Say you have a problem, and you want it resolved. You pray to God because you’ve been promised that God will take care of it in a way that’s tailor-made for your particular needs. If you can count on anything, you can count on God, right?
But you rarely get what anyone would call a remarkable resolution to your problem, and that’s where hope comes in. Hope maintains your confidence that sometime, somehow, God will deliver the best possible resolutions for this and all other problems.
The problem is that hope is always second best. You’d like prayer to work like a vending machine—you put in a dollar, and it gives you your snack. It works every time, without surprises. But when God looks like a no-show, hope fills the gap. Despite the evidence, you keep alive the spark that it’ll work out for the best.
Let’s continue our list of reasons why Christian hope is not a good thing (part 1 here).
2. Not seeing reality clearly
Suppose you’re crossing the street, learning to hit a baseball, setting a broken bone, or learning to swim. You’d need to see reality clearly to perform these tasks. How could you want to avoid seeing reality clearly in any other area of life?
If I go to the oncologist, I may want hope, but what I need is the truth—whether I’m healthy, or I have a cancer with a good chance of recovery after treatment, or I have two months to get my affairs in order and say goodbye. A pat on the head from the doctor would make me feel better (at that moment, anyway), but the truth would help me live my life better. In the same way, belief in heaven might make me feel better, but I want the truth. I want a life in harmony with reality.
Hope often blurs with faith. The Children’s Crusade of 1212 was a popular crusade (that is, not one sponsored and encouraged by the church), and it is a good example of faith crashing into reality.
Historians debate what actually happened, but it appears to be some combination of
- charismatic child preachers raising a military force of perhaps 30,000 children,
- the promise that once they got to Italy, the Mediterranean would part to allow them to walk to Palestine,
- the promise that battle would be unnecessary because God would simply convert the Muslims occupiers of the Holy Land to Christianity, and
- most participants either dying on the way from exhaustion or starvation or being sold into slavery and the remnant struggling their way home.
Ignoring reality has consequences.
The downside of hope is also the downside of Pascal’s Wager. This wager says that there’s no downside to being a believer—hedge your bets by acting like a Christian and you can’t lose. There are many problems with this thinking, but let’s just highlight one, the downside to being deceived. Participating in a religion that is nonsense means spending time, money, and energy on that religion instead of focusing on what’s real.We see desperate hope in the alternative medicine field, which is worth $30 billion per year in the U.S. There’s not sufficient evidence to upgrade these alternative medicines into actual medicines, but they do give hope where science offers none. Similarly, religion gives hope when reality offers none, but that hope is also expensive. Religion consumes 115 billion dollars every year in the U.S.
To someone who is content to not see reality clearly, I wonder what argument they could have against being continually drunk or stoned.
One popular apologetic argument (and I still can’t get my head around the idea of an adult making this argument) is that atheism is discouraging or unpleasant, as if that were an argument against atheism. I made this first on the list of my 25 stupid arguments Christians should avoid. I’ve responded several articles that use this argument (here, here, here).
Do these professional Christian apologists think they’re talking to children? I wonder if they’ve read C. S. Lewis, who said, “If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.”
Continue with reasons 3 and 4, complacency and magical thinking
The employment of high-powered human intellect,
of genius, of profoundly rigorous logical deduction—
— Andrew Bernstein
Image via Cicely Miller, CC license