"If I told you that I thought there was a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in my backyard, and you asked me, why do you think that? I say, this belief gives my life meaning, or my family draws a lot of joy from this belief, and we dig for this diamond every Sunday and we have this gigantic pit in our lawn. I would start to sound like a lunatic to you. You can't believe there really is a diamond in your backyard because it gives your life meaning. If that's possible, that's self-deception that nobody wants." ~ Sam Harris
I recently did a post
about how even though faith is often defended by Christians claiming that it gives people hope, that faith is actually a very poor outlet for hope. Afterward, Ben from War on Error
asked me to make a positive case for how hope is better found in reason. Ok. :D (PS - Ben and I are going to do a dual video blog tomorrow on whether or not we should respect beliefs)
Personally, I think this sentiment can be explained in two sentences: It does not matter how good a belief makes us feel, it will not unmake the realities we are trying to escape. However, if we have the courage to be honest about unpleasant things, we can make reality more comforting. However, I'm sure that people will want more elaboration, so here we go.
There is an enormous difference between false hope
, hope that doesn't rely on an accurate assessment of reality (in fact, it exists only by closing our eyes and ignoring reality), and actual hope that if the facts of the universe are not what we want them to be, we can change them. Through the last several thousand years, we have hoped for cures to diseases, technology to take us to the moon, plentiful food, clean water, etc, and through looking at these problems bravely, without trying to shield ourselves from the unpleasant fact that we lacked those things, we were able to turn our hopes into realities. However, first we had to admit that we did not have the things we wanted, and we had to take a long, dispassionate look at our problems.
When we hoped to reach the moon, we did not know how we were going to get there, but we didn't just close our eyes and imagine we had already made it and call it a day: we worked, we thought, and we actually made it happen. But in order to make it happen, we absolutely had to open our eyes and understand the circumstances before us, whether they were comforting or not, as they truly were. Faith merely allows people to ignore the very variables of reality we must acknowledge in order to fix them. It is the panicked shriek of a coward that they cannot bear to look at what frightens them, they cannot bear to face it, and so they just imagine that it's not that way. Such people are never held in high regard elsewhere, but yet we consider such behavior to be noble when applied to the finite nature our very life.
Believing that death is not the end of our ability to experience things will not make it so. But by acknowledging that fact, we can begin to make as much our of our time as we can, rather than sitting around and waiting for the paradise we've dreamed up. We can even join other doctors in dedicating our lives to finding ways to prolong our time on Earth. In short, we can begin to make the universe the way we want it to be, and we can seek the best possible solution as a reality - not merely imagine we've already found it.
In this way, faith - the mere belief in things when reasons fail - is the purest conceivable distillation of false hope. Because it hinges on not acknowledging reality for what it truly is, it is actually antithetical to genuine hope.
So the next time a Christian tries to paint you as a bad person for taking away their hope, remember that false hope can only be benign at best, and can often make your actual circumstances worse. Also, remember that genuine hope is not merely a sentiment of an individual; we have collective hopes as families, as societies, and most importantly, as a species - and false hope is merely going to drive us into ground, which is not at all worth the trade off of flimsy comfort we get by ignoring reality. True hope only comes from having the courage to be honest about unhappy facts and circumstances - it is the only way we can truly conquer them
. Ultimately, we can close our eyes and pretend the train isn't there, or we can admit we're in deep shit and at least try to jump out of the way.
Hope doesn't come easily - you have to have some moxy. Faith offers us false hope that is easy; it's for the lazy and the cowards. You're upset that I'm pointing out that you have false hope but that there's actual hope available? Ok. I can live with that. Maybe it will toughen your skin so that you can survive the brush with reality that genuine hope requires.