I, and many atheists, have often been accused of being pessimistic. Not a very scalding denunciation, but I take issue with it in that I have never once been labeled a pessimist in a situation where I was actually being pessimistic. In fact, some of the claims have been downright confusing. Here are a few things I’ve said that have been met with that response:
“Private schools force you to be around the same small group of people every day for years and years and if you’re even the slightest bit different from them you’re going to spend your childhood alone and wondering what’s wrong with you.”
-I went to Catholic school for nine years, my sister was in private school for thirteen years, I’m speaking from experience. If you’re a kid who doesn’t like sports or enjoy wearing collared shirts and keeping a buzz cut (no lingering resentments here) and that’s the social norm at the institution then, guess what, life isn’t going to be very fun for you. You can still be ostracized in public school, but because you’re dealing with a much larger student body and there’s more than one clique you’re more likely to find your place. This isn’t a pessimistic statement, its letting kids who suffer constant isolation know that it’s not them; it’s that small pond they’re flailing in.
“I don’t like How I Met Your Mother.”
– Yes, I said this and someone actually responded “You’re such a pessimist.” I don’t understand how my opinion of a TV show (a sitcom, no less) gives someone the impression I see glasses half empty.
“Of course I don’t want food from the movie theatre. Who wants to break the bank paying for a snack they can get three times cheaper anywhere else?”
– I mean, who does?
Guys, I’m a humanist, and humanism (particularly my definition of humanism) is one of the most optimistic philosophies a person can have: There is no problem or crisis that cannot be overcome by the efforts and innovation of humankind. I believe the human race will never end, I think we can even trump the end of the universe. So what is it that keeps people from calling me an optimist?
“I know that things will always work out for the best!”
“What an optimistic outlook.”
Oh, I see- you’ve confused optimism with stupidity.
See, the key word in my philosophy is “can.” Things can work out for the best, but nothing says they will. The universe does not follow your concept of “fair.” If you’ve spent the past two years suffering despite being a good person there’s no guarantee that things are going to turn around. Nobody owes you anything, especially not the universe. Things can keep going on just as shitty as they always have been.
If I believed in god and still carried that philosophy, then you could call me a pessimist (though religious or not, I don’t think anyone should simply count on things turning around).
Atheists are often seen as pessimistic because they’re stereotyped as embittered, hopeless cynics who have cast away god because they think the world is shit.
No, no, see, that’s teenage angst atheism- Atheism that probably won’t last longer than a couple of years.
I can’t presume to speak for other atheists and tell you what influenced their decision, but I can say with certainty that those who have held to it for long periods certainly have better reasons than “bad things happen, so god can’t exist.” I will grant that there are plenty of atheists with pessimistic outlooks, and they will deride all religion and life in general because believing the world is wrong is a lot easier than accepting your problems are self-inflicted. These are the same kind of atheists that go on YouTube and make loud comments about how anyone who believes in god is stupid.
Isaac Asimov said he started identifying as humanist because “I realized atheism only described what I didn’t believe in.” Very true, simply calling yourself an atheist doesn’t say much about yourself. It makes you look pessimistic because it only describes a ton of things you don’t believe in. I would encourage atheists to find a philosophy they agree with, as I have with humanism, and start describing themselves with that. First off, most people don’t have stigmas against non-religious philosophies so you get a chance to explain your beliefs instead of instantly being disregarded as a heathen. Secondly, getting the chance to explain your philosophy gives you the opportunity to persuade others and you may have a better chance converting your religious friends by offering them alternative thinking rather than the nothingness they likely associate with atheism. Lastly, there is something life affirming about having a word for the principles and values you believe in- an icon that stands for something rather than the nebulous feeling you get with atheism.
Before any atheists attack me, I am not saying atheism means you have no values or strong beliefs. I’m saying that this is what the word implies to people outside of atheism. Atheism does not describe anything you do believe, so simply saying “I’m an atheist” does not say much about you, unless you say it to the wrong person, in which case it says a lot of things…. and none of them good.
Now that I’ve riled up atheist feathers, time to go for the religious and make sure everyone is properly offended.
Though atheists are more often seen as pessimists, I think religion, particularly Christianity, can be the far more pessimistic philosophy (can, can, can, such an important word, remember it before you start disagreeing with me).
Many Christians believe they are fundamentally flawed from the moment they are born. Man, I got really sick of hearing that. Original sin, a crime you didn’t even commit but will carry with you for the rest of your life. That’s depressing. Our only way to be forgiven is to constantly scrape and beg and offer humility to a being who holds our sin over our heads, but it’s okay, because he loves us and will forgive us. But if he forgives us why does he consider us guilty from the moment we’re born until we pledge ourselves to him and spend the rest of our days in worship?
Dear Christianity, I did not like feeling like I was flawed from the moment I believed in god. This feeling does not make your philosophy particularly inviting.
In Catholic school I was taught that sexuality was wrong unless I was making children- and don’t you dare pleasure yourself either. Somehow feeling physical ecstasy offends god.
I was taught that Martin Luther was a confused and strange man because he dared to think the church might not be right about everything. Do as you’re told without thinking.
I was taught that the church was mistaken when they discredited scientists in the past, but I was still supposed to believe them when they said evolution was a lie.
I was taught I needed fit into the group, not stand out. Deviating from your church community would estrange you from god. Ironic coming from an institution that has been splintered so many times I can’t even count all the new ones floating around.
I was taught my life was in the hands of an omniscient being who, judging from the stories I read in his book, suffered serious mood swings and had already plotted out when our species would go extinct.
This is the oppressive, by the book garbage that makes religion so unappealing to everyone outside of it. Plenty of religious people manage to separate themselves from strict adherence to text and take a far more spiritual and enlightened approach to faith, but this is still how it’s taught to children.
You are flawed, god grows sick of humankind’s sin, and even though a man died for us our species is still evil and wrong and full of corruption. That is pessimism.
Atheists and religious have these vocal majority, numerical minority jackasses who spout off a bunch of nonsense and keep everyone at each other’s’ throats. So how can you fix it? Just stay calm and avoid direct confrontation. Say your piece, never get angry, and never make accusing or condemning statements- that’s what they want to hear so they can confirm that you’re an idiot and they’re right.
Stay optimistic that things can get better, because despite what thousands of people will tell you, they have. We went to the moon, Martin Luther King accomplished his dream, the U.S. is inevitably moving towards total acceptance of homosexuality- things can get better, but for some reason a lot of people never acknowledge the things that have…
…And I’m the pessimist for not liking How I Met Your Mother.