(and for those of you who recognize the geek reference in the title, you win)
Earlier this week I ended up in a long online discussion with an extended family member about religion. Now if you know me at all, you know that I don’t stray away from tricky topics.
At one point, this person said:
“You will never find true peace, confidence and joy until you see who God really is. It’s a matter of your eyes being opened….right now they are seeing what you want them to see. I will never quit praying for you.“
Now while I know that this was said with (mostly) good intentions, it’s still a sentiment that I really push back against. I push back not because it’s something I’ve never heard before (I’ve heard it countless times) — and it’s not like I’m an extra-fragile person who can’t handle being patronized to. I push back against statements like these because I think people need to recognize when they’ve crossed a relational line.
I wonder if any nonbeliever would feel confident enough to say such a thing to someone who believes in God: “You will never find true peace, confidence, and joy until you stop believing in a magic man in the sky.” While I know there’s always some assholes out there, I doubt you would find many atheists willing to make such a pronouncement — and yet, for many Christians, this sentiment is easily said aloud (or thought to themselves).
While my conversation with this family member ended up with me feeling frustrated and the family member entrenching herself deeper in her belief system, a happy coincidence brought up an old email I wrote to a friend, 4 years ago. I would have posted it in my online conversation, but it was definitely time to walk away.
Here’s what I wrote:
The question you ask [Where do atheists find hope?] is such an important one! If there’s one misunderstanding between believers and nonbelievers, it’s found here. A couple years ago at the funeral of Jerry’s grandma, I can remember how bad I felt when his minster brother made the statement that “those without God have no real hope.” I don’t think that statement is true, at all.
I guess the best place to start would be to define what you mean by “hope.” So much of my past Christian hope revolved around an all-knowing, all-loving God who was actively involved in my life — or at least, so I thought. I also had hope in an afterlife, which is hope for the process of death. Now that I’ve rejected my faith, and am agnostic as to whether or not there is a God, my hope has changed to more of what *this current world* has to offer, rather than invisible hopes.
So I have hope all around me. I see the world changing, in terms of new opportunities for my little girl, and that gives me hope. There are moments when someone unexpected gives me help or says to me words of support, and I have hope there. I get hopeful when I think of how science is advancing, of the technology that makes our world better, of how borders are getting smaller and the world isn’t as segmented as it once was.
What’s different now for me as an atheist, versus when I was a Christian, is that I have to look around me for hope. It requires more of an effort, and not just wishful thinking on my part. And, there are days that can be dark and sad — but another part of having hope in this current world is that I know these bad days pass, and they aren’t due to something I’ve done wrong (necessarily).
So much hope to be had! And without any dogma baggage.