the consequences of such a belief to be desirable. These consequences still attest nothing the verity of that in which one believes or disbelieves.

If we must examine this appeal to consequences in light of “hope” and in relation to atheism which again isn’t really a proper comparison, than let’s start with the obvious consequence difference of “life after death.” A theist will claim that theists can have more hope in regards to death because they believe they have a soul and that their soul has a chance to go to heaven, or… maybe even hell, but nevertheless they believe they will live beyond their physical death. This possible reward of heaven is one of the biggest motivations that fuels their hope. They hope they can go to heaven and so they attempt to live as the bible or their church says they should that will lead them to heaven. This hope and motivation of living beyond death and going to heaven a theist will say an atheist cannot have, and rightly so. Because atheists don’t believe in heaven or hell, and in most cases, don’t believe in a soul and life after death. However, because a person doesn’t believe in life after death doesn’t mean that a person can’t be motivated to live, or to have hopes that they can change the world in a positive way. On the contrary, a person who doesn’t believe there is life after death, and does believe that after they die, that that’s it, game over, they know they have this one life to live and that’s it, this motivates them to live it to their fullest. It is the only life they have, so they are often motivated by this to live it out perhaps even more fully and freely then a theist, because a theist believes their life on earth is just the beginning, and therefore may not value it as much as one who thinks it is the only one they have to live.

If an atheist were to have a “hope” in relation to the topic of death, I think many would hope to have changed the world for the better while they were alive, through the footprints they left, their actions, or even through his or her children. This is how an atheist lives beyond death. Other atheist may not even hope for this, they may just accept death as it is, being the end of life, and simply feel fortunate for having been part of the universe for having ridden the rollercoaster. The transient-ness of it all makes it all the more precious. Knowing it’s going to end, you try and hope to get as much out of it as well as contribute to it as you can. An atheist who happens to also be a secularists, humanists, naturalists, materialists, or other, accepts this, and is motivated by it, and “hopes” to come closer to understanding nature while enjoying the ride on the way. An atheist can dream, hope, be moved, and motivated just like anyone else, their motivations, hopes, and dreams just happen to be founded in the natural world, no preservatives or supernatural flavor required.

What do people hope for? People usually hope for the best, for something that will improve our well-being or the well-being of mankind. Can an atheist hope for these things? Of course! A lack of belief in a god has no bearing on one’s ability to have hope. While many atheists also happen to be skeptics, naturalists, materialists, secularists, etc… which may result in naturalistic explanations founded on evidence, reason, and logic, these realistic expectations do not negate the ability of an atheist to “hope” for the best.

Just like anyone else that hopes for human progress and well-being, atheists do too. The thing with atheists is, while they do have hopes, they’d rather do more than just sit around hoping or praying that things get better, they’d rather get off their feet and follow the evidence, work towards improvement, tackle potential problems head-on, and make a difference. They don’t need supernatural motivation or the reward or heaven or punishment of hell to be motivated to do these things. An atheist realizes that taking action accomplishes more than simply hoping or praying for things to get better.

11 Comments

  1. This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 3/20/2009, at The Unreligious Right

    UNRRs last blog post..HOT5 Daily 3/20/2009

  2. John Nernoff III

    Faith and belief are two of the commonest and stupidest excuses to holding anything to be the case. These 2 words do not require evidence, rational thinking, reason or logic. More to the point they do not require HARD WORK. You just sit back and make an utterance as to what you hope for, and equally stupid people will think you have something special. That’s all I have to say. Religious hope is dismissed.

  3. Gino Barcal

    The Atheist Counter-History

    Behind the pacifist and loving speech, the majority of the religions promote in fact the destruction of everything that represents freedom and pleasure. They hate the body, the desires, the sexuality, the women, the intelligence and all the books, except one. The religions promote the submission, the chastity, the blind and conformistical faith on behalf of a fictitious paradise after the death.

    Only an atheistic person can be free, because the idea of a god is incompatible with the freedom of the human being. The idea of a god promotes the existence of a divine dimension, which denies the possibility to choose your own destination and to invent your own existence. If god exists, the Is is not free; on the other hand, if god does not exist, the Is can be free. The freedom is never given. It is acquired day by day. However, the basic principle of a god is an inhibiting impediment of the autonomy of the man.

    It means that when a person does not content himself only in believing dully, but starts to make questions on the sacred texts, the doctrine, the teachings of the religion, there is no way not to reach these conclusions. It is about not to leave the reason, with capital R, in second plan, behind the faith, and to give to the reason the power and the nobility that it deserves.

    The mechanism of the religions is of an illusion. It is like a mysterious toy we try to decipher by breaking it. The enchantment and the magic of the religion disappear when we see the mechanism and the reasons behind the beliefs.

    The priests are limited to use only one handful of words, texts and references that allow to better assure the control on the bodies, hearts and souls of the followers. The mythology of the religions need simplicity to become more efficient. The religions make a permanent promotion of the faith, the belief before the intelligence and the reason, the submission of the followers against the freedom of the independent thought, the darkness against the light.

    The necessity of cultivate culturally a god is based in ridicules ideas. We don’t have nothing in the brain beyond what we put in it. Have you seen a child believing in gods? Religions and gods are human beings inventions, just like philosophy, arts and metaphysics. These creations have been made to answer the necessities of confront the anguish of the death; But, we can react in other ways: For example, using the philosophy.

    The believe in a god is an impotence signal. We must be conscious of our possibilities. When we cannot prove something is necessary to recognize these limitation and not make concessions to tale-stories or mythology. The idea of the divine child is a species of infantile illness of the reflective thought.

    The majority of the people is allured by the elected icons of the media, and believe more in them than in the physical truth. The truth is that the role of the religions was not the best one: Attacks against Galileu, genocide during the crusades, the Muslim radicalism, silence before the holocaust, etc. What history show is that the religions instead promoting peace, love, fraternity, friendship between the people and the nations, for the most part produced most of the time the opposite. It does not seem very worthy that the monotheists generated some good here and there. In compensation, they generated extreme human barbarity; and this seems much more important as prove of the impotence of the doctrines.

    We cannot make much about it, except to say what it is truth. The Christians have little moral to disapprove old truths, when they themselves promote old errors until today. The philosophy can allow each one of us the comprehension of what is the world, of what can be our morals, our justice, the rules of the game for a happy existence between the humans, without the necessity of appealing to a god, to the holy ghost, to the sacred one, to the skies, to the religions. It is necessary to pass from the theological age to the age of the mass philosophy.

    The weakness, the fear, the anguish before the death, are the sources of all the religious beliefs, and they will never abandon the humanity.

    The history of the Christianity has just as much value as the mythology of Santa Claus. It is in the same level of the fairies stories, where the animals talk and the witches eat little kids. A thought that only serves the children.

    It is necessary to allow the free construction of ourselves as independent beings. To develop the counter-history of the atheist, sexualist, hedonist and anarchist philosophy.

    Gino Barcal

  4. Nice post! I hear that fallacy from theists quite a bit, that atheism does not give hope. I much prefer the hope that I get from the real world, from the people around me, from watching my daughter grow up, etc. to any fairy tales. I don’t understand how people can think that hope, even if it’s false, is better than living in the real world.

    antimattrs last blog post..Seattle Atheists come up with some interesting bus ads

  5. Jamie Freeland

    These postings were very interesting to read. I am a minister myself, but I live in a diverse family. My brother is bordering between Agnostic and Atheistic, I am not sure which and my sister is a Wiccan. I wanted to know more about what Atheists hoped for, and reading the post from HOT5 Unreligious right is quite enlightening. I had made many friends who believe in a god, or none at all. Though my beliefs help steer my life, I believe full and well, that is is faith in action that demonstrates what one believes or hopes for. I have seen vicious words on both sides and hope (there I used that word) that theists and atheists can atleast talk without hate. I am certain at the end of the day we may not be able to win the argument on either side, but atleast we have learned what the other person believes to be factual. As a person with faith, I believe in accountability. I am not a perfect person, and yes I like living this life. But my belief shapes who I am, and how I live. My goal in this life besides maintaining my faith, is to be a good person and treat otheres as I want to be treated: with respect. As an American this has been the privledge that all of us here have, the ability to speak our mind without fear of being put to death.

  6. If you are going to expound on Christians and what they believe you must first of all understand what a Christian is, as many atheists and people who follow other religious belief systems are tragically uninformed concerning Christianity and try to link everything that speaks of Christ in a favorable light as Christian. You can exclude Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cults and all Eastern religions and certainly Muslims who believe in Isa (Christ) only as a lesser prophet than Mohammed. Christianity is singularly exclusive among all the religions of the world because it offers a restoration to a relationship with God for unworthy sinners instead of a group of tenets that allow people to work their way into God’s favor.

    This possible reward of heaven is one of the biggest motivations that fuels their hope. They hope they can go to heaven and so they attempt to live as the bible or their church says they should that will lead them to heaven.
    Response: Certainly this is a motivating factor, but for the Christian the biggest motivation for his or her life is to return the love God showed when Christ died for them, and by extension they desire to love all mankind irrespective of whether that love is returned or not. Obviously the greatest proof of that love is to introduce others to Christ because Christians believe that is mankind’s only hope of reconciliation to God. To be eternally in the presence of God on the New Earth of Revelation is a benefit, but the biggest longing for the Christian is to be in the presence of Jesus Christ and see the one who died for them and love and serve him forever.

    I invite you to visit my web site to learn more about what a genuine Christian believes and how one should live. It is not the usual fare because the demands made there are not pleasing or desirable for many professing to be Christians today.

    2.

  7. Baki

    I was just wondering about atheists/agnostics belief system regarding hope from a semi non religious pov. I do believe in the Creater but my practice religiously n in many other ways is poor yet when I have a problem, a problem concerned with life n behaviour, I pray and hope. I mean there r situations where things get so tough and out of control that if I didn’t know that not everything is up to me I wud lose it and at the same time my reality that I can ask for help without feeling embarrassed or having to hide the reality, it makes me feel really better. To an atheist this may be rooted in the psyche but you don’t have that outlet that believers (theists if we must) do.

  8. pj

    It’s just my opinion, but it seems that “hope” for anything is quite close to a belief in some thing which may or may not exist, the idea that some power or some random entity out there will bring about the hoped for thing.

    Isn’t it better – or more straightforward – to work for whatever goals one might wish to exist, than to simply hope that some unknown thing – be it a deity or a casual act – will bring it about?

    Nothing says that we cannot hold a firm thought, or a strong desire for something to happen – be it good or bad – for what we want without hoping for it?

    Because hope is just as useless or unhelpful as a non-existent god, isn’t it?

    Work and action are far more realistic and productive.

    Just my thoughts and worth everything anyone would want to pay for them perhaps.

  9. pj

    Actually, I recognize that you said pretty much that very thing in your last paragraph. I was just reiterating it in my way.

    Thank you.

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