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