My transition to atheism went slowly and gradually, from Christian to deist to atheist Buddhism sympathizer and finally to plain, simple atheist. In fact, I started accepting and using the label atheist just about two years ago, when I first encountered the Problem of Evil. It was only then that I started looking into arguments for and against the existence of god(s) and the validity of different religions. (Until then, my atheism was mostly a result of my own experiences.)
Since two years isn’t such a long time, there are still moments where I suddenly see a certain aspect of religion in general or Christianity in particular in a whole new light, realizing what conclusions and mindsets it leads to, what influence it could have on people’s behavior and how it sometimes leads to deeply paradoxical, twisted attitudes and beliefs. The worth of a human being, for example.
On the one hand, there are the teachings that lead to the whole pro-life movement (and its various effects): that God Himself creates each and every single one of us (some with horrific and/or excruciatingly painful diseases), that He has a plan for everyone, that He loves us, that He gave His only son just so we could be with Him, and so on.
On the other hand, there’s the idea that each and every one of us deserves to go to hell. Every single being, from the newborn (or zygote?) to the dying, is so worthless, so rotten, so despicable that it deserves nothing more and nothing less than eternal, unimaginable agony. Take a moment to let that sink in. And now try to imagine what the world would be like if everyone truly believed that.
Imagine that a close friend breaks down during a visit and tells you that her husband abuses her. She describes how he uses his fists, feet and belt to beat her for everything he perceives as transgression, from buying a different brand of orange juice than his favorite to not looking at him with enough admiration and respect. Through tears she recalls how his beatings led to her two miscarriages, how she hides the bruises and scars and makes excuses not to go out with her friends when she is too sore to walk. She tells you how he once found a wrinkle in his shirt that she hadn’t managed to iron out, and how he yelled the worst imaginable names into her face while he pummeled her.
“And I’m starting to believe I deserve it”, she sobs. “I can’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore!”
“Oh, no”, you say. “You deserve a lot more than that. Don’t you know how evil you are?”
Many countries have a maximum of years you can spend in jail, no matter what the crime was, because apparently they feel that a certain number of years are more than any person deserves. According to the Bible, the opposite is true – no amount of suffering is enough punishment for the crime of existing when it comes to humans. Imagine a world where people take this as a fact. Imagine a world where instead of sympathizing with people’s suffering, we take it as just and fair that they should suffer. Imagine that a picture of earthquake survivors digging for friends and family members in the ruins elicits only nods of approvement of their pain instead of compassion. Or worse, a world where nobody digs in the ruins because the people trapped in the darkness deserve worse than that anyway.
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t incorporate this kind of justice into its rules and guidelines for social behavior (they may be incredibly disproportionate, but not that much), and most Christians don’t factor it into their everyday thoughts, feelings and actions (or only enough to warn other people, which is annoying, but not as terrifying as the consequent version). And some Christians redefine hell and claim that it’s not an actual lake of fire, but simply separation from God, which doesn’t sound bad at all to someone who is already without God. Also, it’s not what the Bible says, but I have the feeling that a lot of Christians view the Bible as some sort of Terms and Conditions and just click “I accept” without actually reading it, trusting that they’ll get everything they really need to know from their pastor and the like.
To those Christians: No, you won’t. Go read the damn book.