A broad subject for a single website post but an important one. Religion provides hope in many powerful ways and not many can see getting that kind of inspiration from nonreligious beliefs. However, nonreligious beliefs do have the ability to make life meaningful in equally powerful ways. By knowing what hope is we can look at how nonreligious beliefs can provide it.
By the strictest definition hope is:
Hope: hoped; hoping. intransitive verb.1 :to cherish a desire with anticipation :to want something to happen or be true. Hopes for a promotion. Hoping for the best. I hope so. (Merriam-Webster)
This blog will be using the definition provided by Hope Theory: ‘Hope consists of agency and pathways. The person who has hope has the will and determination that goals will be achieved, and a set of different strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.’ (source). Psychologists describe hope as more than emotion, it’s a cognitive motivational system. In hope theory emotions come before thoughts. Once hope is accomplished we are better able to set and strive for goals that lead to growth and development. Without hope people set mastery goals:
People with mastery goals choose easy tasks that don’t offer a challenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. People with mastery goals act helpless, and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. They have no hope. (Kaufman)
The theory says ‘the person who has hope‘ so what if you have very little or none at all? Maybe you don’t know how to achieve it without some kind of religious belief: How do you achieve hope without religion? There are 5 primary ways:
- Personal Responsibility: Taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives. This crucially involves living according to our values. Personal responsibility has two main facets:
- Process: Our choices, our actions and consequences. We don’t always control every part of the process but it is always possible to try to take responsibility for as much of the process as we can. Even as little as responsibly handling our emotional reaction to a situation we can’t control can be a very empowering feeling.
- Reward: When we take responsibility of our lives we boost our own self-respect and gain the respect of others. We also gain a rewarding sense of power over ourselves and our situation.
- Human Potential: The melioristic belief that the world can be improved through human effort. Not necessarily a belief in humanity or human nature but in the potential for human greatness.
- Courage: Facing fear and uncertainty with courage.
- Acceptance: An acknowledgement that sometimes life is not so great, especially for some. Important to make a distinction between acceptance and apathy. Acceptance helps us detach negative emotion from things beyond our control.
All of these can be greatly expanded and will be explored more thoroughly on the hope page. It’s also not a cut and dry issue. Human psychology is tangled web of thoughts, emotions and memory. However, hope can be defined by and achieved in equally powerful ways without religion. Hope is also intimately tied to meaning, something that gives our lives value. We define meaning in the following way:
Meaning: Something outside of ourselves that fulfills the existential void. An external force that gives our lives value.
Frankl rightly asked: When all else is lost, what do we have? Meaning can be provided in nearly countless ways from hobbies to sports, family, friends, career and so on. Meaning can also come from the nonphysical things such as love and compassion.
Some people look at the need for meaning as a weakness but the reality is that hope and meaning are an important part of of getting through life and we hope to show how it is possible to have it without Gods or religion. We don’t need to rely on external forces we can’t understand or prove exists, instead we believe in ourselves and each other . Once a person experiences how powerful this is they may ask themselves why they ever had religion to begin with.