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Is giving hope a good thing?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 14, 2009

One of the arguments that believers use to support their faith is that their religion gives hope. What hope, they ask, does atheism give people? This question carries a major unstated premise, which is the idea that giving hope is good, admirable, and of course the other unstated premise that if it is good it must be true. Nevertheless, I will concentrate on the first  unstated premise here.

Religion does give hope to people, I don’t think that can be denied. It comes with lots of other baggage to be sure, but hope is one thing many religious people derive, and this is used as an argument by some religious people in an effort to either prove that there is a God, or to show that faith is superior to atheism.

Nevertheless, there is one major issue that the religious people overlook when advancing the Hope Argument, and that is the distinction between False Hope and Real Hope. Say for example that your father is going in surgery and the doctor tells you that there are great chances for a successful operation and that everything will be ok. The doctor is giving you hope. However, we must ask ourselves, is it true? What if the doctor is solely saying that to make you feel better? What if the odds of your father coming out alive are only at about 20%? Would you think that what the doctor is doing is to be considered good? No, providing false hope cannot be considered good.

Are there situations in which you must lie and provide false hope and it would be justifiable? Yes, of course. If a person is in his/her dying moments I grant that we are allowed to say whatever would make them feel better in those last moments, provide whatever hope we possibly can. I am sure readers can come up with other similar cases, but those scenarios are the exceptions to the rule, and they are done with the understanding that we are misleading the other person.

In order to make the Hope Argument, one must be able to show that the hope they are providing is true and not false, that the hope of the eternal afterlife and the rewards of heaven are true, and not figments of one’s imagination. And just how can a religious person even start about doing that? How can they assert that the story they are using is not a myth? That they are not propagating a lie? That they are not providing people with false hope? Even more importantly how can they deny the Hope Argument to the other religions, which they must, lest they are willing to accept the other religions also to be valid, because they too offer hope!

So, what hope does atheism provide people with? It doesn’t have to. Something does not have to provide hope in order to be true. In fact, anytime you as a non-believer are asked the Hope Questio you should turn it around on the believers and ask them, how do they know that they are not providing false hope?  Do they even care?

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