My recent conversion to atheism has been quite uneventful compared to some of the horror stories of fellow atheists who have been denounced as evil and rejected and scorned by their family and friends.  I have not been vilified or rejected by my wife, family, friends, or co-workers.   My family and friends continue to be a loving and supportive force in my life. Some of my family and friends still seemed shocked that I can claim that I find no convincing evidence for a personal and caring god.  Most of them don’t try to convince me otherwise and believe it is a phase I am going through at this time and I will come to my senses in the near future.  I truly doubt that will happen.  

My father has been the one family member who has, in a very respectful manner, attempted to challenge my new beliefs with creationist arguments plus supposed  biblical prophecy fulfillment.  Those are arguments I expected and don’t really spend time thinking about them since I find them to be unconvincing.  The one concept which he has repeated and which has caught my attention is the notion that I have no HOPE without a belief in God and how am I ever to give hope to my children.  I would like to speak briefly about this notion of hope my father and other believers hold and my lack of it.  The hope of a better life in heaven promised by God and the hope that this life has meaning or purpose only due to this promise.

Hope is defined by the dictionary as a feeling of expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen;  a feeling of trust.  In the Wikipedia page on Hope it states, “According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, hope is a ‘[t]rustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God's promises. Hope, is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God's guidance[;]... the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.”  I shake my head when I read that definition of hope.  I am supposed to have confidence in God’s promises for my future from what he has done in the past.  Really?!!  The same all-loving and all-powerful god which has allowed billions of living things to suffer (animals included) horrible lives and deaths in the past and present time.  I can hear those believers I know exclaim to me, “But, George, remember that time when you stupidly put yourself in a very dangerous situation and were only saved by the grace of God.  Don’t you see God has a plan for you.”  Of course there is no mention of the countless others who have put their trust in this benelovent being only to suffer miserably or see loved ones prayers go unanswered during times of great distress.  Would any sane and reasonable person trust such a god and his other promises?  Of course not!  How can I cling to any hope that this deity extends to me?  Yet, I don’t want this post to focus on the flaws of the theist’s hope, but more importantly do my best to explain the reality of hope for those who reject hope offered by a deity.

Is the discovery that there is no after-life reason enough to become hopeless?  Is my life full of despair?  No!  Can the discovery that there is no reason to believe in a life after death cause some level of sorrow and gloom?  Yes. The acceptance of this reality is a must if we are to move forward in obtaining real hope and real meaning to our lives.  There is a great article by Julian Baggini on how Atheists must deal with this reality, Life without God.   

As a nonbeliever, what kind of hope can I clng to in this life?  I hope to be a loving father, husband, son, and friend. I hope to find a career which I am truly happy and find fulfilling.  I hope that my children will be successful in all that they do and find happiness and joy in their limited time here on this earth.  I hope that murders, rapes, and other atrocities will decrease in our society.  These hopes are based on my belief that I and my fellow humans have the capability to fulfill them with hard work, critical thinking, and perseverance.  If my hopes are realized, then it was I and those who actively supported me who should take credit for this accomplishment.  If my hope fails, then I must take the blame and create a new plan to fulfill this hope.  The same can be said for society and its hopes.  Those hopes can only be accomplished through the active work and effort of the collective individuals within the society.  The pursuit of this hope is what gives life its meaning.  My journey and effort to become a better father, brother, and friend gives meaning to my life.  My pursuit of knowledge supplies meaning to my existence.  We CREATE meaning in our lives.  Human’s incredible creative ability is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  All of humanity’s progress can be attributed to the pursuit of hopes of individuals fulfilled through great effort, creativity, critical thinking, and sacrifice.  One shining example of this progress and achievement of a hope is how science and those who practice it were able to eradicate or significantly reduce many diseases which plagued humanity for centuries through the development of immunizations.  I am sure there were many who prayed to God for centuries to rid them, their loved ones, or society of these diseases to no avail.  This hope became a reality only when individuals through hard work, human intelligence, and the application of science were able to create a solution.  Human effort, intelligence, and creativity, not wishful thinking and belief in deliverance by a god, is the only way to fulfill our hopes.  This is the reality of hope.
 

**This is my first time ever writing something for public consumption.  All honest critique and comments will be appreciated**
  

Views: 129

Comment by Atheist Exile on May 9, 2012 at 2:25am

Hope deceives more people than lies do.

Hope implies a passiveness that does nothing to earn anything. I suppose that if something is beyond your influence or control, hope is harmless enough. But when it comes to decision-making -- especially major decisions -- hope can often lead you astray. The hope of heaven leads believers to close their minds and miss out on so much of what THIS life has to offer. The hope of winning the lottery leads the vast majority of players to waste their money.

Instead of hope, it's better to have and pursue desire and forget about things you have no influence or control over. Hope is life's booby prize.

Comment by Georgie Kiely on May 9, 2012 at 11:40am

Thank you for responding, Exile!

I agree that the false hope of eternal life held by the believer is detrimental to their ability to fully enjoy this life completely.  Yet, I believe we are in overall agreement regarding the reality of hope for a nonbeliever.  It seems to me that we are just using different terms to describe the same thing.  In my opinion, desire and hope are pretty much the same as both are passive thoughts which accomplish nothing until human effort is put forth to fulfill them.  You can desire to have a better relationship with your spouse, but that desire alone will not create a better relationship.  You must put forth effort and apply critical thinking to your relationship for this desire to be fulfilled.  How is this different from holding the hope that your relationship with your spouse improve?  As with the desire, your hope can only be fulfilled if you put forth effort and brain power toward achieving it.  The rational and dedicated pursuit of our hopes/desires is key to the development of meaning in our lives.  That is why I believe I have the reality of hope in my life even though I have rejected the hope of an eternal life.  

   

Comment by Atheist Exile on May 9, 2012 at 11:44am

Yes, you're right, Georgie,

Hope and desire aren't really much different. The main thing was the passive versus the proactive.

Comment by Georgie Kiely on May 9, 2012 at 11:53am
Cool! Thanks again for replying. I was really nervous about starting this blog. I know with the help of others like you I will be able to improve my critical thinking and gain more knowledge.
Comment by Mabel on May 9, 2012 at 6:50pm

Perhaps, think of it this way (if your father is the kind of believer that believes in a hell); which way would you rather have it?

A) hope in an wonderful after life for you and some others, which will also mean the existence of an eternal hell, for still others

or

B) no such thing as hell or god or heaven?

Personally, I would go with 'B' because I would rather not exist any longer after death, than it being true that creatures will be subjected to suffer forever, without an end.

When I was a believer I could not understand how I was supposed to be joyful about my faith, when a place like hell existed.

I didn't see the point of God creating creatures in the first place, if there was even the slightest possibility that one of them would end up in hell. To me that would be a most unmerciful thing to do.

After all, to end up in hell, all they had to do was not acknowledge the existence of an imagined, invisible, unprovable, irrational being, no matter how virtuous they lived their life. Even if they did not live a virtuous life, I do not accept that eternal suffering is justified.

Comment by Rick Geiger on May 10, 2012 at 10:13am

Georgie,  Great article! You said it all in the sentence: "All of humanity's progress can be attributed to the pursuit of hopes of individuals fulfilled through great effort, creativity, critical thinking, and sacrifice." Elsewhere you use the words "capability," "work," and "effort," further attaching human intention and activity to fulfilled hopes, rather than the passive waiting for someone else or a god to do it as is implied in the Christian use of hope. You are definitely going the right direction.

 

But we all will go much further if we don't use the word hope .Hope is not just a word, it is one of the three theological virtues of hope, faith, and charity. When we use any of these words we are buying into their frame of reference. As you imply, hope is really intention. Maybe we should say intension then and be more accurate to what we mean?  When someone again asks how can we have hope and meaning, maybe we can say we do not hope, we have intention, and that our activities create our growth, which is our purpose and meaning?

 

You are definitely going the healthy direction, and we will all go much further that way if we let go of the words, made into virtues that are not ours, that hold us back. Religions take our potential and give us hope--- it's a bad bargain.  Let go of hope and we take back our potential. We won't fully rid our minds of the mystical until we get their words out of our vocabulary. The supernatural playing field is incommensurate with the naturalistic playing field we are exploring, and its terms, definitions, and rules do not apply here. Now, what should we do with the words faith, charity, selflessness, soul, evil, sin. . . ? 

 

Comment by Georgie Kiely on May 10, 2012 at 9:25pm

@Mabel....I agree with you that eternal hell is unjustified and evil.  The religion I grew up in actually did not believe in an eternal hell, but that a lost person would be burned up and die immediately.  This did not make it any better in my eyes.

@Rick....as always you challenge my thinking to the fullest so I will need more time to answer your great questions.  

Comment by Mabel on May 11, 2012 at 2:04am

The religion I grew up in actually did not believe in an eternal hell, but that a lost person would be burned up and die immediately.  This did not make it any better in my eyes.

@ Georgie - Really? Well in that case, perhaps you could just bring it down to asking your father, why does his god allow children to get cancer when he could have just decided not to endow his creations with such susceptibilities, or not to create such beings in the first place?

If your father replies with something like "Well I know there are plenty of children who have cancer that believe in god and this belief helps them to cope with the cancer better than if they did not have that belief." You could then tell him that infants with cancer would not have the capability of having such a belief or any understanding at all about a promise that one day they will live without pain. See where that goes. Perhaps also you could tell your father that you simply do not see how a loving, all powerful, all knowing entity could allow the degree of pain and suffering that goes on in this world.

I wonder what he would say then?

Comment by Georgie Kiely on May 12, 2012 at 9:36pm

@Mabel...my father is a true believer and understands all the arguments you give against the existence of the christian god.  He simply believes or as he would say it "has faith" that god knows best and has a purpose for all the suffering and evil in this world.  I have learned to just let it go for nothing I or anyone says will shake his belief.

Comment by Georgie Kiely on May 12, 2012 at 10:38pm

@Rick..thanks for the thought-provoking response.  I am going to go back to one of my earlier replies to this post.  I don't see how hope is different from desire.  Both are passive want or wish for something not yet achieved or obtained.  Do we vanish desire from our vocabulary?  I think not.  I understand that hope is a virtue of christianity, but that doesn't mean I or many others use it or hold it as such.  It can simply be as it defined in the dictionary with no theological connection.

Initiative as I see it is an action because it is a decision to act.  Before we can decide to act on anything we must have some idea what we want to act upon.  That idea can be called a hope or desire, but I believe it is different from initiative or any other word implying action.  

Rick I know you have a desire (or hope) to rid our vocabulary from words that don't seem to represent the reality of the human experience.  It is a noble endeavor but I am not sure if it is really necessary.  I realize I haven't given the most thorough and detailed explanation for my doubt, but maybe I will be able to in the future...or maybe you will win me over and I will have no more doubt to explain.  I guess we will see.  Until then I hope you will continue to challenge me with your provocative and original thinking.

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