***Nice post, though I kept thinking to myself, "Stop using the nuclear war example!" :^)***
This is often considered the ultimate pessimist opinion, and I wanted to contrast atheism with it. I'll have to find other pessimist examples.
***I think you are greatly mistaken with the adage that atheism is in someway connected with pessimism. Everything is relative, really. At what point is a legitimate idea pessimistic? Or on the other side of the spectrum, when is a mass delusion that an invisible guy with a bunch of winged angels flying about him, that can play musical instruments being "optimisitc"?***
Let's use one of the Webster definitions of pessimism:
"A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view"
What could be more gloomier than atheism? Of all the metaphysical beliefs out there, it is by far the gloomiest. Even the concept of 'hell' is not as gloomy since at least hell is for those who at least deserve their punishments. I would have no problem if I found out that the terrorists of 9/11 or the sniper guy or the Anthrax terrorist were going to hell. In fact, I wouldn't even consider that gloomy in the least (perhaps I would feel a little uncomfortable, though, in any punishment that last eternity, but who am I to complain if such low life is 'burned' forever?). In any case, with the atheist metaphysical belief, we are talking extremely gloomy. It suggests that in the scope of things, we die like flies and reproduce like flies, and that's it. Random deaths and random tragedies are a brute fact and so goes our luck. I cannot find anything optimistic about such a belief.
As far as heavenly portrayals are concerned, I can see a great deal of optimism in such a view if such a heaven is waiting for us in an afterlife. That's very optimistic! Although, like I said to Mario, any view of the world should be the most meaningful view while taking into strong consideration the most truthful view. Atheism makes the error by tossing out a very meaningful view for the sake that such a view is meaningful! That's preposterous. We don't see most atheists tossing aside scientific realism simply because such a view is meaningful even though it is probably unprovable and perhaps naive. I think that it is quite possible that atheists are predispositioned to exclude a God simply because they prefer their worldview to be pessimistic in this regard. The question is why. I think that has to do with some psychological issues which reward this kind of pessimistic belief. These psychological issues perhaps do not extend to scientific realism, hence we see atheists who will accept faith in the meaningful picture that scientific realist perspectives provide but deny faith in a much more meaningful view that a belief in God provides. We especially see this in the carde blanche faith in a random beginning leading to 'all of this' when even sensible experience with randomness (e.g., trips to Vegas) show that such expectations are completely unfounded. In my mind, some form of psychological aspect must be heavily involved in the rejection of theism. I admit my psychological reasons for theism, and even use it as one of my main reasons to be a theist, but many atheists are not so forthcoming. Instead, we see this naive appeal to 'truth' which I find nothing but a masquerade to something psychologically deeper that is under the hood.
***Whether a person is optimistic or pessimistic goes much further than their religious beliefs! While I understand how you try to say that pessimism isn't all bad, as in not having belief in a god, I hold great reservation with the idea that I'm pessimistic merely because I don't believe that a god exists. I'd say what you are calling pessimism, I'd call rationial thinking. Like I stated previously, is belief in a large invisible god optimistic even if it may be irrational?***
One can be optimistic in one area of their lives, and a complete pessimist in the areas of their lives that really matter. With regard to theism, a pessimist outlook is one of the more key pessimisms that one can possess. The reason is that a belief in God is so central to the human soul that it's impact is felt by other people and, I think, leads to behavioral changes that are quite negative for society. It is no coincidence that as our society becomes more secular (i.e., disbelieving of religious beliefs and values) that we see increases in violent and strange behavior that is destructive to society. If you think I'm being ignorant in this accusation, then there are many ignorant people since I would think that many, if not most, citizens of a number of countries would agree with me. Secularism is a bad trend, and although there are benefits of secularism, if it continues to spiral in the direction that it is, I am not certain the outcome. To prevent this spiral, we must have strong moral values which are 'absolutes' for everyone. Some people are obviously able to live in a 'relative' moral system, whereas many others are not. Atheism and agnosticism are bad for the world.
Is it rational to throw away pragmatic based beliefs? I see no appeal to that argument.
***H: "Pessimism is in response to fear, and that fear is often legitimate.." R: Here is the problem. I, as an atheist, don't fear the unknown. Rather it is fear that makes man believe in god. The fear of the unknown. I don't fear the unknown to the extent that normal man does. Why do you think they need to create the idea of eternal life? Because they fear death!***
I should have said that pessimism is often in response to fear. In any case, atheism is often in response to fear (I hate to include everyone in such a blanket statement). What prevents an atheist from believing in God's existence, something that offers absolutely so much to the meaning of their lives and, as painful as death is, there is great hope knowing that that's not the end. Knowing that there is happiness found for the person that has passed, and knowing that for us too that we will share their presence yet again and will find that same happiness. What prevents many atheists is the fear that if they believe this that it may not happen. The fear of it not happening is so strong that they often will not allow this hope to take root and rather push the need for such a hope deep within themselves. Sometimes this expresses itself almost as a kind of obsession where some atheists will go far out of their way to cause other theists to doubt God's existence.
Theists do fear death. Actually, atheists, agnostics, and theists fear death. This is a human fear. Much of what humans believe and hold meaningful is in response to such fears. For example, having children is often in response to such fears (i.e., wanting to leave something behind).
The difference between how theists react and how atheists react is where the main differences arise. Theists respond to such fears by having faith in the meaningful existence that they believe actually 'exists'. Atheists respond by concentrating on any kind of meaningfulness that they can 'attach' to our current existence. Many theist often lead a meaningful life that is carefree, whereas many atheists often are constantly struggling to find meaning - any kind of meaning. It is no coincidence that one of the steps of the AA program is to acknowledge a power greater than oneself. In coming out of addiction, it appears that having external meaning is almost a requirement for many people. I've heard that many atheists have a problem with recovering from addiction because of this one step (I don't know if it is true, but recovering alcoholics have told me that this was their own personal experience or someone else's experience). Fear is so often the obstacle to taking such steps, so yes, I do think that atheists suffer from fear and it does often underlie their pessimism in God's existence. It is not at all liberating, and it can be a kind of prison that prevents one from living a carefree, meaningful experience which I believe our Creator intended that we live. A belief in an afterlife adds some of the most criteria for a carefree, enjoying experience. That's not to say that some atheists can manage such an experience by working it up by themselves, but often you will find those atheists were raised in an environment which provided a meaningful existence in their childhood. It seems a great deal of meaningfulness can survive despite the later pessimism of atheism. However, is such survival of meaning able to transcend multiple generations as well as weaker families that do not provide such feelings of a meaningful existence? I think not. Hence, we see secularism take severe tolls in society as it evolves through time.
***Pessimism would be believing in god and not trusting god to fulfill your needs. Atheism lacks the module of god, therefore they fill it themselves and enable their lives to their desires of experience. And you don't let small things get in the way. Take me. I went to a christian college about 300 miles from home. I moved over 700 miles away from home after graduating college. I oftenly go to places I've never been before, rarely settling for the familar. I'm only 25, yet I've completed in nearly 50 races in road running and triathlon, become very proficient relative to normal people regarding the Old Testament, I've got an engineering degree, I've been all over the Northeast US and southern Ontario, I can program in a few languages, study a bunch in science, and a bit more. This isn't the work of a pessimist. Its the work of a person that applies themself. Pessimism calls out, "Why bother?" Atheism requires one ask, "Why not?"***
I don't want to focus on particular individuals since I am talking about society. As I said, an atheist might be raised in a strong Christian family and the new converted atheist family member might live on the coattails of the meaning found in that Christian home. There is probably even second generation atheist families where it is conceivable that enough meaningfulness can be extracted in the home to continue on a successful path. The trouble is what happens over time and cross cultural and national bounderies. This is the trouble. Atheism is bad news. It's effects are strikingly ominious for society and civilization.
It might be required to face such a path if it were the truth. But, as the Vegas analogy shows, it isn't the truth. Therefore, why does atheists even consider it a good thing to be an atheist? I can't imagine. Like I said, it's bad for society, it's bad for the individual, and it's based on unreasonable premises of good luck. Perhaps that will keep atheism from spreading, but it's effects are increasing in society, and I think atheists should be made aware of the effects of their beliefs and maybe they might see that it's time for a change back to the values that are imposed by a meaningful existence. Something that is mostly found in theism.
Warm regards, Harv