Numerous essays have already been written, in the never-ending war of words between Christians and atheists, over the supposed moral supremacy of theism, particularly Christian theism. Without belief in a God, we are admonished time and again, it is impossible for one to develop a sound framework for moral behavior. In this essay I intend to show that the opposite is in fact true: that there is no rational basis from which one can develop a sound basis for morals that is rooted in the worship of the Christian God. (I’ll leave the question of whether or not you can do it based upon the worship of any of the hundreds of thousands of other gods humanity has created over the centuries to someone else. Life’s too short.)
There is one crushing moral dilemma facing Christians who try to argue for their God’s being the source of all that is moral in life: the Doctrine of Hell.
At the core of Christianity is the belief that, in order to ascend to Heaven after death and enjoy a life of eternal bliss and joy, one must be a Christian. No other creed or belief system need apply. One must not only attend a Christian church; one must also answer the altar call, go up before the congregation, profess belief in the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection, and eventual (any day now, really) second coming. I remember from my youth, when I attended a Baptist church in Houston, the pressure to perform this little ritual was intense. Failure to do so is punishable by an eternity of hell. Good works are immaterial. Membership in the club matters over all.
It was not until my adulthood that I began to realize something that I never would have even entertained as a wisp of a thought in my churchgoing days: Christianity’s entire sales-pitch involving conversion is immoral to the point of being deeply evil. And you just can’t get morals out of an immoral, much less evil, belief system.
Fundamentally it is an act of terrorism: turn or burn. A demand is being made upon humanity by God. God offers you what Christians call a “choice,” but which is really an ultimatum: worship Me, accept My Son as Savior, or else suffer the torments of hell for all eternity. What Christians can not, will not, face is the fact that such a “choice” is no different whatsoever from the modus operandi of the Mafia, whose “protection rackets” in the days of tommy guns and fedoras—in which gangs of thugs would troop into Chicago bars and offer owners the “choice” between paying the protection money or having their businesses Molotoved—have become a part of American folklore. The Christian God is the school bully who extorts your lunch money as a means of being persuaded not to beat you up at recess. But Christians can not see the connection between these behaviors. As George H. Smith writes in his seminal work Atheism: The Case Against God, “There is nothing the Christian will accept as evidence of his God’s evil.”
How, then, do Christians customarily deal with the Doctrine of Hell and the moral dilemma it introduces? I can only go by my experiences debating Christians in the years I’ve been on The Atheist Experience TV show, but it boils down to this: If Christians don’t want to be faced with a moral dilemma involving their beliefs, they won’t be. Christians have a remarkable capacity for not being bothered by aspects of their belief system they don’t want to be bothered by. This is what I call the Christians’ moral blind spot. And it’s a handy blind spot, in that—unlike that nasty one over your right shoulder they always warn you to check in drivers’ ed—this one can be moved around at will, to shield the Christian from anything unpleasant that they may be forced to face regarding their God and their beliefs.
The blind spot is what allows Christians to demand that the Ten Commandments be mounted in granite in every school and courthouse in the country, and yet, when you bring up the disturbing old divine laws regarding rapists being allowed to purchase their victims from their fathers for fifty shekels, or beating children, they’ll wave their hands and say, “Oh, pshaw—that’s just the Old Testament!”
And the blind spot is what allows Christians not to see that their God’s ultimatum, his “choice,” is no different than any terroristic threat of violence that anyone else might make.
Indeed, Christians’ defense of their God’s behavior in this context will expose you to some of the most perverse twisting of ideas you’re likely to hear. Christians will tell you, with a straight face, that the fact God is willing to offer you this choice, that he doesn’t force you to choose one way or another, that he is in effect offering you a ticket out of hell, proves how loving he is. Furthermore, if you make the choice not to become Christian, then God will respect your freedom to choose, and the fact that you’ve just condemned yourself to an eternity of torture is your fault!
The depth to which this belief is utterly deranged should be readily apparent to anyone with a shred of respect for reason or human dignity. Using the contorted reasoning this belief employs, one could argue that a gang member who walks up to you, sticks a .45 in your eyeball, and offers you the “choice” of giving him your wallet or getting your brains blown out is doing it because he loves you. And if you choose not to hand over your money, well, it’s just your own fault, isn’t it.
It never occurs to the Christian that God’s “choice” is not a choice at all, but an ultimatum. It never occurs to them that to threaten someone with violence for not complying with an ultimatum is de facto immoral even when God does it. Because if it isn’t wrong when God does it, who’s to say it’s wrong when anyone else—Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler—does it? How can a God dictate moral absolutes to humanity when he himself freely behaves in an immoral manner? Do Christians really think that a “do as I say, not as I do” God constitutes any sort of moral authority? How can I, or anybody, get our morals, our sense of right and wrong, from a God who tortures people who don’t worship him forever? A moral being would not torture anyone for any reason for two seconds, much less eternity. A moral being would not present you with a bogus “choice” between Heaven and Hell in the first place. And a moral being would not demand your worship! How can Christians claim their God is the source of my morals, when every examination of Christian beliefs as regards salvation and the Doctrine of Hell paints the picture of a deeply immoral—indeed, evil—God?
The blind spot. That’s how they can do it. That handy moral blind spot is always there, protecting the Christian from thinking thoughts he should not think, facing facts he doesn’t want to face, being troubled by anything he doesn’t want to be troubled by. The Christian God is the luckiest God anyone ever invented; he rules with absolute authority but not a shred of responsibility, and he threatens his believers with eternal torment if they stray from him, only to be hailed as “loving” for it. Thanks, folks, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have the light of reason shine through my blind spot…and it’s that selfsame reason that I use to determine my morals in life, not the dictates of some jealous, angry, vengeful, immoral—and thankfully, imaginary—God.