Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Want the Benefits of Faith without Believing in God? Try Hope.

You have to be a little envious of those who have faith—they have a motivational force behind them that is near impossible to beat. What if there was a secular equivalent, wonders philosophy professor Sam Newlands.

Sam Newlands: What’s interesting is that hope in particular seems to have a kind of really low barrier for cognitive consistency.

So as long as I don’t believe something to be impossible, it seems to be an object that’s at least possible for me to hope for. So I don’t think it’s impossible and I don’t think it’s certain; it seems to be a candidate for hope.

And insofar as then my desire for it kicks in and it engages my agency in the right sorts of ways, it seems like I can actually hope for it.

So in the religious tradition there’s a lot of work that’s been done on, of course, hope, and particularly the relation between hope and other so-called theological virtues: faith and love. And one of the things we were interested in has to do with the connection between faith and hope.

So a lot of people think of faith as having a kind of belief commitment that something is going to be certain, or that something is going to be probable that maybe outstrips the evidence. And the interesting thing about hope is that it seems to kind of float free from judgments about the evidence. So you can hope for something even though you really don’t believe it’s likely to come about. And so one of the things we were interested in with this project is, when it comes to the religious context, what sorts of religious practices does mere hoping cultivate?

So, for instance, suppose you were someone who had religious beliefs but for various reasons have come to believe other things. Maybe you’ve become agnostic about the existence of God, say. But nonetheless you still hope that God exists. And if you do hope that God exists, what sorts of practices does that kind of hoping inspire? Is it possible to hopefully pray even though you don’t actually believe that God exists? Can you still pray and hope? Can you participate in religious practices and communities even though you don’t actually endorse the beliefs necessarily anymore? But nonetheless you still hope for an afterlife or you hope for the unity of virtue and happiness in the end. So what sorts of distinctive beliefs and practices can we get if we have hope without faith?

With respect to the religious situation, as long as I don’t believe that the existence of God, say, is logically impossible—and few even adamant atheists would say it’s logically impossible that God exists or that they’re absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist, just like most theists would not say they’re absolutely certain that God exists—so here we are.

We’re between absolute impossibility and certainty. Well that’s the perfect space for hope to operate in. And so, in a way, hope in the religious context doesn’t necessarily involve assessment of the odds or the probability in the way that maybe faith would. And so as long as you can think yes, there’s a consistent narrative in some particular religious tradition, even if I’m not sure that it’s true or I don’t even think it’s likely that it’s true. Nonetheless you might engage in the kind of hope that say the Christian God exists, and in doing so that might actually motivate certain kinds of religious practices.

So I think it’s definitely the case that we can do certain things that put us in the position to have robust, deep, abiding hopes.

And so in that sense I do think hope can be under the volitional control of an agent. It might not be the sort of thing that I can just bootstrap my way into on a dime, and sort of on a snap or something like that, just magically start hoping. But, can I do things that I know if I’m in the right community context, I’m in the right sort of situation it will, in fact, instill in me desires. It will, in fact, instill in me a sense of agency and urgency over the object of my desires. And will help me see the possibility space for those desires being realized. That’s exactly the kind of situation I actually do have control over putting myself in. And insofar as I do that it does seem like I can sort of indirectly put myself in a position to inculcate deep, rich, sustaining hopes.

If faith is what bolsters the believers, could hope be a form of secular prayer? What is the difference between faith and hope, anyway? Philosophy professor Sam Newlands explains that while the two occupy the same categorical space, they are fundamentally different philosophical mindsets. Faith is fueled by a sense of certainty about an outcome, even if that conviction outstrips the evidence. Hope on the other hand can be cognitively inconsistent and still escape scrutiny: you can think something is highly improbable and still hope for it to be true. Here, Newlands discusses the intersection of hope and faith in a religious context: is religion without faith possible? Can hope manifest religious belief?


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Sam Newlands, head to samnewlands.com.

Take your career to the next level by raising your EQ

Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.

Gear
  • Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
  • One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
  • EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Keep reading Show less

Can VR help us understand layers of oppression?

Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.

Future of Learning
  • Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
  • Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
Keep reading Show less

Russia claims world's first COVID-19 vaccine but skepticism abounds

President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Coronavirus
  • Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Russia.
  • Scientists around the world are worried that the vaccine is unsafe and that Russia fast-tracked the vaccine without performing the necessary phase 3 trials.
  • To date, Russia has had nearly 900,000 registered cases of coronavirus.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

    Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

    Image source: Ernst Haeckel
    Surprising Science
    • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
    • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
    • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
    Keep reading Show less

    Therapy app Talkspace mined user data for marketing insights, former employees allege

    A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.

    Talkspace.com
    Technology & Innovation
    • In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
    • Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
    • It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast