11 September 2008


Is your life really so pathetic that you have no hope for anything other than Heaven? Does your life -- the actual life that you're living right now -- have so little joy and meaning that you can't imagine any hope without the promise that, when it's finally all over, you'll get to have another, better, permanent life at the end of it?

~Greta Christina

Few things destroy the meaning in this life more quickly than the assumption that it is nothing more than a 'primer' or a 'proving ground' for the next. That's not always why people 'hope' for an afterlife (see Comforting Fictions), but it's quite possibly the worst reason to do so. It means you've given up on this life. Now that is what I'd call 'hopeless,' in the sense that Greta Christina is using the term.

I like the overall sentiment of the post, though below the fold you’ll find out that I’m not a big fan of the idea of ‘hope’. Perhaps I understand it as the Greeks did. Greta has a more, well, hopeful approach to it. One more quote from her below the fold:

Atheism doesn't just offer the regular sort of everyday hope, the hope for achievement and health and happiness and a better world. Atheism offers, as Cindy's friend put it, the hope that we have the power within us to make things better. Not the hope that we might be able to convince some moody, capricious, punitive, easily- ticked- off God to make things better for us if we walk on the eggshells just right. It offers the hope that no such God exists... and therefore we don't have to worry about what he thinks or what he's going to do. And that we therefore don't have to listen to religious leaders and teachers who tell us at every step that we're bad people, that we're powerless to make ourselves better, that all the power we think we have actually belongs to someone else.

My least favorite thing about most religions is that they strip people of their gods-given power and dignity. If reclaiming that constitutes ‘hope,’ then in that sense hope is a positive thing. The problem is that, generally, hope more often leads to futility and inaction than it does to empowerment. That is, when we describe something as a ‘hope,’ we most often mean that it is out of our reach, out of our power to do anything about. There’s nothing we ourselves can do about it. But because we’re attached to this ‘hope,’ we can’t let go and allow events to take their course.

There is a freedom in the understanding that events are going to unfold, whether we like them or not. There is a power in knowing that we can choose to take action, to attempt to affect those events. What does hope add to that except frustration if our attempt fails? Worse, the hope may continue past its sell-by date, long past the time when there was any realistic chance of its fulfillment. Then it truly becomes poison.

On a lighter note, PZ objects to people being overly pedantic. Do I need to mention that I reacted to the question at hand in what he would consider an overly pedantic fashion? Nah, that’s probably obvious from the rest of this post. `/^ Actually, my initial reaction to the question was to wonder what idiot had phrased it that way.

Oh, what was the question? “Do you believe in the Big Bang?” Er, dimension mismatch error much?

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