Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do Atheists have hope...?

1 Thessalonians 4:13, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep,that ye sorrow not, even as others that have no hope."

This is a verse in the Bible that, taken in its context, begins one of St. Paul's discourse on the subject commonly known in religious circles as "the Rapture". For those that might be unfamiliar with the terminology, "the rapture" is basically a Christian belief that at the end of times their Jesus Christ is going to return and take those that follow their system of belief to heaven. In the whole context of their end of days teachings, this "rapture" occurs chronologically just before a seven year period of absolute devastation and destruction to the rest of the world, those left behind because they did not believe in their system of belief. Because their idea of a "God" is not just happy with sending people that did not believe in things his way to hell, he must first make sure they are miserable and begging for death on earth, before he introduces them to the wonders of eternal damnation.

Now in this "rapture" the dead are supposed to rise and families and loved ones will be reunited (but NOT in a weird zombie way) and they will all be taken to heaven to celebrate making the right choice and watch as all of earth suffers for seven years until they come back at the end of the seven years and WATCH mind you, not help, but rather WATCH Jesus destroy the world in Armageddon where the blood is supposed to flow as high as the horses' bridles (which interestingly enough they will be riding horses instead of..oh...tanks maybe.)

Now the point of all of this being mentioned in this blog is to get to the last sentence in the verse I mentioned above. (Because obviously I would not be quoting scripture for no apparent reason!) When I was in the ministry I often referred to this verse when speaking to people of no faith, atheists, people like the me I have become since those days. In those sermons I would state that unlike atheists, Christians have hope. In the long process that led me from faith to atheism, this was one of those things that haunted me. Would I lose hope because I lost faith? This is a valid question. Do atheists have hope? Is it possible to have that feeling of hope without resorting to blind faith in mythical beings?

The short answer is yes. While a lot of people might find facts to be troublesome and dry that does not mean that there is a certain familiarity and stability in facts. I think that it is important to first acknowledge that there is a difference between romanticism and hope. While undeniably there are elements of each in the other they are still two separate things. Romanticism by definition is a celebration of nature over civilization and emotion and imagination over reason. Hope on the other hand is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. To hope is to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.

I have and still do feel both of these. Allow me to demonstrate. I am in a relationship that I am completely happy in. The romantic in me looks at the obstacles in our world and in our life an believes that we can survive these things and makes something that will really last "till death do us part". Hope on the other hand looks at what she and I have both been through, the changes and trials we have gone through and believe that we both have matured, we both have learned much and we both are willing to learn more and because of that I look forward to with a reasonable amount of confidence to a long and lasting relationship with her.

The Christian holiday, Easter, in which they celebrate the myth of the death and resurrection of Jesus comes around every year and is, in essence, the ultimate "confirmation" of their hope. If Jesus could rise from the dead then he is capable of raising others from the dead. As I considered this concept of hope I was reminded of how many times I said that atheists don't have hope.

But here is the thing about hope. I have hope but that hope is bolstered by facts. I do not waste time pining over things I have no control and I can never change. My hope, as an atheist, is bolstered by actions, rather than wishful thinking and blind faith. Not too long ago a country music song came out and as always the guy is losing the girl because he sucks at being a man and being the man she wishes he was and the song is all about him asking God to change him into the man she wants him to be. There was absolutely nothing about him making changes in his own life, nothing about the efforts he will make to be different instead he wants God to miraculously change him. This is not hope, this is foolishness. I have been a diabetic for approximately ten years and no amount of prayer changed my being an uncontrolled diabetic. My making the determination to take positive changes in the last few months because I want to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle and if I wanted that to happen then I have to make the necessary changes. Jehovah's Witnesses hold to the belief that blood transplants and other medical procedures show a lack of faith in God and therefore are against their religious beliefs. This is not hope, this is not faith, this is foolishness.
If there were a god, and if I were that God, I would consider it insulting and presumptuous that a creature, presumably so beneath me as God, would think that I am at their beck and call. I would be aggravated at the arrogance that thinks I am their errand boy and their whipping boy. I would be incensed that self righteous people would consider themselves my chosen and would, as such, think themselves entitled to my protection merely because they have formed rules on their own, assuming that I, of course would sanction them and that this entitlement precludes any effort or common sense on their part. If God truly existed, and if I were that God, then I would not want to be associated with a fair majority of those people that claim to be.
Do I, as an atheist, have hope? Absolutely! I have high hopes for my children. I have hopes that the efforts I am making to better my life will also make theirs better. I have hopes for my relationship with Mandy, I have high hopes that if I am faithful, that if I am honest and that if I am careful to pay attention to the little things that our relationship will last. I have hope that if I take my medicine and watch my diet I will long, a long enough life to see my children living a successful life and to meet my grandkids. I have hope, founded on statistics, founded on facts and founded on the efforts that I am dedicated and determined to follow through with. My hope is not based on a God that may or may not exist, on a book that may or may not be verifiable truth and the will of said plausible God to decide if he wants to or does not want to grant me my requests. My hopes are based on what I can do and what I can control rather than on what I cannot prove. that may not be as "romantic" or as "dramatic" or as 'spiritual" as others may like...but hey..it works for me...

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