I have another guest post today. This one is from Derrick, a life-long atheist and a regular participant here on this blog. His topic is of particular interest for me. I recently had a discussion with a Christian on another blog who believes that we (atheists/agnostics/humanists) will one day wake up and realize that our lives are meaningless and without hope—and this will prompt us to run back to God. Derrick addresses this misconception that we have no hope. Thanks, Derrick, for sharing your thoughts here!
Remember: if you’d like to share your questions, insights or experiences, drop me a line to the email in the sidebar.
An Atheist Case for Hope
First and foremost, a sincere thank you to Debbie for suggesting I contribute a guest post and then graciously accepting it. This is truly a community of many voices. To begin…
This phrase has been trumpeted repeatedly by theists for over a century. Freeman’s idea was that without god there could be no redemption and no ever-lasting life. This, to him who was a very devote man, caused life to lose all hope. The phrase is routinely trotted out and lobbed at atheists although the connection to the author of it is regularly lost or misunderstood.  Moreover, the entire concept is patently absurd.
Hope, to begin with, is not the sole property of theists. There is nothing inherently special about hope, except that it is often the foundation of why most people continue to move forward through life. It is not the province of any deity in any manner, yet theists like to state without hesitation that atheists are devoid of hope. They argue the rejection of god and religion strips atheists of this vital human force. Even more important is that at the heart of the theist argument lies a truly bleak philosophy.
Consider that a good many of the world’s religions contain some sort of apocalypse in their theology. Think about this: most religion are actively awaiting the end of the world. Christians are especially prone to this because of the Book of Revelations. These types of theology look forward to a torrent of destruction and suffering. Their only hope, and the irony of that phrase is well understood, is if they are just righteous enough to escape eternal damnation and torment. This is not hope: this is fear.
In short, theists contend it takes god – or rather the act of redemption and salvation through a deity – to offer any kind of hope for humans. Without it, they hold, mankind is left wandering aimlessly in the void without any real sense of meaning or an objective for living. In their framework of thinking, evil would continue to exist and gnaw away at the human spirit. Furthermore, this would mean humans are enslaved to the single goal of being spared damnation by their god. One has to argue and wonder how anyone could consider this type of philosophy emotionally or mentally healthy. Once again, this is not hope by any stretch of the imagination. It is the exact opposite in most respects.
How then can atheists have hope? Consider that Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines hope as “…to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true….” What is interesting about this definition is it tends to be a central element of atheist thinking. Atheists realize we have only one shot at this life. We get one chance. As a result, most atheists tend to think very actively about her or his existence, the relationship this singular existence has to other people, and the impact it will have in the long run. Most atheists want to do something adding to the collective good. A great many atheists think about the future quite a lot and regularly in constructive ways.
The promise of hope requires action. Thus, a proactive life begins with hope. It is mired in hope. It oozes hope. Atheists tend to concern themselves with ideas of how to make the here and now better, and how to make certain it does not detract from the collective good of future generations. There is a belief, a hope if you will, that if we act properly today with forethought, then tomorrow will be better and brighter. Atheists cannot wait for divine intervention to make things right. There is no hiding behind some mystery plan waiting to unfold: life demands action in the present moment. It requires concerned, good people to make it happen.
Atheism tends to free people from the shackles of fear placed on them by religion. Once free of fear, something moves into takes its place. More often than not, it is hope that wins and not despair or a sense of futility. Existence takes on a dynamic realism with a need to live and experience life. The mind awakens and begins to see that life can and should be different… better. Realization of the difference demands a mindset that seeks solutions. Living for the here and now does not equate to hedonism: it routinely equates to a call to action. Life without action is stagnant. Atheists are far from stagnant.
The most interesting and spectacular part of atheist hope is that it includes everyone. Theists are not left out in the cold. This is not a coddling or mothering demeanor, but one of real inclusion. We tend not to discriminate. We want everyone to be happy, almost regardless of their beliefs. Atheists, in the end, have hope enough for everyone.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)
Please see http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jamesfreem387738.html, accessed 13 October 2013.
Please see http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/jamesfreemanclarke.html, accessed 13 October 2013.
Please see http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070329084652AAyfP65, accessed 13 October 2013.