Local Opinion: How atheists find comfort amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Local Opinion: How atheists find comfort amid COVID-19 uncertainty

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

The Keeping the Faith section in the Sunday Arizona Daily Star is a wonderful way for faith leaders to communicate with those who cannot get to houses of worship.

The editors at the Star should be commended for offering this opportunity for those who seek comfort and hope through faith and spirituality during this difficult time.

According to an October 2019 report by the Pew Research Center, 26% of the U.S. population is “religiously unaffiliated.” I am in that group.

So how do we nonbelievers find comfort and hope at this time of COVID-19?

First, let’s be clear: Nonbelievers have beliefs. They are just not based on faith. Atheists, along with our theistic brothers and sisters, all ask the same question: “What is it all about?”

For believers, the answers are found in holy texts that contain revelations from a particular deity. It is faith in the dogma along with the interpretations and pronouncements of their clergy that provide them with comfort and hope.

For nonbelievers, by contrast, our answers are found in science and secular humanism.

And, to be clear again, our thinking is entirely reason-based and not because we reject religious belief.

We accept that we live in a natural world. This excludes supernaturalism. Other core beliefs are that meaning and purpose for our lives are self-generated; that this is our only life as there is no evidence of an afterlife; and that the universe is exquisitely indifferent to all that exists.

Surprisingly however, we find this inspiring! It motivates us to make the best of our time on earth. Comfort and hope emanate from this inspiration.

We trust secular humanism, the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems, to get us through times of trouble. Secular humanists have no choice but to rely on and trust each other. We trust that the innate goodness and helping hands of our fellow man will be there in this time of crisis. This gives us comfort and hope.

We have trust that solutions to COVID-19, both in the form of treatments and vaccines, will come from scientists and other professionals. This trust is based on evidence and history.

Since the scientific age began 400 years ago, man has had a wonderful record of gaining knowledge, making discoveries and sharing the wisdom that has solved and prevented many of our world’s problems. Indeed, it is our fellow humans who have brought us out of the dark ages into modernity. This fact provides us with much comfort and hope.

During this time of COVID-19, nonbelievers trust the facts and assessments of experts. This information is evidence-based, verifiable and explanatory.

Whether it comforts or terrorizes us, it is the knowledge we have at the moment. Our guiding principle will always be: “It is what it is.”

We gain hope and comfort when we see the dedication and determination of health-care workers who put their lives on the line to help their fellow man.

What gratitude and appreciation they deserve!

Sadly though, reason-based thinkers are sometimes given information that is troubling, depressing and frightening.

For example, we observe the fight against this virus has often become more political than scientific.

We have a president who makes life and death decisions based on the benefit to him, not us. And those decisions are routinely not science-based. So, at a time like this, comfort and hope sometimes devolve into acceptance.

Yes, believers and nonbelievers have different coping mechanisms during stressful times.

Currently, more than a quarter of our nation observes the world working exactly as expected were there no deities. We accept this reality as the way the cards are dealt in our lives, on earth and in the universe.

Yes, to us, “It is what it is.”

Gil Shapiro lives in Tucson and was the spokesperson for Freethought Arizona from 2005 to 2016.

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