The thought is this.
If the atheist movement succeeds?
If those of us who are trying to persuade people out of religion, those of us who are offering atheism as an alternative, eventually succeed?
If current trends continue, and the number of people who don't believe in God continues to grow larger and larger, until eventually everybody (or almost everybody) abandons the idea entirely?
It will be one of the most important developments in human history.
If atheists -- or those atheists (like me) who are working to persuade people out of religion and welcome them into atheism -- are eventually successful?
I told you this was a grandiose thought.
I'm not sure why I feel compelled to bring this thought up. But ever since it occurred to me, I've been finding it comforting, and sustaining. Inspiring, even. When I'm up against one of the 37 Terrible Arguments for Religion for the five hundredth time? When I'm butting my head against one of the many pieces of armor that religion has built to protect itself from any sort of questioning or criticism? When I'm debating people who think I'm a bad person just for trying to make my case? I've been finding it comforting, and sustaining, and inspiring, to remember what a huge struggle we're involved in, and what a massive impact it could have an human history.
It's a sustaining thought for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it helps me have empathy with the believers I'm debating and trying to persuade. It reminds me that when we ask people to consider giving up their religion, we're actually asking a lot. I don't think what we're asking is unreasonable, or unfair, or wrong... but it's a lot. We're not simply asking people to give up a major foundation of their life, a major component of their sense of meaning and their place in the world. We're asking them to participate in a massive, serious shift in human thought. It's kind of a big deal.
And maybe most importantly:
It helps me feel like this fight is worth fighting.
When I get frustrated and discouraged, when I start to wonder whether this particular rock is one that's worth banging my head against... I remember how big and important the thing is that we're trying to do. Even the remote possibility that I might be part of one of the major sweeping changes in human history? Even the remote possibility that I might be a small footnote in one of the more obscure histories written about this movement 200 years from now? Even the remote possibility that, out of the billions of minds we hope to eventually change, I'll have been partially responsible for changing one thousandth of one percent? That's enough to sustain me through a whole lot of dark nights of the soul. (Or, more accurately, the soulless.)
We also might not be successful. It may be that the impulse towards religion, and the human psychological wiring that leads to it, are so strong that humanity as a whole will simply never let go of it. It may be that the most atheists will ever achieve is an increase in our numbers, and an increase in tolerance and acceptance by non-atheists, and a better separation of church and state. Worthwhile goals, to be sure, and significant in their own right... but not quite as grand as bringing about the Post- God Era of Humanity.
Plus, we have to last long enough as a species for this change to make any difference. If we don't get global warming and clean water supplies and nuclear disarmament and whatnot handled, we may not stick around long enough to see this change take place... or for it to matter.
I get all that.
I'm just saying:
What we're doing has potential to be, within the limited perspective of humanity, huge. What we're doing has potential to be one of the most important developments in human history.
And if it helps us be patient; if it helps us be empathetic; if it helps us stay strong and resilient in the face of frustrations and setbacks... then let's remember that.