Sunday, September 15, 2013

I am more than just your worst nightmare...

The title of this piece begs the question:  What IS a Christian's worst nightmare?  Satan?  Being rejected by God for some transgression not remembered so never repented for?  Being rejected by God because of one's lifelong attendance at a denomination turns out to be the WRONG choice?  Being thrown into hell because one's death comes so close on the heels of a sinful transgression before repentance can be sought?  The bible seems to suggest that the worst that can happen to you is to be under Satan's control for an eternity.

I will admit that, were that scenario true, I would be hard to put to find something harder to endure - jokes about sexless women and whiskey bottles with no way to open them notwithstanding.

No, a Christian's worst nightmare - or somewhat beyond that point - is the realization that what has been feared and threatened for all of one's life is simply a lie.

Christianity (or at least the American's popular idea of it) has a two-fold construction in its picture of an afterlife - each part diametrically opposed to one another.  In one, a perfect existance, no hunger, no pain, everything is happiness and the wonder of worshipping a perfect being and the opposing part - the eternity of hell, burning, pain, and repetitive torture.  Obey the strictures of God's commandments and earn Paradise, but disobey and earn an eternity of pain and torture.  The traditional carrot and the stick.  One to pull you in one direction in hopes of obtaining the reward and the other to make you jump in pain away from that stick.

Yeah, I know, that's a simplistic view, but reduced to the basics, that IS what the message of Christianity and Islam are.  Obey and live in Paradise, disobey and live, but under torture for all eternity.  For the record, that last part is rather exaggerated.  Born out of medieval forms of enforcement of feudal rules and legalities where torture, pain and death were common and often enthusiastically performed, this view of heaven and hell was painted to picture for the average medieval peasant a view of the afterlife that promised a better life - but the pain of disobedience was the familiar torture and death - and stretched out to an eternity to match the enormity of the ultimate Lord's eternal majesty.  What better instrument to ensure the earthly obedience of the more numerous peasantry who could have - and later did - overwhelm the nobility through the sheer weight of numbers, had there not been a way to utilize the common man's superstition to ensure his peacefulness?

In reality, the bible serves very little information on the substance of either heaven or hell.  The Church at various points in time did manage to paint a very detailed picture of hell and an amazingly detailed organizational chart of the hierarchical nature of the heavenly host, but all that was pretty much supposition.  So, Protestants of various groups have dropped the details, preferring to allow their flocks to use their imaginations, which is probably a better strategy anyway.

What a lot of folks today concentrate on is the morality of things.  The whole heaven and hell thing is merely to help you make the decision to be a better person, they say.  That is punctuated by a question a lot of atheists get exposed to - which is an accusation that they are bad people who do terrible things, because they have rejected Christ and the moral teachings of the bible.

The answer to which is always that atheists are actually better people than christians, because we CHOOSE to be better people, based on humanitarian principals, not based on a choice between reward or punishment.

Which is why we, atheists, are worse than the worst nightmare of Christian leaders.  We are because our lives, our public actions and how so many Christians are now coming to know us as individuals give the lie to the accusations of past Christian leaders.  As Americans have become accustomed to knowing gays as just normal people (and often friends, neighbors and family members), so they are beginning to become accustomed to us the same way.  It is becoming obvious to more and more people that secularism is not a dirty word and that living one's life outside of the strictures of religion is not the nightmare it was once made out to be.

We are becoming seen finally as rather nice people!

Which is why we are the worst nightmare of Christian leaders today.  We prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that living life apart from religion is really just as good, if not better, than with it.

And that proof is beginning to fragment the world of religion in America today.  In 50 years, practicing Christians will be a small minority, and secularism will be the rule.  There may be various spiritualistic beliefs and practices, but religion as an organizational and political power will be a thing of the past.

Which is really quite beyond the worst nightmares of the Religious Right.

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