Hope, False Hope, and Belief
Vjack of the Atheist Revolution blog and twitter just reposted an article from 2015 about hope and false hope. In this article, he discusses that the practicality of things that may be false — such as the practicality of the hope that religiosity can bring to someone who believes that hope to be false. As a snippet:
…is false hope necessarily bad because it is false?
For those of us who want to believe true things and not false ones, the answer may seem obvious. At the same time, I think that one could argue that the sort of comfort, sense of peace, reassurance, or whatever else you want to label it that hope provides might be more important to some people in some circumstances than whether the hope is based in reality. Could false hope provide one with the sort of benefits that might make it worthwhile?
…consider the example of a young Christian father with a critically ill child who is able to sustain the effort required to get out of bed each day and take his child to the many necessary medical appointments based, at least in part, on his faith. On one hand, this is the very definition of false hope. This man has misplaced his faith in something that doesn’t exist. On the other hand, is it so difficult to imagine how this sort of false hope might make a crucial difference for him? I realize it probably wouldn’t cut it for you or I, but can we reasonably insist that it couldn’t be worthwhile for him? Perhaps his false hope motivates his positive actions, persistence, effort like our college student’s legitimate hope. Perhaps his false hope also provides comfort and reassurance in the hard times in much the same way her real hope did.
I am a fan of pragmatism, so my inclination is to say that the practical effects of hope are more important than whether that hope is based in something real or not. The subjective experience and motivation of hope is what is crucial, in other words.
But, one thing that vjack didn’t discuss that I wish he had was the following question: what if someone cannot force themselves to believe in that hope?
It seems to me that for the young Christian father’s faith and hope to work, he has to himself believe in it. When vjack says that “it probably wouldn’t cut it for you or I,” then I think that part of the reason it doesn’t work is because we don’t believe the same sorts of things that the Christian father does.
My religious past features anxiety and despair — but it’s not really the anxiety or despair of feeling not good enough (although Mormonism does often end up doing that — so I can appreciate the difference between more grace-centric denominations). Rather, it’s the anxiety and despair of being part of a religion that said that I should be able to just choose to believe, and yet, I never could. It was the anxiety and despair of people telling me what they thought the eternities were like, but I just didn’t think it was likely at all, and I struggled with the message — sometimes implicit, and sometimes explicit — that my experience was impossible.
I have heard many people talk about faith as trust, and the evidence of that trust is in actions. In other words, one has “faith” in a bridge’s security and safe construction if one is willing to walk on it.
You can definitely have faith in a bad bridge — if you walk across it and it crumbles.
But what if you doubt the bridge — and so, you just can’t bring yourself to walk across?
You may like what’s on the other side of the bridge. You may like the idea of the bridge and what it enables you to do. But if you can’t personally trust the bridge, then hope really turns to something else.
Maybe it’s true that you can always just walk across the bridge and feel terrified of every moment. But I still don’t see the value of living life in terror when you don’t have to.
I know a lot of people who say they feel liberated by their religious experiences — perhaps it was in recognizing the grace of God and recognizing that God loves them exactly as they are. Maybe without that grace, they had a problem accepting themselves.
But I don’t personally recognize my story as this. For me, I felt liberated by not trying to force the religious narrative any more. In not making it a priority to try to believe. In seeing what would happen if I just did things my own way. I didn’t really have a problem with accepting myself that was resolved by trusting in God. I more had a problem with accepting the vision of myself that people tried to tell me was God’s vision, but that I just couldn’t accept.
Maybe one day that will change. Maybe one day I’ll get the hope — false or not — that religious folks get. But I’m not really worrying too much or racking myself up for not having it — I am more looking at it like a curiosity of how diverse we all can be.