Time and time again, I have heard from Christians that all I have to do in order to be "saved" is accept their Jesus as my "savior." This appears to be Christianspeak for believing in Jesus. They present some version of Pascal's wager in an effort to convince me that even if I don't believe in heaven and hell, I should believe in Jesus in case I'm wrong. All I need to do to curry favor with their god and protect myself against the possibility of hell is believe in Jesus like they do. That sounds simple enough. But does belief really work like this? Can you or I simply start believing in something in which we do not believe?
When asked whether they could voluntarily accept theism, most of the atheists I have asked say "no." Believing in Jesus may sound easy for someone who already does so, but it does not strike me as something I could do even if I wanted to. I could certainly fake it, but that would be about the best I could do. The Jesus stuff lacks the evidence and the emotional resonance that could lead me to belief.
Do I Really Have a Choice?
Some Christians excuse the apparent cruelty of their god for condemning those who do not believe in it to hell by insisting that we have a choice. If we willingly turn our backs on their god (and whatever Jesus is supposed to be), we are essentially bringing hell on ourselves. But once again, this does not seem to be the way belief works. We cannot just flip a switch and start believing something that strikes us as thoroughly absurd. I did not choose to be an atheist. Threatening me with hell is irrelevant if I cannot make myself believe something I do not.
One of the things I learned about the Christian god the last time I read their bible, something I had forgotten from previous readings, was that this god had a nasty habit of turning people against it. Again and again, I read how the Christian god "hardened the hearts" of people against it before slaughtering them. Did these people - the ones who were made not to believe by this god - have a choice? If not, why should I think that I do?
Since most atheists do not appear to feel like they have a choice in this matter either, no moral god could condemn us to hell. The best we could do would be to pretend to believe something in which we do not believe. I do not think this is what most Christians mean when they speak of faith.
There have been days that I wished I could go back to believing. I haven't had any lately, but I have had them. And even on those days when it occurred to me that many aspects of my life would be far easier if I could only return to the matrix, it was not like I could just begin believing.
And If I Don't Really Have a Choice?
Since the sum total of my experience and what I have heard from countless atheists suggests that my perception of not having a choice is probably correct, where does that leave us? Christians can certainly continue to waste their time trying to convert me, but unless their god intervenes directly, I do not see it happening. And the crucial implication of this is that the whole thing about free will is probably wrong.
If I don't really have a choice, then the entire argument about the Christian god testing me by giving me the option of whether to believe or not comes unraveled. If it is not possible for me to make up my mind one day that I believe, then this whole enterprise comes crashing down. If I cannot believe, I cannot be "saved."
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