The hopes of an atheist
I was asked recently by a very good friend of mine “But what gives an atheist a sense of hope?” We were at our 20 year highschool reunion, and it was very noisy, there were far too many distractions for both of us for me to give her an answer worth anything, so I simply said, “I’ll get back to you.” Lets call this friend “A” to protect the innocent.
Well A, this blog is for you.
Let me just preface this idea that people have that “without god or a belief in a higher power there is no hope.” I find it an odd idea, that one needs to believe in a higher power in order to have a hope for life, the future, humanity and for others. Sure hope is irrational, as on its own it achieves nothing. Hope being like a wish or a prayer, is thoughts cast into the void.
But we need hope to want to keep striving forward toward betterment of ourselves, our families, communities, cultures and our world, right? While this is true, hope is a driving factor in our lives. In fact it arrives in a human from our ability to project our situations forward, through the power of foresight and our understanding of cause and effect. We are able to look at a given situation, look at all possible outcomes, and then base our “hopes” on which of these outcomes we desire. This is hope on the simplest form.
The statement “I hope my girlfriend remembered to bring her house keys” is an example of this. I know either she has remembered them and I will be able to get inside out of the rain, or she hasn’t and we’re both going to get soaked while we work out how to get inside.
But I think the kind of hope A was talking about is a much more complex idea of hope, and much harder to pin down. This kind of hope is what makes you not just give up on the world and your life. I too have this kind of hope for the future. My hopes include things like “I hope we as a species can get our shit together and not destroy this planet,” and “I hope that we as a species can one day work together toward a better world.” These are baseless hopes, and stem from my desires now, and looking forward to te desires of all humankind. These, and more personal, smaller hopes are shared by all people worldwide, and yes they are irrational, but they stem from a real inbuilt part of our psychology which is self-preservation.
The difference for an atheist as opposed to one ho gets hope from God, is that this hope is internalised, not asked for from a higher power, not simply wished for, or prayed for. Both kinds of hopes are just as irrational as each other, and mine are the same as a theists, minus the one crucial ingredient. God.
I write this because I think it’s important to note that all humans are basically the same. Individuals may have more of a propensity toward certain character traits, but basically we all want the same thing; to be well and for those around us to also be well.
The absence of any gods in my universe makes no difference to the validity of hope in my life, just that mine comes without doctrine or dogma as ascribed by a religion, and without a divine guiding hand or intervention.
Given this, I think that the hopes I strive for, since I won’t be saved by a god or have some divine touch from above, is more dependent upon the outcomes of the random nature of the universe. All things run their course, actions affect other actions and outcomes, and the result is ultimately unknowable. But my hopes hinge on another hope; and that is the hope that we all as a species can learn to live together without human imposed prejudices and dogmatic boundaries.
I hope this is all clear enough, but I do feel I rambled a bit. Thanks A for making me think about this topic. I will have to elaborate on it.