Desecration of Hope

I’ve never been much of a believer. My relatively liberal Christian parents did attempt to walk me on the path of God, but they have never force-fed me religious dogma. My beliefs, interests, what-have-yous have been my own –i.e. not coerced into bearing– since I turned sixteen, all thanks to an understanding pair of mother and father. They had also supported my early interest in science; answering questions or providing materials for inquiries the likes of “how did the world come to be,” “how did we get here,” and so on. Though beginning with the innocent and odd question of “why are bubbles round?” my sense of curiosity have led me to doubt the existence of God, and then throw all possibilities of His presence out the window. 

I now stand as an Atheist. The views I have I keep private for two simple reasons. One, in Indonesia, yelling “Allah is a LIE!” on the streets is a surefire way to have your head caved in. Two, there are many believers around me, who I care about, and those who I’d rather have never existed at all. Perhaps the two spheres into which I divide the religious are a tad too extreme; what I mean is that there are individuals whose rights to adopt whatever faith they so choose do no harm unto others, which are the ones I care for, and then live the few who’d behead others for sexing things up before the couple bought a matching pair of rings. My first reasoning is out of the necessity for survival and general well-being, though the second might demand further elaborations.

As I have said, my parents are Christians. They don’t go to church all that often, –usually only on Christmases, Easters, and the rest of the holidays– but they do believe in Yahweh and the nicer things He preached. These two people have obviously been a large influence on my life, and have assured my survival up to this point. The two of them have led quite unorthodox lives, and have suffered losses that would lead other men into doubting the so-called love God has for His children (out of respect for their privacies, I shall not write of these events). And they have had doubts, yet continue to believe. I cannot say for certain what that reason might be, but I can offer a hypothesis: The promise of an afterlife.

Heaven is a much better alternative to outright non-existence. It is the promise of a continuation to our story, with the added benefit of it no longer having risks to our own well-being. Life without fear, regrets, pain, suffering, exists in the imaginary plains of Heaven. Hell, or equivalents of it, exists in all sorts of beliefs, promising an eternity of nothing but misery to the sinners and wrongdoers. Though a never-ending life sentence of torture is a possibility to the religious, I’ve never met anyone who sincerely thought the house of fire and brimstone is where they would ultimately end up in. The less familiar afterlife of reincarnation provides some comfort to our fear of death as well. You may not be who you are, or even still be a human being for that matter, but oblivion is not where you will be. 

I understand that people value their lives. I might not appreciate mine as much as I should, yet I do abhor plummeting myself into an abyss of nothingness. It is likely that no one can conceive of such a state as nothing, for imagination is a conscious process which requires life to happen. But even the idea of it, of blinking right out of the everyday joys and sorrows of our lives is unsettling enough to give way for horror stories. The avoidance of death is an instinct that exists throughout all forms of life on Earth, and without it we would not know the meaning of ‘danger.’ The idea of an afterlife provides comfort for a species that can grasp the meaning of death, and it persists to this day for perhaps that very reason. 

However, wanting to live for all eternity might sound too pretentious to instill compassion for the Theists. Wishing to live forever does sound a bit egotistical, and shows no form of altruism for others at all. Why should creatures who care naught for the good of others and only for themselves be loved? If the assertion of this question is true, then I would have no answer at all. Truth is, this dimension of self-preservation is just one part of an afterlife’s appeal. 

Think back and remember all the men and women you’ve met. Some of them may have turned into casual acquaintances, others friends, a few into romantic partners, and from them there would be those who’d call you “mom” or “dad.” At any point in time, each of these individuals will leave you, or you’ll be the one doing the leaving. Either way, there is a certainty that your time with the ones you cherish will end. And there is nothing you can do to determine when their presence would be snuffed out from your life. When we devote the time to contemplate on the temporariness of it all, especially when we have suffered loss in our lives, maybe we’d like to have a second chance. One moment of mercy where we could meet them again, to relieve ourselves from longing, or to right past wrongs. 

The death of a loved one is never easy. However long we’ve known the person, however many beautiful memories he has given us, they are never enough. We’d give and do anything and everything for just one glimpse of his living, breathing face, to hear a single utterance of “I’m okay, and I’m having the time of my life.” Although I reject almost all of the teachings of God, if there is one thing I wish could be true, it is Heaven; a plane of existence where those who I can no longer hug, kiss, talk to, are alive and well –and, if they would be so kind, be willing to impart a few words of forgiveness. 

Part of abandoning faith is realizing that there is no afterlife. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, merely darkness. I personally imagine death would feel like the dreamless sleep we never wake up from. I have no idea whether this assertion is true or false, but it serves as a comforter for facing this realistically cynical view of losing every single thing I have. Even then, there is still no hope of seeing my long gone loved ones, and that is a thought that has driven me to depression and a failed suicide attempt. The atheistic view can sometimes be unbearable. The figurehead of Atheism in the Western world, Richard Dawkins, have said that atheists value life more due to acknowledging their mortality. While that is certainly true, an existence without any hope of ever meeting the ones who were taken far too quickly from us may not be for everyone.

When we preach of the nonexistence of God, we are essentially attempting to rob the religious of hope. We Atheists see the world from a secular pair of eyes, and are still able to grasp the beauties that abound around us, but should they? Should he who has been indoctrinated into believing promises of eternal love and warmth suddenly be forced into accepting that all he’s heard are parts of an elaborate lie? That the rules and instructions he’s obeyed and followed have been for nothing? That his mother, father, wife, and children will not be waiting on him in the other side? In some cases the answer might be yes, though –if we are as noble and compassionate as we perceive ourselves to be– clearly not in all circumstances.

I am not trying to defend all bearers of faith. The extremist groups of Al-Qaeda, the Westboro Baptist Church, and other scums of the earth must be extinguished in one way or another. Those I am defending are the ones whose faiths do no harm, who believe for their own sake, and do not feel the need to force the people around them to support their views. These people are guilty of nothing except hope. Why should we mock them in the same way we spit on murderers, hate mongers, and rapists? 

Collateral damage is a part of all forms of warfare. And in this war against ideological extremists, innocents are caught in the crossfire more often than necessary. An intolerant atheist –like many on Reddit’s /r/atheism section– may ridicule the faiths of people who go to Churches or Mosques through jokes, without paying the slightest attention on who might be exposed to these potentially hurtful slanders. If we atheists tolerate the aggressiveness of certain members of our coven, who feel the need to ‘enlighten’ all he sees, a splinter group of extremist atheists might just pop up (though this has never happened in history, there has never been a high level of tolerance for atheism as there is today, stimulating an increase in numbers and the possibility of collaboration). 

Atheists have seen how innocent little ideas and minor preachings turn to fuels for warfare and bigotry. Should we not be more careful in the spreading of our ideas? Or peacefully continue down this path of pretentiousness and intolerance? I suggest we take a look back, see in detail the consequences of our actions. Yes, we have done a great number of good things in promoting education, scientific literacy, and more tolerant eyes among the more open-minded religious persons. Unfortunately, we have promoted intolerance within our own group, one which could lead to catastrophes we cannot yet foresee. Skepticism has always been part of our repertoire, and before we fall into holes we can never crawl out from, I advise us to use it on ourselves. 

Taking the Reins

Lately, in Indonesian universities, leadership seminars and workshops have been on the rise. Government officials, company CEOs, and other high-ranking individuals have spared many of their working hours telling college students what a leader is, the things he does, how to be one, and what an overall glorious position it is to be in. However, I always find their speeches and guidelines to be missing a few crucial facts: that being a leader isn’t fun, it isn’t an occupation rewarding enough to strive for, and that a lot of sleepless nights accompany the job. Being a leader is a bland, stressful, daunting position. 

A leader, by definition, is someone who leads a group of people. Be they families, organizations, or nations. Depicted in fiction and romanticized versions of history, –see Star Trek, Hotel Rwanda, Lincoln, and you’ll get the idea– a leader can either be the greatest thing to ever happen to a population, or a monster able to cause murder and mayhem whenever he wants to. These depictions commonly illustrate that when the leaders make a decision, they know what they’re doing; i.e. they seem to always have a plan and good reasons to back up their calls. In reality, scenarios play a bit differently from the cinematic world.

Leaders are not always the wisest, brightest, or bravest. Leaders are prone to mistakes due to the fact that they are human. Not all of their decisions come out of logical, rational thoughts, nor are each consulted with a sound moral compass. The stereotypical, fictional alphas underplay these subtle thuds from reality with the portrayal of flawed yet noble characters; the guy upstairs who make wrong decisions time and time again but always manages to fix them, and the man who is haunted by his past errors then somehow moves on from the ghosts of his past, because his people needed him. These caricatures remain fictional for a reason: they cannot and will never exist in the real world. 

Dictators the likes of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao perfectly illustrate how some of their ideas are pulled out of moronic asses. Stalin deprived Russia’s economy of incentives for innovation by abolishing property rights and setting prices of public goods on his own whim, creating an economy which experienced a growth spurt but lagged behind as capitalist nations advanced through technological changes. Hitler had the bright idea to challenge not one, but two of the largest military powers of the 40s, the Americans and Russians. While Mao, once thought that if agricultural produce were grown closer together, and in more confined spaces, they would be stronger. Logic and reason were not on the side of these once powerful men, who with their idiocies incited famines, rampant diseases, revolts, and infamous slaughters. However, they did manage to rise up of the pile, and their subjects did follow their every word, making them by definition, leaders. 

Even in the possibly more moral democratic nations, leaders could fall into horrifying pits. The military generals and the president of the United States during the Second World War annihilated two purely civilian cities to end the conflict. Yes they emerged victorious, and yes this move did resolve the conflict. But what about the costs? What about all those women and children who had no say to whether or not they wanted to fight, or even if they did wish harm on the Americans? And what of the descendants of the atom bomb’s victims who can commonly be found suffering from tumors, cancers, and other radiation-related diseases? Are they simply meant to be forgotten? No, they remain a legacy of wanton destruction, a disgusting crime birthed by desperation.

And what of the drivers of revolutions? What of Che Guevara, with his face plastered on every shirt worn by the idiots who think that he is the symbol of freedom? Perhaps his own words would best show what kind of a person he actually was, 

 

“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary…These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of The Wall!”

 

And thus we see the principle of a man hailed to be a hero, a leader, who marched against oppressors. To elaborate a bit on his words, his “killing machine” side was felt by farmers, politicians, the religious, basically anyone who opposed his extremist communist beliefs. This is just the mindset of one revolutionary. To add the fanatical anarchists of Mexico, Africa, and other tumulus regions would serve only to repeat the same point with different details.

We have now seen leaders who made ‘murder’ sound subtle. Would we, in their positions, make the same mistakes as well? I of course can never answer that, and can only provide a humble ‘maybe.’ The dictators, generals, presidents, revolutionaries did not intend to have their actions be seen as atrocities by their successors. They did not wish to go down in history books as committers of hate crimes or genocides. Rather, they wanted be perceived as heroes who did what needed to be done in their time to make the world a better place. I am saying all this not to defend their deeds, but to shine a light on how erroneous a person can be when it comes to enhancing the qualities of peoples’ lives. Noble goals do not ensure correctness. Neither does bravery or even logic –as shown by America’s decision to bomb two cities inhabited by civilians– ensure the best outcome for all parties involved. 

How can we be certain that we are right? We doubt ourselves and those around us doubt us as well. We question the sanity of our actions, in fear of how they might reflect on our character. Yet there are also moments when we convince ourselves that we are in the right, especially when we perceive that we are the victims of another person. In times when we are uncertain but are forced to press the big red button, all kinds of planning and contingencies could blow out the door. Pressure to make a decision, alongside a moral compass that no longer points north, are the perfect ingredients for disaster. And they are rarely talked about in the so-called leadership seminars.

A cliche uttered one too many times by my high school teachers was, “You are all born to be leaders.” Are we though? Would we make the best decisions for the people we care about? If we can do it once or twice, can we bear that responsibility for the rest of our lives? Maybe, but I can only imagine the kind of stress such a burden generates.

Perhaps it would be wise to bring my notions closer to home. Imagine if you will, that the strings you control determine the fates of your family, your friends, the men and women you see at school or work. Should you move your family into this neighborhood or that one? Which one would guarantee the safety of the people you love and cherish the most? A very close friend of yours comes to your home and consults you, if he should or should not quit his job for the sake of spending more time with his children. To be more dramatic, but not too unrealistic, picture a scene where the doctor is asking you to choose whether or not your son should undergo that 50-50 heart surgery. All the while knowing that whatever your answer might be, the person asking you would instantly say “yes.”

Although you have the well-being of your loved ones in mind, disaster could strike out from nowhere. A complication could arise during your son’s surgery, causing either a permanent disability or death. Your friend who left work now has more time to spend with his kids but his wife is struggling as the only income provider of the family. The neighbourhood you chose is relatively safe, except for that neighbour of yours whom you suspect might be a child molester. 

Now, perhaps my examples may sound humorous, particularly to those who have never had control over a family. But these types of questions do come up at some point in our lives. And when we hold the reins, it’s our job to choose to turn left or right. Sure we may ask someone else for directions, yet they could be as wrong as we are, and ultimately the way the carriage turns is up to us. The guilt, the pain, the insults that come with taking the wrong turn, that’ll be for us to bear too. 

Leadership should not be something we try our hardest to reach. It is a role that can corrupt, crush, and only rarely ennobles us. The truth that we have no control over the circumstances which governs our daily lives, hints that even when we take the seemingly rightest options, all may not go as planned. 

I do not have the rights to judge anyone’s abilities as a leader. When choices are handed to me, I usually don’t know which one is the correct one, and can only offer an educated guess. What I am trying to say is, when there is no one else qualified to lead other then yourself, then take the position. But if you doubt your own abilities, your strength in enduring errors, or knows someone who might do a better job that yourself, think twice. Some of our decisions will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Not just on the grounds that they affect us, but because it is the people around us, the ones we cannot imagine living without, that takes the form of the weight on our shoulders. And should they come tumbling down, you might not get to survive.