The following is a comment on Matthew's brave and bittersweet; this is part of an ongoing conversation outlined here regarding secular hope. Here, I want to respond to a couple of points that Matthew raised in brave and bittersweet.
Previously, I posed the question:
Which is the better source of hope: this world, small, and often backwards as it is, but certain, or transcendent meaning and eternal life, known by invisible evidence? What can comfort?
This question is clearly answered differently by different people. I suppose that a lot of people believe that meaning and security and comfort can only be had if there is a God, a promise of heaven, and the assurance that God is acting on the world now. Not everyone wants these beliefs or finds them helpful, though.
A secular hope is a great thing for educated people who have the resources to avoid most of the pain and insecurity that come with disease, hunger, war, and oppression.
Secularism tends to skew more towards people who are well off. That doesn't mean it's inaccessible to people who are suffering. I have been reading lately about the Pirahã people in Brazil, hunter-gatherers who have no concept of God or spirits; life is not easy for them. More broadly, when it comes to existential beliefs, polytheisms tend to have more in common with atheism than they do with monotheisms; people can have supernatural beliefs but be functionally very similar to atheists in their outlook. Ancient Mesopotamian religions were fatalistic; the people believed that gods existed, but were cruel or indifferent or capricious. My understanding is that the structure of their outlook is common among agrarian civilizations. It is not apparent to me that it is the nature of human beings to either expect a paternal God, or to be despondent and hopeless without this belief. It's important to not provide pat answers, certainly, and the beliefs of privileged people regarding suffering are often unhelpful to the poor and oppressed, sick and alienated; this goes for both religious and secular beliefs about suffering.
Matthew mentions that secular concepts of hope are limited in two ways in particular: in secular concepts of meaning, everything is temporary, and everything is relative. These are both good points, and I recommend bearing both in mind. Yet, we don't call bread bad because it gets moldy, or because we get hungry again after eating it, or because there's better bread out there somewhere. Bread is precisely as big as bread is, and I'm glad I have enough bread for today.
Matthew compares secular hope to a lottery ticket and religious hope to the assurance that comes from adoption by a rich man. Belief in justice or wholeness or relief coming from a spiritual domain seems, to me, to be like buying a lottery ticket: there is an offer of infinite payoff, but the factual support for this hope is tenuous. Devout religious people don't live thoroughly consistently with their beliefs because it is difficult for humans to have the spiritual imagination to accept that God's will is perfect and in their interest; spiritual imagination is needed because their confidence is from faith in unseen things. When I say that hope from the material world is certain, I mean that we know for sure that this world exists and that there are things in it that give us some comfort and happiness and security. These things are small and limited and they wear out, but they are what we have for today. This materialist sense of hope can't stop death, it can't eliminate suffering, but it can sustain life for a little while. It's like farming, with modest yields coming from hard work. Sometimes there is plenty of rain, and sometimes there's drought. I can't offer a solution that will eliminate suffering or even death, or something that can transcend them, but adversity can be encountered with courage and dignity.
As I read both Andy Crouch's article and Matthew's post, I found myself unconvinced that my sense of hope is lacking, not because their logic was explicitly wrong, but because I myself feel fulfilled and secure, and I feel like I respond to the small challenges I face in a way that I am content with. I don't feel a need that they say that I should feel. I know that I'm not alone in not feeling a need for a belief in God in order to have a satisfying life in this world.