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As an ex-Adventist, though I’ve mentioned elsewhere my position on use of the self-descriptor ‘atheist,’ it’s sometimes necessary for a number of reasons to use it, though that use is reluctant — it is used as an epithet by theists, and a form of often defiant self-branding by atheists themselves.
More power to the latter, I say.
I prefer to go by the less baggage-laden ‘nontheist,’ and there are problems with even that, since the semantic neutrality of verbal language is often extremely difficult to obtain in practice due to the multiple, even contradicting evaluative meanings and usages we give to words in different places and times.
So at times, atheist it is, as meaningless though it sometimes seems.
Theists I’ve read and talked to offer as one reason out of many, and no doubt it is a powerful one, that they believe because it gives them hope…
…but hope for what?
It’s apparent that much of the hope offered by some traditions, including but not limited to hope for a better world, a better life (often beyond this one), or a better future is often limited, depending on the tradition, to hope for those who are, according to the tradition’s doctrines, among the ‘Saved’ or ‘the Elect,’ even if that hope of salvation may only be realized through harm to or intolerance of others different in some way from them.
Many traditions (and in Christianity alone there currently exists more than 30,000 denominations worldwide, some of which will passionately dispute that the others are actually Christians) claim that salvation may be reached only through them.
Believers have different approaches to salvation, in some, it is a way to gain perfection in the next life, and in others, more perniciously, it is obtained by being perfect in this one.
Both are based on questionable assumptions, but I’m going to focus on the latter here.
My thinking is that much of this hope is the hope to avoid the often greatly feared consequences of not being among the Chosen, often, though not always, those of not having membership in the faith, which typically only a potentially willing convert or long-time believer will actually think worthy of serious consideration.
After all, no Muslim I’ve read or spoken to fears going to the Roman Catholic hell, nor do any Catholics I know dread going to the Adventist hell, and vice versa for both.
And so, as a nonbeliever in nearly every concept of God out there — including, shockingly enough, Cthulhu and Azathoth — I don’t, for instance, fear transmigration to the Center of the Universe™ upon death to be eaten by the mindless Other Gods of Lovecraft.
Religion’s principle lack of appeal to me is its anti-humanism — In my own youthful religious affiliation, there was much emphasis on being flawless in this world so as to gain access to all the good things of the next — a view that painted humanity as inherently unworthy, sinful, and fatally defective because a remote ancestor of the fair sex ate a piece of fruit no more than 10,000 years ago, a species whose members were thus tragically doomed to burn in the hereafter unless they were (of course…) Adventists in good standing.
And that means a lot of guilt over some very human and unavoidable traits, and shame when these imperfections are seen and noted, with much disapproval, by other Adventists…
…A lot of guilt and shame over those very things that make us what we are, both vices and virtues, but especially the former.
Needless to say, the quest for perfection, especially in an inherently imperfect world as seems the case, is something that’s doomed to failure from the start.
Seeking absolute perfection in anything is both irrational and a self-destructive enterprise.
As a nonbeliever and a skeptic, I keep hope, one based on my understanding of the likely prospects for, the limits, and the strengths of my species, a powerful species whose flawed but brilliant and highly successful nature I without guilt embrace, with meaning and purpose that is not dependent on arbitrary imposition from somewhere on high.
If offered a choice between awe and reverence for the parochial and shallow wonders offered by supernatural dogmas and revelations demanding faith, or that for the real and profound wonders uncovered by the sciences which make no such demands…
…then I unequivocally and unhesitatingly, while keeping a questing mind, choose the latter.