An Essay By Michael Derek Roberts
I watched with some degree of anger and amusement as church leaders, politicians, and “good Christian folks” twisted themselves into embarrassing knots trying not to sound uncharitable when reacting to the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy of forcibly separating children from their parents at the U.S southern border. If the situation were not so serious, it would have been bloody laughable.
The people known for touting their “family values” and who EVERY Sunday go to church and wax tearfully nostalgic over Jesus’s teachings about “suffering the little children to come onto me,” conveniently suffer from instant amnesia when dealing with little Black and brown children. For these hypocrites their version of Jesus is a white prophet for white people. And “their God” is an old white-bearded, white man “somewhere” in heaven.
They forget everything, every lesson, every statement that Jesus made about loving your neighbor and being charitable. For these God-fearing folks, women and children fleeing persecution and violence are simple criminals and lawbreakers and therefore undeserving of mercy, charity or justice. Lock them up and enforce the law. They forget that the biggest lawbreaker was Jesus himself. They fail to remember that it’s right to fight against unjust man-made laws. Anyone challenging this putrid worldview is branded an atheist – a heretic, worthy of being boiled in hot oil because they choose not to believe in “their God.”
You see, modern-day Christian apologists, perhaps knowing that they don’t do well in the arena of reasoned arguments, logic and evidence, try instead to beat the atheist worldview by arguing that God’s promise of the afterlife is better than “worldly reality. Christian hope in things to come incorrectly imagines that consoling themselves is sufficient. But that’s seriously flawed thinking since that only encourages Christians to reject reality. And like their behavior in dealing with immigrant mothers and children facing a cruel policy driven by rabid xenophobia, it encourages mental complacency and magical, wishful thinking.
That’s not to say that Christianity does not have positive things. Far from it. The church can create a positive and rewarding community for its members, and it can catalyze good works and charitable giving to help the less fortunate. From this point of view it is an important social institution. But while this natural part of the church is positive, the supernatural side doesn’t cut it. For starters, heaven is a nice and grand idea, but it comes as a package deal with hell.
Yes, for the religious, believer laying sundry problems at the feet of Jesus might be comforting, and I’m sure it is, because that’s what they are taught to believe. But, more often than not, these problems are usually still there the next hour or day. Thus, the question is: why are prayers answered at a rate no better than pure chance? Or the lottery?
Next, we’re told that one of Christianity’s strongest selling points is that salvation doesn’t require works but is a gift. All you need is to have faith, they say. But with so many interpretations of correct belief within Christianity, how do you know the Jesus you have faith in is the right one? And you may be headed for hell if you guess wrong. Moreover faith requires that you do not question, do not think, do not reason or use common sense to arrive at a conclusion. Proof and evidence are not necessary. Trust the priest or pastor who has a telephone line to the Big Man in the Sky. But if you can’t prove it, how do you know that it even exists?
So when challenged with some of these logical concerns and conclusions, a common Christian response is to argue that the atheist worldview is bleak, hollow and empty (as if “that worldview is depressing” is a logical argument against it being correct). But let’s for a moment consider this atheist worldview. This would, logically, be a world where praying for something doesn’t increase its likelihood of materializing; where faith is necessary to mask the fact that God’s existence is not apparent; where no loving deity walks beside you in adversity; where natural disasters kill people indiscriminately; where far too many children live short and painful lives because of malnutrition, abuse, injury, or birth defects; and where there is only wishful thinking behind the ideas of heaven and hell.
Atheists do not pressure people to believe in anything, don’t have holy books that help them chart their daily lives, don’t have celebrations to some divine person and respect other, including Christian, beliefs. The common Christian refrain to all this is to ask rhetorically “So you don’t believe in God?” My answer is always “well if it would make you feel better I don’t believe in Satan or the Devil either.” And as far as belief goes? I could believe that my dog Max turns a werewolf every Wednesday night and goes out to ravage pigs. Or for that matter I can believe that next Saturday I’ll win the lottery. In both instances you can correctly surmise two things. One, I’m a pathological liar or two, I’m certifiably mad.
The logic of hypocrisy is that it is driven and organized around a simple construct. You start by throwing out a conclusion, and then cherry pick a combination of half-truths, jaundiced facts, and speculations to justify and validate your conclusion(s). What’s wrong with that? Well, you must start with a premise and if that premise if wrong then so are your conclusion. So don’t ask me if I believe in some deity when the argument implicitly says the contrary, then try to prove me wrong by picking your own set of “facts.”
And it’s not that the atheist worldview finds no value in human life. In fact, the opposite is true: the Christian worldview is the one that devalues life. Of what value is tomorrow to the Christian when they imagine they’ll have a trillion tomorrows? What value are a few short years here on earth when they have eternity in heaven?
There are many consequences to all this. Let me apply some logic and reasoning here: if the atheist is right, the Christian will have missed seeing his or her life for what it truly is—not a test to see if you correctly dance to the tune of Bronze Age traditions; not a shell of a life, with real life waiting for you in the hereafter; not drudgery to be endured or penance paid while you bide your time for your reward; but rather the one chance you have at reality.
We can argue whether heaven or hell exists, but one thing we do know is our one life here on earth: a too-short life, no matter how long you live, that you can spend wisely or stupidly. In this life you can walk in a garden full of flowers, and laugh and learn, and do good things, and feel good for having done them. You can play with children, and teach someone, and love each other.
The atheist is a realist; a pragmatist who believes that science can explain the world. To live your life based on an old, outmoded rigid set of rules and dogma found in a holy book that makes you uncharitable to little children ripped from their parent’s arms, locked up as caged animals, and then say its “all God’s will,” I want to part of. That’s just plain cruel and vicious. I’ll not be a hypocrite. Likewise, I won’t be able to visit any new places when I die; I won’t be able to learn another language, or comfort a friend, or apologize, or forgive, or simply stop and smell the roses. I won’t be able to smile and feel good inside as I watch a mother and child in the act of bonding. If all that is important to me, I’d better do it now, in the one life I know I have.
Life is so much sweeter when that’s all you’ve got. Sure, there’s a downside to having a finite number of days on this earth. It’s a downside, but that’s why it’s also an upside. Atheism is far from being a depressing worldview. Atheists don’t have to bother about sin, bowing and abusing themselves about how weak they are and how sex is dirty and sinful. They’ll tell you how empowered and free they feel now that they can honestly ask questions and follow evidence where it leads. Atheists seek only the truth and that, my friend, is enough.