Choosing Hell: Leaving faith against your will
Any atheist who has spent any time talking with or debating with theists is going to have heard it at least a dozen times, “You have just chosen not to believe” or “You’ve chosen one faith over another faith” or some derivative of this idea. Personally, I’ve heard it hundreds of times – largely because of my status as an apostate.
For many reasons, and I’m not sure which is most prevalent, it is very hard for believers to grasp why anyone would ever find themselves leaving what they consider to be the one true way to avoid hell and achieve an afterlife in heaven, for all intents and purposes it’s difficult to see people like me choosing hell over what seems like assurance in the afterlife. I’ve argued ad nauseum that my leaving the faith that I grew up with was anything but a choice – but that it was an eventuality of the earnest search for a more devoted experience with god. Leaving faith meant leaving certainty – and I can easily grasp why someone would want to avoid that, once I recognized that I was losing it I tried to hold on to it as best I could, slipping into uncertainty kicking and screaming. Believing in some version of a “One True God” and believing you’ll reap the benefits of that is far easier than admitting with honestly that you don’t have a clue about god – and are willing to accept the consequences of that lack of knowledge.
Choosing Hell is an inane accusation for someone like me, growing up with the fear that perhaps something in my life was preventing me from being truly “saved”. All I ever wanted was a sure thing, some certainty that I was on the right path and for it to be repeatedly confirmed – so I’d never do anything intentionally that might jeopardize my chances in eternity. I’d give my right arm for a black and white choice between Hell and Heaven – and that’s the thing, no matter how clear you might believe your faith is – it just isn’t 100% confirmed, and it can’t be. What I’m choosing, if anything at all, is to be honest about my doubts and to let them take me to wherever they lead me.
It should be understood that when an individual makes such a choice such as this that the consequences of that choice are completely unknown – the end result hasn’t come to pass when the decision is made to follow the evidence that my doubts uncover. For all I knew, at this point in my life – and you in yours, the end result for me would be greater glory in Heaven – as an avid seeker of the truth. It’s very much a “Red Pill, Blue Pill” situation – you can keep the status quo and take the Blue Pill but those of us who will eventually end up in this place aren’t the Blue Pill type. We take the Red Pill – not knowing where it’s going to lead us, only somewhat sure that we’ll end up with a better vantage point on the truth than we previously had. Maybe Hell will be the end result – but it wasn’t the choice – it’s the result of a different choice: to not be satisfied easily and to take the hard road.
If I end up in Hell I didn’t choose it. It will be an inevitable result of an inability to buy the Christian religion, or any other religion for that matter. The result of one moment that led up to many others and ended in being incapable, despite all my intentions and best efforts, of belief.
Consider the perspective of the fundamentalist Muslim – who believes that Allah has made himself known to all people and those that don’t follow Islam have simply chosen to ignore the mercy of Allah. Are Christians choosing Hell? I don’t think so – I think they are simply doing what I’m doing; being honest about their ability to believe a claim.
I think, in the end, a black and white choice between heaven and hell or right and wrong would be far too simple. Obviously 90% of the population would choose right over wrong if things were so easy, but the fact of the matter is that things aren’t – and I think that’s clear in the fact that even most professed Christians live in such a way that isn’t congruent with their profession of faith; most professed Christians aren’t fully sold on the idea themselves but they feel like the profession of faith is just enough insurance to get them by if Christianity is true. Few want to risk enough of their lives to actually be what Jesus called a disciple, but almost everyone in a given geography will take the name Christian and get wet – just in case.
Perhaps it’s time to start appreciating those of us who don’t rely on a half hearted insurance policy to ensure we escape Hell, learn to respect our diligence in searching for truth, and love us for the honesty and boldness it takes to admit where we are in that search.