But What if You’re Wrong?
“But what if you’re wrong?” So goes the common question posed to atheists by Christians. Putting aside for a moment the obvious retort (what if they are wrong and another religion is right?) I decided to really organize my thoughts a bit. What would I say if I was wrong, the Christians were right, and a moment after dying I found myself before the blinding majesty of Yahweh with Christ at his right hand?
Oh. Oh dear. I see. Well, I guess this is about as close to incontrovertible evidence for your existence as I could have ever demanded. Actually, as a good skeptic I pray you won’t get offended if I entertain the possibility that I’m experiencing a hypoxia-induced hallucination. But, I’ll just go along with this for now.
I’m not going to kneel or anything if you don’t mind. That would kind of be shutting the barn door after the cows have run out, don’t you think? Besides: by your will, I was thrust into life in a very undignified manner and state, so the least you could do would be to let me leave it in better circumstances. And really, that would be the very, very least you could do. You know, now that the initial shock of being dead is starting to wear off, I find myself getting angry. I’m trying to restrain it, but this whole situation is… absurd. According to most accounts, this is the part where you judge me. Who the hell are you to be a moral judge? You’re a sadistic, genocidal sex-obsessed tyrant. All my life, I laughed off those Christians who accused me of “hating God”. Like I told them, it wasn’t that I hated you; I just genuinely didn’t think you existed. But I did hate the idea of you. I didn’t see evidence to believe in any gods, but you in particular seemed like a logical contradiction. I was glad that the Bible was a work of-seeming-fiction because the belief that all of the most terrible things in the world were, at the worst, designed by or, at the best, permitted by an all-powerful conscious being was too horrible to not hate. It’s oddly refreshing to find that all this time I was outraged at something more tangible.
Or is this the part where your grand plan is revealed, your “mysterious ways” made clear? Will you say the magic words and suddenly I’ll understand how a child being raped, murdered, and left in a ditch fits in with your infinite benevolence? Will starvation and disease make sense? Because you know, I don’t think I want them to make sense. If that’s part of your omniscient knowledge, then I don’t want that part. I guess it’s fitting: humanity’s first act of defiance was to want knowledge to be more like you. Then let my last act of defiance be choosing ignorance so that I can be as unlike you as possible.
This is all perfectly futile. You know me better than anyone. You know my mind. You know how I thought. You know – and had the power over- all the circumstances in my life that meant your very existence seemed impossible to me. After all, you “knit me together in my mother’s womb,” didn’t you? So am I just a casualty of free will, then? You wanted worship from people who could choose to worship you and, to satisfy your ego, decided it was a fair price to create people whom you knew wouldn’t choose you and would face eternal torture for it. You know, even if almost everything had been perfect, a world free from pain and death where everyone would freely choose to spend an eternity with you – except for one person, and yet you made him anyways… then you would still be infinitely more evil than all the worst of humanity combined. You’re going to judge me? On behalf of all that’s good and decent in your creation, I judge you. I may have been a willful child, but you were a terrible father.
I can’t say I’m really inclined to beg for my soul now, given what I said about you knowing me perfectly. Even so, supposing mercy’s still an option (and that last rant didn’t kill my chances), I guess it’s worth a shot. I can’t pretend I have any love for you, but no principle is worth being damned over if it can be helped. What shall I say in my defense?
I tried to be good without you. You told your followers to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and visit the sick. I did those things, not because you told me to or because I thought I was “storing up treasure in heaven”. I did them for their own sake, for the sake of my neighbors. When I saw suffering, I tried to help instead of saying a quick prayer to you and believing I’d done something. And when I didn’t help and suffering continued, I held myself responsible instead of concluding it was just your divine will.
And I was content with one life- in fact, despite how terrible life could be, I was usually quite grateful to have one. I didn’t demand more. I was content to create my own meaning in the meaningless chaos, to find love in all the pain, to find the beautiful simplicity in the apparent complexity. And I have to say, you may have failed basic ethics but you sure had a deft hand when it came to creating the cosmos – not least because you did it in such a way as to make yourself seem irrelevant. The splendor of the night sky, the incredible diversity of life, everything. Quantum mechanics? That was crazy, I loved it! And relativity? You were on a roll that day, really. I saw nearly all of your creation for what it was: wonderful. I didn’t look at an exquisitely intricate world and call it fallen. I didn’t look at a newborn baby and call it sinful. I didn’t look at my seemingly finite life and call it inadequate.
So you created us because you desired companionship and love? Well then, you needed me. But I didn’t need you. I grew up and took responsibility for my own life. If that really is the greatest crime of all, then there’s nothing more I can say. The deck was stacked against me, but honestly, I can’t truly say I have any regrets. Heaven, hell, oblivion… your move, God.
Though I still think I’m probably hallucinating.