I am going to lay all my cards on the table. I am a naturalist, which is to say that everything I have experienced and learned about suggests to me that the world is more or less as we perceive it, subject to our physical limitations. There doesn’t appear to be a supernatural realm, filled with gods and demons, or fairies and elves. The world seems to operate by cause and effect, and things like magic, prayer, and spiritual healing are only effective to the extent that they affect us psychologically. Is it possible I am wrong? Of course, and when evidence is presented to convince me of that, I will happily change my worldview. Any good evidence. I’m waiting.
That said, I am not opposed to religion or other creative endeavors. That should be apparent by the existence of this site. Religion can be a beneficial system within society. The fact that it is so often misused, with dreadful results, demonstrates its potential power. What I want us to do is pick out those parts of religious practices that lead to problems, identify those things as evil and combat them. In order to focus on the good that religion is capable of, we must specify what it is that makes it breed bad behavior.
1 Corinthians 13:13 states, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” I agree that the greatest is charity (love). In fact, I think that, of the three, love is is the only one worth pursuing. Since I have discussed faith before, I would like to focus on hope.
Hope is the refuge of desperate people. Hope is believing that events will turn out better than available evidence indicates they will. Hope takes positive thinking into the territory of delusion. Just as faith is the expression of denying ignorance, hope is the expression of denying fear. “I do not know what the future holds, yet I do not fear it because my god has given me hope, therefore I know what the future holds.”
On the Contrary
To put it in religious terms, I claim that we do not have hope of being forgiven for our sins and regaining Paradise, because we are not sinners, fallen from grace, living in a broken world. The world is not broken, nor are we. There is no evidence that there ever was a paradise from which we were expelled. We are not fallen angel-like beings who were made in the image of an invisible, spiritual King. We are smart apes who have managed to improve our own living conditions quite a bit. Our history (and prehistory) shows a lot of progress in spite of setbacks.
We need to start behaving like smart animals who are learning how to make our world better, instead of hoping for someone else to help us. If we can manage to rid ourselves of the mistaken ideas that lead us to kill each other and trash our environment, we will have a much better chance to survive and create a beautiful future. Those mistaken ideas are based on faith and hope. That is what we need to overcome.
We can create better outcomes based on rational input, and that excites me. I don’t have any particular hope (or fear) of how this project is going to go. I expect the result to surprise me. It may be disappointing. It could be frightening. In any case, we must find ways to further evolve our rational faculties if we are to survive this stage of our development.