Despair and Hope

When I was a Catholic, I viewed atheism as the pinnacle of despair. Atheists have no hope for an afterlife; consciousness ends with bodily death. Atheists have no hope for ultimate justice; good deeds often go unrewarded and evil deeds often go unpunished. Atheists have no hope for final vindication of their beliefs; if they are indeed correct, the vast majority of the world will never know that their religious beliefs were mistaken. Atheism, from the outside, thus appears to be desolate of hope. It was partially this bleak appearance which kept me from investigating my doubts about religion for seven years after they first arose in my mind.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer view atheism as gloomy and dreary. While I willingly admit that each individual claim above about hope is completely valid, I feel no despair and no sadness. I simply realize that I can only accept that, with atheism, all things come to an end. I would like to examine the two sides of that coin.

First, all bad things come to an end. No one suffers eternally and everyone will eventually be released from even the most protracted and intense agony. Many theists, by contrast, grapple with the idea that their closest family and friends may be tormented or may already be tormented eternally in hell and of course also grapple with the possibility that they themselves may be tormented with absolutely zero chance of ever escaping even for the briefest moment. Fear of being endlessly tortured filled my own life with considerable sorrow for several years; simple annihilation of my personality upon death is quite pleasant and even poetic in comparison.

Second, all good things come to an end. This is the difficult aspect and there really is little I can say to make it any easier. We would all like to live in paradise, to see our loved ones again, to learn every mystery, to enjoy every delight, to celebrate love and friendship with every person without any anger, fear or jealousy. Unfortunately, wishing cannot make it so. Some atheists find it useful, however, to realize that they continue to live, in a sense, through the people they have affected, especially their children and grandchildren, and then through the people they affect and so on. Some also believe that they would grow bored in an eternal paradise, and that it is not so tragic that our lives end after only several decades. I cannot say that death is not tragic, only that the associated pain is not necessarily unbearable without religion.

Atheism to me now represents maturity and honesty in the face of reality. Atheists must accept the cold truth that there is no one to make everything all better in the end, no one to give our lives purpose and meaning, and no one to tell us what to do or what to think. We must take ultimate responsibility for our lives and for ourselves. While it's comforting to believe the promises of religion, without evidence to support them, we must discard them as childhood fantasies and embrace our future as mature adults.


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