Atheists have hopes. Some of these hopes may relate to lofty goals, such as peace in the Middle East, but most relate to the everyday concerns almost all of us have. Both atheists and believers hope for raises, promotions, flu-free children … and on-time flights.
But there is one major difference between the hopes many religious people have and the hopes the nonreligious have: the nonreligious do not look to God to fulfill their hopes. There is no supernatural being to make sure everything will turn out OK. Nothing is guaranteed.
We can fail. We can be disappointed. We can experience great sadness and loss.
But for the nonreligious, the fact that our hopes may be dashed is not cause for despair. The possibility of failure simply means we must do everything we can to succeed and to overcome misfortune. Passive acceptance is not a virtue. We cannot control what happens, but we can increase the probability of a desirable outcome—and our willingness to work toward our goals provides a foundation for our hopes. Our hopes are based on something more solid than a coin tossed into a wishing well.
Of course, some of our hopes are based not only on our own efforts but also on the efforts of others, in particular those who are using science to improve our lives. To some—especially those awaiting cures for their diseases—progress in science may seem slow and haphazard. But compare scientific and technological advances in just the past century with those in eras when religious thinking was dominant. What exactly were the achievements of the European Middle Ages? The invention of the horse collar? Yes, developments in science take time and science will never solve all our problems, but science does provide a reliable means for a better existence.
Just because we cannot have the best world imaginable, doesn’t mean we cannot have a better world.
Realism about our possibilities, recognition of our responsibilities—these provide our basis for hope.