February 09, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheists, Part V

So. Part V. Today, we are talking about the afterlife and what I, as an atheist, think about the afterlife.

I think it would be informative for me to start with what I did believe about the afterlife when I believed in one.

As a Christian, I was raised to believe in heaven. We were Baptists, so we believed that you had to accept salvation through Christ. You had to pray and ask for Christ to enter your heart. Your salvation could not be rescinded. Once you asked for it, it was yours. In my family's eyes, I am, as an atheist, still saved if I was ever saved.

This naturally led to a few issues: what if a mass murder accepts Christ? Well, said Mass Murderer is then saved and goes to Heaven. What if a good person doesn't accept Christ? They go to Hell. That's it. It's that simple, that black and white for the sect I was raised in.

So what does the afterlife look like? Well, you're in heaven, and you're rejoicing and worshipping God all the time. All. The. Time. There are mansions and crowns, which you'll throw at Jesus's feet.

How has that changed? Let's take a look.


AFTERLIFE

1.    What happens after we die?

Our bodies decompose or are cremated. I'm personally hoping to be cremated and shot up into space. I think that'd be fantastic.


2.    Do you KNOW there is nothing more beyond death? How?

No, but I also don't KNOW there is something more beyond death...nor do I see any reason to suspect that there is.


3.    Isn’t the Christian’s hope for heaven a better bet than the atheist’s hope there is no hell?


Short answer: No.

There's two reasons for this. The first is, as I discussed in a prior installment, the lottery ticket. Everyone thinks they have the winning lottery ticket, and yet, each ticket has an equally long shot at being the winner--so in reality, it's not a "better bet" at all. Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian--all of them think they have the right way to salvation of some type. All of them have their own trappings. And all of them are equally likely.

Now, addressing this as an atheist: I don't hope that there is no hell. I know there is  no hell. I read up on the evolution of the Jewish and Christian afterlife substantially after leaving Christianity because I was, in short, terrified by my childhood training about hell. Even as I left my religion, I would be paralyzed by the fear. Reading up on it was not only enlightening, but absolutely reassuring.

4.    If God does exist as Biblically revealed, would hindsight on Judgment Day render Christians inappropriately prejudiced or gullible?


Can I be honest?

I don't even know what this question is meant to mean. Is the author just trying to undermine characterizations that atheists sometimes throw at Christians?

Okay. I'm going to answer it as best I can anyway, so here goes: Which God?

Before we can ever really answer a question like this, you have to define what biblically revealed God we are talking about, because different Christian sects have very different perceptions of God. Some believe that God will only save a set number of people. Some believe that God will only curse those who reject him to hell, meaning that those that have never heard of him either go to heaven or are stuck in some kind of holding pattern or cease to exist.

If the God that was biblically revealed to my sect does exist, no, Christians wouldn't be inappropriately prejudiced or gullible. God would be inappropriately prejudiced and monstrous.

Based on our current understanding of sexuality, there are aspects that can't be changed. Aspects that are programmed into our DNA and nurtured by our environment. If you believe in God, you believe that he both programmed the DNA and then, for same-sex attracted people, utterly denounces it. He chooses people to be gay, and then calls them abominations. Who does that?

He's genocidal. Jealous. Vicious. Wrathful. He's literally the antithesis of what he expects Christians to be. That's monstrous.

I often see atheists saying that they read The Bible, and that's why they are atheists. I've shared before that for me, that isn't true. I read The Bible, and at the end, I was confronted with the fact that this was a god I didn't want to worship--but as I didn't want to worship him, but still believed in my Christian upbringing, I was really stuck. I could either worship a god I considered a monster or I could conscientiously object and sentence myself to eternal damnation. What the hell, man? What kind of choice is that?

The far simpler explanation, and the one that I know understand to be the truth, is that this deity doesn't exist. He was created by a primitive people that naturally projected their fear of the environment around them onto the god they worshipped. This world is harsh, capricious, and cruel, and thus, it's easy to see why the deity they constructed was too.

******


The afterlife had long been a point of contention for me. The fear of Hell kept in Christianity for a lot longer than I probably would have stayed had I not believed it so thoroughly.

In the end, though, it never really made sense to me. I clung to it with the fervent hope that doing so ensured I would be in heaven for all eternity, that I would be reunited with my loved ones I had lost. Eventually, the gaping inconsistencies really butchered my belief in an afterlife. I can't say I regret it, either. My current belief set puts so much stock in doing good *today*, for me, for those around me, that I honestly feel like a better person. That's not to say that Christians aren't--it's purely applicable to me, myself, and I.

I am a better atheist than I had ever believed I could be.

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