The Atheist Academic: Hope is my god
Recently, there has been an uptick in the number of articles about church-going people who are actually atheists. These articles point out that many seemingly religious people are atheist. These people still attend church for a variety of reasons – the ritual, the calming effect of prayer, the social acceptance – but don’t actually believe. The percentages quoted about how many church goers are actually atheist tend to vary.
It’s hard to say how many people actually believe in the god that they proclaim to worship.
So, if more and more people don’t believe in god, then what are they still going to church for? There are lots of answers, but the one that is most helpful in a classroom is hope.
Hope is what keeps us, as humans, going. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.”
I think it’s safe to say that religious fills this need in many people. Sure, the facts behind religion are shady and uncertain, at best, but if religion offers even the smallest bit of hope that there’s life after death, or that someone is looking out for us, then it seems to be a good security blanket for many people.
So how does this affect us as teachers? I believe that we need to instill non-religious hope in our students. If we give them a reason to look positively on their futures, then they won’t be as likely to continue their religious upbringing after they graduate. In a 2008 article, Times Higher Education author Rebecca Attwood explores an article which claims that, “there is a strong correlation between high IQ and lack of religious belief and that average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 countries“. If our students are given the resources to develop their intelligence and are shown how to be confident about their own place in the world, then they may have the confidence to declare their non-religious feelings. If they have hope for their own future, they won’t need an imaginary figure to whisper in their ear and guide them. They can feel confident to guide their own selves.
How do teachers instill hope? It depends on the level that one is teaching, but I would assume for most students, goal-setting and concrete problem solving will be quite helpful. I love to show students the correlation between their own work and the chances of getting into college. Our actions TODAY will have an affect on life SOON. What’s not said, but implied is: But it’s YOUR actions — not some abstract god. At all levels, lessons on self-esteem and self-advocacy also lend to independent, non-religious thinking. Who cares if “god” loves me? I have friends and family who love me; and I love myself! The correlation between education and atheism is not a fluke — there’s a reason that more atheists are educated. Education leads to critical thinking and questioning, which leads to atheism.
What other ways have you instilled hope in your classroom?