An honest atheist’s reply to Ted Wright – Part Two


(This is – as people can probably figure out – the second part of my reply to a post by Ted Wright. This post, to be exact. The first part should be listed at the ‘previous post’ link at the top and bottom of this post, so I won’t bother to link it separately.)

So, Ted, the last post was my reply to your thoughts on the logical consequences of atheism. This, as promised, is my thoughts on the logical consequences of what, to borrow your term, we can call ‘classical Christianity’ (I do recognise that Christianity covers a wide range of beliefs and that there are many Christians – possibly including yourself, for all I know – who don’t share the beliefs I’m about to discuss below.)

The teaching of classical Christianity regarding the afterlife is that, while Christians spend eternity in a wonderful heaven, everyone else is doomed to go to hell and suffer eternal torment.

As I say, specifics of belief on this vary. (I recall a line I liked in Antonia White’s ‘Frost in May’; a Catholic says to a Protestant who laments the awfulness of this doctrine, “It’s only a dogma that Hell exists; it isn’t a dogma that there’s anybody in it.”.) There are many Christians who don’t believe in hell at all, and, among Christians who do believe it, there are differences of opinion on, for example, which of the following groups would end up there:

  • People who, for reasons of where or when they live, simply never get to hear about Christianity at all.
  • People who reject Christianity because they have, from childhood on, been taught a different religious belief that includes the teaching that Christianity is false and that God would be heartily displeased were they to convert to it, thus meaning that they sincerely believe that they are better pleasing God by avoiding Christianity altogether.
  • People who reject Christianity because, having carefully investigated it, they conclude it to be false.
  • People who never really get as far as accepting or rejecting Christianity because they believe the important thing is to lead good lives and help others, and hence focus their energies on this rather than on investigating the details of religion.

By Christian teachings, at least some of those people are, in return for no very great sin or crime, doomed to be eternally tormented in hell. According to Christian beliefs, good and kind people are facing this fate not for any wrong, but simply for being imperfect humans who either genuinely disbelieved in Christianity, or simply happened to miss out on whatever twist of chance and circumstance might have led them to Christian belief. This is happening as a direct result of the grand plan of the Being supposedly in charge of the universe.

That is a crushing catastrophe. That is a nightmare unbroken by a dawn.

That is also, I recognise, not a point that affects whether the Christian faith is true. I told you in the last post that I’ve striven to form my beliefs as honestly as possible, based on evidence rather than desirability, and that applies here as well; just as I tried my utmost to avoid allowing the desirability of other forms of afterlife to lead me into religious beliefs that I couldn’t honestly back up with evidence, so I tried my utmost to avoid allowing the horror of Christian teachings to put me off. I investigated Christianity in detail, as fairly as I could, and only rejected it once I truly felt I had enough evidence that Christian beliefs were incorrect. I knew that, if the evidence was that the universe really was run by such a monster – that life really was that hopeless – then I wouldn’t be able to change that reality, and would have to do my best to accept it. I tried my best to keep an open mind as I investigated, and I do believe I managed that.

But I hope the above explains why I’ve always found it rather ironic when Christians try to tell me what an awful worldview atheism is.

Comments

  1. KG says

    I have a suspicion that to Ted Wright, the fact (as he believes) that a lot of other people, and specifically those who disagreed with him will be in unendurable agony forever, is not a bug, but a feature.

    • Dr Sarah says

      I’ll give Ted the benefit of the doubt as I don’t know, but I agree that, sadly, there are some like that.

  2. says

    I read and commented on the original post a week ago or so. I wonder if you’ll get any response.

    But my main question: is there any way to get on an e-mailing list for updates to your blog or any other FTB blog? I don’t do RSS, and email works best for me.

    • Dr Sarah says

      Hey, Bob! Great to see you on here; I often read your blog. I only skimmed through the comments on the original post but I did notice you’d posted there.

      I ran your question by the other FTB-ers, and apparently it’s on an individual blog basis; i.e. each individual blogger has the choice of whether or not to set up the ‘subscribe’ widget, or apparently there is a way for bloggers to add individuals if requested. Anyway, I’ve now added a ‘subscribe’ widget; if you scroll down far enough, past the ‘Recent Posts’ feature, you should see it. If you try it and it doesn’t work, do let me know. (I have no idea what I could do about it if so, but at least I could tell someone who knows what they’re doing…)

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