I’ve heard people talk about how coming free from Christianity set them free from fear. One blogger said she worried about demons; because even though her parents said Jesus would keep the demons away, that only worked if you “really” believed; and what young person wouldn’t be scared when told invisible powerful creatures that want to hurt you are real?
Then there’s the old fear of not being saved, no matter how many times you “confess” your sin and repent.
I don’t know if any of those fears plagued me—I certainly wasn’t too scared of evil spirits, except in Africa. But I was often worried about thought crime, or about wrong beliefs.
When I think about life with and without Jesus, one of the best parts about freethought is that I am no longer scared about what I believe.
Christians teach that “if you CONFESS with your mouth and BELIEVE in your heart” you will be saved. So, what you believe and profess is vitally important to your survival. Therefore it won’t do to believe in false things, or to embrace incorrect beliefs.
Is it right to drink, or should all alcohol be shunned? We know Jesus taught about standing up for the poor, but is it right to Occupy Wall Street or should you try to be more respectable than that? Is it right to stand up against the oppression in Palestine, or does the Bible teach that God is on the side of the Israelis in spite of how they don’t confess Jesus?
These aren’t just differences of opinion, or different ways of seeing the world. The danger here isn’t only that you may cause harm to someone. The problem is that you could be punished for believing the wrong thing. Also, holding those wrong beliefs could become a foothold that eventually leads you into further sin.
But the worst part is there’s no practical measuring stick to find if you’re right or wrong. You can’t run a simple test to prove which belief is true. You can’t measure it or experiment on it. You can’t even argue from logic alone, because you have to believe what the Bible says is true over and above your own logic. All that’s available to you is a mixture of logic, theology, and faith—trusting your gut to lead you right.
The Bible is no help because people interpret it differently. You hear different arguments, different interpretations. You can’t just trust your own logic, because those other arguments sound so Biblical—what if you’ve missed something? And you can’t just admit you don’t know—if you don’t know, how can you believe, and if you don’t believe then what is your faith?
I never realized when I was doing it just how much of a burden that is to constantly try to find ultimate truth based on such vague criteria.
If you’re an atheist you can make your decisions based on facts and logic. How they feel doesn’t have to enter into it, unless you really believe that such a criteria is useful in the circumstances. If it turns out you were wrong, you can change your mind; you don’t have to repent. If you don’t harm anyone else, holding wrong beliefs has absolutely no negative impact. You can believe in pink fairies and unicorns and healing crystals, so long as you don’t let those beliefs stop you from being healthy, and absolutely no one can really condemn you.
I was thinking about this when I read some angry Christian asking how you will respond after Richard Dawkins makes his deathbed conversion someday. (They were sure it would happen.) The thing is…what does an atheist lose by making a deathbed conversion? You lose intellectual honesty, sure, and maybe you discourage some other young atheist, but wouldn’t they make an exception for you because of your feeble state? If a deathbed conversion is likely to be accepted by a deity, then why wouldn’t you make one? It’s the only time when Pascal’s Wager actually makes sense! A deathbed conversion doesn’t change the fact that you lived your life honestly and well, and how you live life is much more important to an atheist than what you believe.