An Atheist’s Hope: We Don’t Need Faith for Hope

An atheist's hope“Without faith, hope is dead.”

So began a lengthy discussion on my Facebook post. Admittedly, the discussion devolved quickly, and both sides cut it short rather than descend further into disrespect-land. But the assertion that an atheist’s hope is impossible is so common among believers, I feel motivated to address it further.

The Believer’s Hope

For a believer, hope comes from a creator, and from the belief that they’ll go to a happy place when they die. This place will have no more pain, no more death, no more sadness. And, depending on which belief system we’re talking about, “bad” people will get what’s coming to them – either in a lake of fire, or just not existing anymore and, therefore, missing out on all that lovely stuff.

It’s a nice thought, and I do see the appeal. I clung to that myself when I was a believer. Whatever happens in this life, at least you know you’re going to get lots of better stuff after you die.

But I’m afraid I find that to be a hollow hope. It’s also a hope that, for some people, takes away their will to make a better life for themselves right here on Earth. I’ve heard variations on the theme, “This is just what God has given me. He’s testing me so I can be truly worthy of my eternal reward.”

Believers also have a general sense of hope that comes from thinking a supreme being is in charge of everything and whatever happens is “part of God’s plan.”

An Atheist’s Hope

Many believers seem baffled by the very idea that an atheist could have hope. And they’re downright dubious of my claim that I have more hope now than I did when I was a believer – but that is absolutely the truth.

I don’t have false hope in some immortal life after I die; nor do I think I’m going to live in some fabled utopia where nothing bad will ever happen again.

I do have hope in tangible things, like human ingenuity, and the power to shape our own destinies rather than being helpless to the whims of an invisible hand.

I have hope in the fact that my actions, and not my ability to believe in any storybook, determine what kind of person I am.

I have hope in the knowledge that when bad things happen, they are not due to some slight I knowingly or unknowingly committed against a stern and often capricious father figure.

I have hope in the knowledge that when good things happen, they are usually the result of hard work, talent, and skill – either mine or another person’s.

I have an atheist’s hope in knowing that I was not born “sinful,” that I am not inherently damaged and in need of salvation or fixing, and that I am a whole person. I have worked through struggles, and fears, and doubts, and came through all of them on my own – which gives me a strength and assurance that I would not have if I had to attribute all of those survivals to some outside force.

And finally, I have hope in humanity – that even when times are dark, good people working hard and sticking together can overcome them.

And I don’t believe for a moment that they need the help of a supreme being to do it.

4 Comments on “An Atheist’s Hope: We Don’t Need Faith for Hope”

  1. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “oy” in “comment_content” *]
    There’s plenty of well known ancient historians who wrote about Jesus, one of which being Luke who also wrote a gospel. There’s about 42 documents saying something about Jesus, a lot of which are not positive of Christianity. Some historians also account for Jesus miracles recorded in the gospels or just that Jesus was famous for miracles that they dismiss as illusionist tricks, or otherwise sorcery. An example is a record from Thallus in the 50’s A.D. mentioning the darkness that occurred during Jesus crucifixion and attempting to explain it as a solar eclipse. Africanus, who quoted this record about 2 centuries later, mentioned that an eclipse wouldn’t be possible because it happened during the Jewish Passover, when the moon is full and diametrically opposite from the sun. Both of these historians records only survive as quotes in other historical writings, like in the records of Eusebius, from what was still left of their respective work during the time. Tacitus, born 56 A.D., references in 116 A.D. in his Annals that Christians were killed for saying Jesus was resurrected. He recorded “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular”. Suetonius, born 69 A.D., recorded in 122 A.D., “After the great fire at Rome . . . . Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief”. The only way that many people would believe that Jesus was resurrected was if they actually saw him. Even his most devoted listeners doubted his resurrection until they saw him and some even after, or didn’t immediately recognize him. The same culture that presented Jesus to be executed with the accusation of apostasy and sorcery is not going to suddenly change their minds about him and invent stories in agreement with his claims that they originally hated him for.
    And none of them could have hallucinated him because neurological research has shown that shared hallucinations don’t happen and in general can’t happen anyway when you aren’t expecting to see the person or have no care to. Paul on his way to Damascus saw and heard Jesus, and Paul was with other people who too saw him and turned away because the light of Jesus was so bright that it blinded Paul. Again multiple people seeing the same thing that they didn’t expect. The talmud records that Jesus was arrested for accusation of apostasy and sorcery and that no one defended him in his trials. Simply knowing the culture of his time is enough to deduce that the converts were reporting a real encounter. It’s recorded that one of the disciples touched Jesus after he appeared to them and that he ate. Paul records having met about 500 witnesses. These new testament accounts are consistent with Josephus and the Roman historical records talking about the teaching of Jesus resurrection.
    The only known forgery recording Jesus is of an account by Josephus, born 37 A.D., but that record is in every copy of his original compilation containing it, so historians know that Josephus wrote an original that Christians later altered. There is a copy of it in another language, older than most other copies, that has none of the Christian praise in the interpolation. We have earlier evidence for Jesus than most other ancient people, recorded by historians who were alive when most of the witnesses of the events still were. A few other such historians were Emperor Trajan, born 53 A.D.; Pliny the Younger, born 61 A.D.; and Phlegon, born 80 A.D.. Most other ancient people weren’t recorded until a century or more after the events, including kings and emperors, and they aren’t disputed either. Its not just apologetic’s who use these accounts, most historians, regardless of belief, don’t deny Jesus was real. it’s mostly the miracles that are controversial, but with no evidence inconsistent with them, just skepticism that miracles can even happen. The reason Roman emperors had miracles attributed to them was because of threats to anyone who did not record those stories, such as the scenario with Alexander, because they wanted to be glorified to bolster their reputation. Most of those records of the Emperors weren’t written until centuries later anyway.
    No one who ever wrote about Jesus was ever questioned by anyone about if he actually existed. People who knew anything about Jesus would be around to say how accurate these claims were that were being recorded. There were plenty of people who hated his teachings who would have loved to refute that he was real, if he was made up. The problem is he was seen by many people in person. There are over 5000 copies of the new testament in it’s original language and over 24,000 total, all of which are mostly consistent with each other and modern translations. The earliest copy still around is dated to before the third century (I forget if it’s 120 or 150 A.D.). The only differences are the story of Jesus and the prostitute not being in the oldest copies and textual variants. The second best preserved document is Homers Iliad, with only over 600 total copies, and the earliest being 300 years after the original. We know the new testament was completed before the second century because Clement of Rome and Ignatuis of Antioch quote it in the first century. The gospels would be some of the earliest of the new testament compilation.

    If consciousness ended at death everything and one we could ever do or love would be a waste, even living can’t be justified. But one needs to exist in order to even be able to know the truth of anything, so the implications of atheism are contradictory. Delusion would be required to believe there is purpose to anything they do . . . in a life that can have none since everything exists for no reason according to atheists. Way to be more logical than the majority population. Something can only be a waste if whatever it accomplished amounts to nothing. It all might as well have never been, and if there is eventually no more future, we’d be none the wiser because whatever happened can’t concern someone who doesn’t exist. Nothing could have meaning, it would be contradictory. You’d be indulging in what is a waste and everything that could possibly give you enjoyment would be a moot point. Your opinion about what something means to you doesn’t magically give it meaning. Facts don’t care about your opinion. Not caring about if it’s true or not that everyone will eventually not exist isn’t courage, it’s insanity.

  2. Something can’t come from nothing because nothing is required for there to be nothing. Something existing would then be a change from there being nothing to there being something, but if there is nothing, there is nothing that can change. And if something from nothing were possible then so many different types of things would have always been spontaneously existing, some of them doing or causing the same things possibly. Likewise with things that are the same and any amount of them potentially doing and causing different things, since if a cause is unnecessary, there is nothing to prevent this being possible. The requirements for science, then, would not exist, since nothing would have to be a certain way to cause a specific result from it.
    Particles coming in and out of empty space can’t be evidence for something from nothing, because empty space is still space which is still something, or else there would be nothing for those particles to exist in. Empty space and vacuums have a minimal amount of energy in them to produce these particles, have dimensions that can bend and be measured, and the amount of energy, that obviously can also be measured, can change. This is all only possible because of how already existing physics make it so, so not only can nothing not be seen or tested to verify the possibility of it, but nothing is by definition what does not exist, so there being nothing is as self contradictory as there being no such thing as truth.
    Nothing can have a beginningless infinite past because it would take an infinite amount of time for anything to happen then, so nothing ever would because there never would be that much time. So for anything to exist there has to be something or someone to cause them. The only type of entity that could cause the first beginning would have to be independent of time and space.

  3. I’ve been going through some very difficult situations lately, and kind of feel jealous that I just can’t sit and pray and hope the big man in the sky will fix it all or has a reason for everything happening. I just wasn’t raised that way. I worry my children will feel the same way, and I want to give them some sort of support system, so have I leaned towards westernized Buddhism. I did not choose to be an Athiest. It’s very scary to me. I just am. Asking me to believe in a higher power is like asking me to believe in vampires or tooth fairies. I find your post very comforting. Thank you.

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