darned conspiring unbelievers
Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God
isn't gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It's filled with people
who, for all eternity, still want to be the center of the universe and
who persist in their God-defying rebellion.
Somewhere there is a conspiracy going on. At least that's how it seems,
to hear Christians tell it. Non-believers are just a bunch of ingrates
who know the Truth, but flagrantly choose to disobey and rebel against
it. So who are these people who would dare such a rebellion? Well, folks
just like you and me. But where is this so-called rebellion, and what
is its goal?
If I'm supposed to be part of some cosmic insurgency, I'd sure like
to know what it's about.
The hard part to figuring all this out, however,
is the fact that this rebellion is happening in someone else's mind, not
mine. It's sort of like the Cultural Revolution in China. That bizarre
piece of human history is especially interesting to me, as many of my
family members had to live through it. 1966-76 in China was a time when
you could go from being an ordinary citizen one day, just minding your
own business, to a counterrevolutionary the next, bent on toppling the
Central Government. Nevermind that you had no inclination of doing any
such thing, and were just working for a living like everyone
else. The fact that someone thought you were guilty made you so, and it
was then your job to fess up to your crimes, or be punished.
Christians could benefit from reading about communism, and comparing
it to their own religion. The unflagging praise for its leader, no matter
what he did, and the inferences about those outside the Party are uncannily
similar to Christianity's own teachings about God and unbelievers. And
those unwashed "counter-revolutionaries" (read: unsaved) are
always accused of dark conspiracies and morally questionable behavior.
So as the accused, let's see what we're charged with.
The crime of belligerance
It's always exasperating arguing with people who think they know what
you're thinking better than you do. You just can't win! Yet Christians
must use this tack, first because of what their religion tells them we're
really thinking (see Romans chapter 1), and second, it makes us seem even
more guilty, thereby making their God's punishment all the more holy and
justified. And what exactly are we guilty of? In a word, belligerance.
We know that they and their religion are right, but refuse to admit it.
Why? Usually because we are having too much fun to quit, and because we
like thumbing our noses at a cosmic diety who can roast us forever in
Now the fun part I can see. Baptists have long considered dancing a
sin, and yes, I do find myself wanting to dance to a good swing tune simply
because it's so fun. But what about the pissing off the Big Guy and going
to Hell part? Who would really do that, if they believed this was the
The fact is, we are not belligerant. We simply don't believe what
we are doing is a crime, nor that we will be punished for it.
Now many Christians would say that unbelief is enough of a crime in
itself. But if it is, then Christians are no better off, for how many
other religions' rules and dogmas do they similarly disbelieve? And would
they consider it fair to be judged by the rules of a religion that they
did not believe in? Even though they would hate to be judged by another
religion, they constantly judge others by their own. Hey, wasn't there
something about doing unto others...
The crime of knowing better
Even though we know our unbelief will lead us to hell, we continue anyway.
God offered us a way to salvation, but we refused it, therefore it's our
own fault that we will burn in hell. Now this crime is similar to the
previous one, but it focuses more on our intent. It says that we saw all
the warning signs, but chose to ignore them. Again I ask, who are these
people? Who in their right mind would do this if they really thought this
would happen to them? Do people intentionally drive the wrong way on the
freeway just to get somewhere faster, or jump off a building because it's
quicker than taking the elevator? No. Why? Because of the consequences.
They know that if they do these things, they will get hurt or killed.
It's the self-preservation instinct which we all have built in. So why do Christians think people
suddenly abandon it when faced with the fires of Hell ?
The crime of self-determination (pride)
Christians say God created us with free will, but God forbid that we
ever try to use it. For that is what sin is: exercising our will and making
a wrong choice because of our imperfect knowledge and wisdom. But we will
always have imperfect knowledge and wisdom compared to God, therefore
any free act of will that we make has a good chance of being a wrong,
or sinful act. And since we must constantly make choices in life, we are
constantly sinning. That is the human condition. But Christians must put
a darker spin on it. They must add pride and rebellion to the mix, and
make our mistakes more sinister and premeditated (and therefore more punishable
by God). But is this really so? Aren't the majority of us just doing the
best we can, and our mistakes simple human failings, accountable to those
we fail, rather than a conspiracy against God?
The crime of ingratitude
A favorite Christian allegory of salvation goes like this: we sinful
humans are like motorists who have racked up more speeding tickets than
we can possibly pay. And at our court date, the law demands payment,
or jail time. The judge, however, offers to pay our fines himself. All we have to do is accept his generous gift, and we can go free.
Now who wouldn't accept a gift like that?
To tell it that way, anyone
who refused would seem quite the ingrate, and deserving of incarceration.
But, they fail to explain one critical part of the story: how we got the
speeding tickets in the first place.
The speeding tickets stand for the sins we commit in life, which we
cannot pay for. So Christian rules are then the "speed limit signs"
that we have exceeded. But the problem is, in the real world, Christian
signs are not the only ones posted. With the umpteen religions and value
systems out there, not to mention the numerous divisions within Christianity
itself, the roadside of life is cluttered with signs posting all different
sorts of rules, or "speed limits". On any given stretch of road,
you have signs that say 15, 20, 25, 35, 55 and 70 mph. Which one do you
Also, it is not ingratitude that keeps us from accepting the judge's offer.
It's integrity. Allowing someone to pay our fines would imply that we
felt those fines were justified. But in reality, those fines were unfairly
assessed, because the speed limit was impossible to determine. Therefore
the tickets are unjustified, and a person of integrity would not pay them,
nor would he let someone else. We do not accept Jesus's substitutionary
death, not out of ingratitude, but because we feel the charges and sentence
to be unfair and unwarranted, and we reject the injustice of punishing
one person for the crimes of another.
Lessons from high school
I was an evangelical Christian all through high school, and spent some
time trying to convert my unsaved friends. Needless to say, I wasn't the
most popular kid in school. Anyway, a few of my good friends were not
Christians, yet to their credit, remained friends with me, despite my
trying to save them all the time (in contrast, most of my Christian friends
who learned about my deconversion now avoid me). I remember in particular,
hanging out with one of my unsaved friends and his buddies on a weekend.
The night before, they had been out partying, and I felt it the perfect
opportunity to try out some evangelism tactics I learned at church. Since my church taught that unbelievers tried unsuccessfully to find happiness in all sorts
of ways (like partying) to fill that "God-shaped void" in their
hearts, it stood to reason that now was a good time to confront these
guys about how unhappy they really were, and share the secret of true
happiness with them.
"So, did you have fun at the party?" I asked my friend in
a somber voice.
"Really?" I replied, never breaking eye contact.
Feeling a little weirded out I'm sure, he said
"Yeah, it was a
"Really? Did you really have fun?"
And so it went. An uncomfortable silence soon followed, and after giving
a brief spiel about how only Jesus gave true happiness, but failing to
impress upon them how unhappy they really were deep down inside, the conversation thankfully moved
on to other topics.
Now other than showing me what wasn't a real good conversation starter, I learned
something valuable that day, even though it took me 4 more years to realize
it. I learned that unbelievers were not all like what we said they were.
They weren't leading secret lives of "quiet desperation," longing
for the liberating gospel of Christ. Rather they got along fine, without
the spiritual emptiness and rebellion we Christians accused them of. Any
problems were usually interpersonal, and did not include a conspiracy
against their Creator.
Having been a non-Christian for many years now, I can say the same for
myself. There is no conspiracy. There is no rebellion. There is only me,
trying to live life the best I can. Somehow, Christians cannot believe
that there isn't more to it than that. We are still thought of as being
members of a rebellion, wallowing in our arrogance and ingratitude, deserving
of the most horrible punishments. That's what they thought of my uncle
when they locked him up during the Cultural Revolution. I suppose it makes
sense, though. It's easier to accept the mistreatment of others by your
government, or your god, if you first make yourself believe that they