During this Easter season I am reminded of all the things that I was taught while attending Sunday school as a kid and while going to grown-up church as an adult. I didn’t attend church much beyond the age of 12 or 13 until I was about 40. Then, after my father died, I decided to be with the rest of my family in church every Sunday. I did that for 10 years, religiously. I even went to Easter sunrise services almost every year.
I already knew the story. Jesus was brutalized and then crucified. Three days later, three women went to his tomb and found the stone had been rolled away. But he came to them and told them to go tell his disciples what had happened. He later appeared to his disciples. But one of them, Thomas, required proof. Jesus offered that proof and Thomas believed.
Later, Jesus ascended into heaven, but promised he would return one day to claim his people, those who believe in him.
Since then, the church has mangled and politicized the message to serve its own purposes. The Roman Church, what we now call Catholic, created the bible from various manuscripts that a committee decided would fit with the church’s, and Emperor Constantine’s, best interests. They left out many contemporaneous manuscripts because they did not fit their prescribed dogma.
What we get from all this is that if we believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of mankind, and if we live our lives with Jesus always in mind, we will go to heaven and have everlasting life, singing with the angels and praising God. If we don’t believe, we go to hell where we’re condemned to burn forever in a sea of fire and brimstone.
Ah, if it were only that simple. No, I don’t wish for the existence of hell. But heaven and hell come as a package deal in Christianity. If you believe in one, you are obliged to believe in the other. If you believe in Jesus, you must also believe in Satan.
But if it were that simple, all I would have to do to guarantee my immortality would be to believe in Jesus as my savior. I’ve already been baptized, which was Jesus’ only command of us other than our belief.
But it’s not really that simple, is it? You can’t force yourself to believe that the sky is green when you can clearly see that it’s blue, even if your eternal soul depends on it. And no matter how often you go to church, pray, sing hymns, or listen to eloquent sermons, you can’t force yourself to believe in something that, down deep, you know is very suspect.
I sort of envy (one of the seven deadly sins) those who know that they know. They have no doubt that Jesus lived, was crucified, and then was resurrected. They know for certain that believing in his divinity will send them to heaven. And, even though some of them are well-mannered enough not to say it out loud, they know for sure that I and others like me are going to hell for our lack of belief or our blasphemy.
But I am not a gambling man. I went to a casino once and allowed myself to gamble $200. When that money was gone, I quit. It was, to me, just an investment in an evening’s entertainment. And if I had won something, that would have been just gravy.
So do you think that, as a non-gambler, I would risk sending my immortal soul to hell if I actually believed such a place existed? I would be the world’s biggest fool.
As an agnostic, I can proudly proclaim total ignorance about God, if there is one, or the devil, if there is one. I can say I have no idea whether or not Jesus died on the cross because there is no corroborating historical evidence of it, and the Romans kept pretty good records. But what I can say with a great amount of certainty is that there is enough doubt about the biblical stories of Jesus, heaven, hell, and the devil that I don’t live in fear of ever being condemned to everlasting torment for my beliefs.
I am concerned that there might not be an afterlife at all. Not knowing for sure makes death a very scary proposition. And that’s why it would, in a way, be nice if I had the certainty of a fundamentalist Christian. But I know better. My mind works in a rational manner. I know what makes sense and what doesn’t. I also know that just believing in something doesn’t make it true. So even if I could force myself to believe, it wouldn’t make any difference. The truth is exactly what it is, regardless of what we believe.
The only thing that believing can do is make you more comfortable while you’re alive. But before it can even do that, you have to really believe it, not just go through the motions of believing.
I used to go through the motions, trying to convince myself. I finally confronted the truth, that I didn’t really know what the truth about God is. It actually made me feel better to have that epiphany.
Christians are always telling me that they have all the proof they need in the beauty of nature, the miracle of birth, or the intricacies of life. They claim their proof is that they “feel” the presence of God within them. Well that’s all nice for them. But everything that they describe as proof can be explained by science. God is not required.
I am like Thomas of the bible. I need proof, or at least compelling evidence. According to the story, Thomas got that proof directly from Jesus. Faith was not required of Thomas. All I’m asking for is the same consideration. I need proof; faith just doesn’t do it for me.