Consider this an extension of my post from yesterday about hopelessness and atheism. I’d like to explore this idea and even be so bold as to suggest that the opposite is in fact true: the hopelessness lies in religion (at least certain interpretations of it).
Let’s start with the familiar claims. I’m sure that we atheists, at one point or another, have heard something similar to this: “If there is no God, there is no purpose, everything is meaningless, and atheism is devoid of hope and joy.” You can find this kind of statement in many places:
- “If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.” (David Link)
- “If God does not exist, then we must ultimately live without hope. If there is no God, then there is ultimately no hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of our finite existence.” (William Craig)
- And this slide from what I can only assume is the most fire and brimstone PowerPoint ever conceived:
Well that’s one way of looking at it, I guess. But is it accurate? No, of course not.
The true hopelessness in this argument is to be found on the religious side. You control nothing. Your actions in this life amount to nothing. You’re incapable of being anything but a wicked sinner. You cannot create solutions to any of your problems, but must rely upon god to solve them for you. With religion, you’re essentially an invalid subject to a path that God has created for you without a say in anything. That seems pretty hopeless to me.
Now contrast that with the atheist position. There is a solution to every problem (science) and YOU are capable of creating it. There are random events that occur in the universe, but YOU are capable of reacting to them. You’re in control of your life, of what happens to you. With atheism you have unlimited potential. Atheism acknowledges and highlights the good in human beings: our ability to reason, to imagine, to be curious, to explore, to cherish our limited time and by logical extension to make the most and best of it. To be an atheist is to be filled with hope: hope that we can clear any obstacle, that we have the power to make a difference, that we can be better than we are.
With religion, you’re always a wretch in need of saving. Where is the hope in that?
The hope is essentially, as the quotes from Link and Craig allude to, justice. Craig talks about “the shortcomings of finite existence” being made up for in the eternal afterlife, and Link talks about “sufferings [being] ultimately pointless” and dignity, among other things. It gets back to the age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
To hear some Christians talk, one answer to that is that there is no such thing as a good person. We were all created in sin, and therefore we’re all bad. So then wouldn’t it make sense that bad things happen to “good” people, or rather people who are trying to be good? Suffering and shortcoming are just the lot of your very existence in that case, so why lament it?
It’s the idea that everything has to be made up for, that everything has to be fair in the end. That we’re subjected to suffering and torture as a punishment, and it is to be endured in order to be rewarded later on. God is often portrayed in a paternal context, “God the heavenly father,” or “the father, son, and holy spirit.” Just imagine for a moment if a human parent behaved as God does.
Imagine if a child committed some transgression because it didn’t know any better, and so that parent inflicted some kind of suffering on that child–let’s say starved them–in order to instill character and values. And once that character and those values were instilled, they’d be free to go and eat whatever they want. That parent would be locked up faster than you can say “Adam and Eve” and the key immediately thrown away. We humans don’t tolerate such behavior toward our own children–yet we tolerate it in a supreme being that created morality, apparently.
Because that’s essentially what God’s done, isn’t it? God, the father, creates mankind in Adam and Eve. He creates them innocent and naive of evil and wrong, and then punishes them for committing a transgression that requires knowing what wrong and evil are in order to avoid committing it. And then going a step further, God decides to commit infanticide by killing everyone on the planet (except Noah and his family)–all because he’s a creator with strong morals. Or so it’s claimed. Christians love to talk about how without God there is no morality. Seems to me that God loves to straight up murder people if they don’t please him, which doesn’t exactly seem moral.
It’s the ultimate abusive relationship. God does something heinous and hideous to essentially helpless human beings, and then says, “Oh, come on baby, you know it ain’t like that. Come back and I promise I’ll make it up you and it’ll never happen again.” Such an abusive relationship seems utterly devoid of hope to me.