January 29, 2006

Feeling Optimistic

I find it difficult to remain optimistic in these days of rampant Republicanism, the rebirth of manifest destiny under Bush, and the rise of Christian extremism. Thus, spurts of hope and the events which inspire them are not to be lightly dismissed. While watching a speech by Howard Zinn at the University of California – Santa Barbara on UCTV, I had such a moment of optimism that I’d like to share.

Toward the end of the speech, he seemed to realize that much of the content was a major downer. He had discussed religious fanaticism, the many failings of the Bush administration, etc., and acknowledged how hopeless things often seem. He pointed out that history shows us not to give up because all worthwhile social movements have seemed equally unlikely in their early stages. He offered examples such as the civil rights movement, suffrage, the Vietnam war, and others.

When we see the apparent rise of religious extremism in America and abroad, we often feel hopeless. It certainly seems unlikely that humanity will overcome superstition. But I am confident that many of the rights which African Americans now take for granted seemed equally unlikely at the beginning of the civil rights movement. They encountered racist rhetoric, restrictive social policies, and dire consequences of many types. When I realize what they went through in order to prevail, I feel guilty for even complaining about the hardships we face as atheists.

Those of us who have managed to overcome superstition in our own lives have accomplished something. However, we continue to live in a world where lives are lost every day in the name of religion. Because I am convinced that a naturalistic worldview is both more accurate and more adaptive than one based on superstition, I will continue to speak out.

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