Why I am an atheist – Beth

I went to Baptist church and Baptist school until fifth grade. One day during religious class, after the teacher said that people who don’t take the lord as their savior go to hell, I asked what happens to all the people who never have the chance to hear about God. “Everyone has heard about God,” she said. That just can’t be true, I pointed out— there are still remote tribes being discovered in the Amazon, for example, and that was even more true 200, 300, and 500 years ago. There have been literally billions of people who never had the chance to hear the Bible version of God, did they all go to hell? She just stubbornly maintained that EVERYONE has had the chance. It was so completely and obviously wrong that whatever child-like faith I’d had broke and drained away in an instant.

It was like when I realized that Santa had the same hand-writing as my mom: I saw that the story was made up, but absent the story the main event was still exactly the same. I still got presents and cookies and decorations and everything I loved. The made-up story didn’t enhance it particularly, and realizing it was false didn’t detract particularly. In the same way, once I realized the Bible stories I’d been studying daily were fake, I didn’t feel some big loss in my life. So I suppose you could say that I’m an atheist because I have a more-than-fifth-grade grasp of logic and because my enjoyment of life didn’t require clinging to falsity.

And of course because all the kewl kids like PZ Myers are atheists, too!

United States


  1. says

    I heard two different answers to the same question, one better than the other.

    One answer was that people who have not accepted Jesus will, unfortunately, go to hell. It is the job of Christians to make sure that everyone gets taught about Jesus, therefore. And if I don’t tell someone about Jesus, or donate to the missionaries going to ‘unreached’ people, it will be my fault when those people go to hell. Not a very nice idea to put in a person’s head.

    The second answer was that people who have never heard about Jesus will be judged by their behavior- specifically, were they generous to those in need? Did they live a moral life to the best of their understanding of what a moral life means? Those people would be offered an opportunity to accept Jesus in the afterlife.

    I like the second answer much better, and I think more highly of the Christians who taught me that than of the ones who taught me the first.

    The answer I ultimately came up with: ‘Stories about God are just stories, like stories about Darth Vader or Superman. Christians think those stories are very important, and they model their lives on them. But nothing bad happens to people who model their lives on other stories, or on something other than a story. What’s important is that you build your life on something worthy.”

  2. jaybee says

    The story I was told as a Catholic kid (but luckily as a younger child of a family with 8 kids, the money to send us to Catholic school ran out before I came of age) is that God judges people based on their knowledge. Thus, a heathen who never heard of Jesus would be judged based on how he behaved, while a Catholic child would be held to much higher standards, but it was the Pope himself who had the most difficult time getting into heaven as he had the most complete knowledge of what Christ demands of us.

    That is somewhat more fair, but still a crock o shite, of course.

  3. wcorvi says

    ALL of these answers, of course, smack of “What sort of story will this dumb kid believe?”

  4. says

    @contendedreader (1)

    I heard the “people will be judged by what they know” story too, and it makes me think: THEN STOP WITH THE F*&!ING EVANGELISM!

    If people can’t get judged for rejecting Jesus if they’ve never heard of Him, telling them about Jesus is the worst thing you could possibly do. If they accept, fine, but the majority don’t, and by informing them, you’ve sealed their doom.

    Nice one, God Botherers.

  5. nonny says

    It is one of the hardest problems for Christianity because saying that people will go to hell just because they never met a Christian or read a bible seems monsterous to most people, but if God can judge those people according to what they’ve done, then the ‘magic blood’ of Jesus is pointless, since he could just judge the rest of us the same way.

    Of course some liberal Christians would say that Jesus came to give us a good example to follow and get around the problem that way. You have to ignore the verses about how ‘NO-ONE GETS TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME!’ and so on.

    The whole ‘everyone must hear the word of God’ doctrine has real world consquences because missionaries are still trying to preach to the last uncontacted tribes and there have been cases where they’ve infected some with diseases accidentally.


    It’s sad your teacher was so close-minded.

  6. paleotrent says

    @ jonnyscaramanga

    I had a similar reaction to a Sunday School teacher when I was a young adolescent. He said his tennis buddy was a Hindu and so he had told his buddy (perhaps even more than once?) that he was worried about his friend’s soul, since as a Hindu he was bound for Hell. Like Beth, I asked him “Well what about people who have never heard of Jesus,” and unlike her teacher, this guy told me that they would get a free pass – they could get into Heaven. Upon hearing his answer, I informed him that by evangelizing we were doing a grave disservice to these “uninformed” folks, since there was always a chance that they would reject our religion. He never came back to teach our class again.

  7. Sastra says

    Missionary work is a self-destructive concept — because it has to mesh with the belief that anyone who is capable of being saved WILL be saved. In the real world, what work we do makes a difference: if you don’t do it, it may not get done. Christians of course want to appeal to this. But now there’s a catch coming from the supernatural dimension of the framework — and it really messes with the system.

    If a missionary fails to visit someone who would have converted had they heard the missionary and this person is subsequently damned to hell because of this, then either God is not interested in saving the savable or salvation ultimately depends on luck, chance — and the power of the missionary. They have the control. The free choices of the believer can outweigh the wishes of God, and successfully thwart His goals. Christians don’t like this option, when they reflect upon it a bit.

    But if the currently unsaved person will definitely be saved anyway (either through another missionary, a miracle, or good works), then what the missionary does is worthless. Sleep in, take a break, opt out, whatever: nobody who is savable will fail to be saved. You cannot make a difference to what is destined to be. All the arguments and pamphlets and attempts at persuasion are a sort of performance art at best, with the only consequence of a bad performance (or none at all) being for you. Other people are just props.

    Someone recently mentioned that virtually every religious belief falls apart when you examine all the implications. Missionary work certainly does.

  8. notfromvenus says

    @nonny –

    I know I’ve heard/read some other Christians resolve this another way, by saying that people who don’t know about Jesus just don’t get any afterlife at all. That way the only way to heaven is still through Jesus, but they don’t have to go to hell for something that’s not their fault.

    Fortunately I didn’t hear that idea until after I’d left Christianity, because part of what woke me up was realizing how monstrously unfair that was.

  9. stonyground says

    As a kid I always kept my questions to myself so I never got to experience any bullshit answers. The crucifixion-redemption thing seemed to make sense in that it would theoretically reduce the total amount of suffering. What I couldn’t fathom was why, if he created everything, did God come up with such an unjust system and then end up being snookered by his own rules? It also bothered me that the Ten Commandments were rubbish. A child could come up with a better TC than God, that seemed to me to be very odd.

  10. 'Tis Himself says

    Sastra #7

    If a missionary fails to visit someone who would have converted had they heard the missionary and this person is subsequently damned to hell because of this, then either God is not interested in saving the savable or salvation ultimately depends on luck, chance — and the power of the missionary.

    This meshes with the Calvinist idea that God only picks X number of people to be saved and the rest of us, regardless of how good we’ve been or how fervently we’ve believed are damned.

  11. Owlmirror says

    Can’t believe no-one’s posted this quote yet:

    The gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that’s where they believe, in their deepest heart, that they deserve to go. Which they won’t do if they don’t know about it. This explains why it is so important to shoot missionaries on sight.

      — (Terry Pratchett, Eric)

  12. robster says

    Why can’t the silly god thing the christians and muzzies follow do anything right? Really, why is it that the gods needs, need interpretation? If it was a real deity, surely if it can whip up a universe an a few days it could make its desires easy to understand? What a useless and FAILED god it is, I recon it would have trouble cooking a can of baked beans.

  13. Ex Patriot says

    I guess I’m in trouble then as I have gone some 70 years and have never been saved. Some tried a few times but they were told to put it where the sun doesn’t shine. I have never had the time to worry about such mundane things as that. Good for Beth, she woke up to the fact that religion is BS at an early age.