My friend and personal heroes, Jerry DeWitt (author of Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism) posted one of those pictures we see all the time of a sign in front of a church. Many of us see these all the time, all over the interwebs. Some are funny, some are ridiculous, many are offensive and a few are really encouraging. However, this one made me stop and think. It wasn't profound in any way, in fact it was rather ignorant, but the last line brought some old thoughts (and fears) to mind from my religious past. The sign read - "Atheists: Many on campuses - few in foxholes - none in eternity."
The first line about there being a lot of atheists on campuses is in line with comments I hear quite frequently from religious folks. For some reason, they seem to think they're insulting us by insinuating that our education has gotten in the way of our religious beliefs/faith (for those of us that were once religious). Or, is a barrier for those who were never religious that prevents them from conversion. Let me put this in context for any readers that adhere to this idea. When you were 5 you probably still believed in Santa Claus. You saw him at the mall, you saw him on TV and in movies, and you might have even seen the weatherman on the news tracking his progress as he delivered toys to all the kids in first world countries. By the time you were 11 or 12, maybe a little older if you weren't paying attention, you had been told, or learned on your own that Santa is a myth, a legend, a fairy tale. You see, this is how it worked for people like me, the more I learned the more I realized that I could not reconcile what I believed with what I knew to be true. The things I was taught in Sunday school and at church just didn't line up with the facts historically, scientifically, archaeologically or even logically for that matter. In fact, even the bible doesn't make much sense if you read it in it's entirety or try and reconcile it with itself. Have you ever read the nativity/Christmas story in the there separate gospels it appears in and tried to lining the story and sequence of events up? It doesn't work! For example, Matthew says the angel told Joseph that he had knocked Mary up, yet in Luke the angel tells Mary was the one told about her immaculate conception (Matthew 2:1-2 & Luke 2:15). Matthew says Jesus was born in a house, Luke says Jesus was born in a manger (Matthew 2:11 & Luke 2:7). Matthew says wise men came to visit the baby Jebus, Luke says it was shepherds (Matthew 2:1-2 & Luke 2:15). Matthew says Herod was killing baby boys under 2 yrs of age and that Joseph, Mary & Jesus fled to Egypt, but Luke fails to mention that at all, in fact it puts Joseph, Mary & Jesus in Nazareth at the same time Matthew says they're in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-16 & Luke 2:39). Nevermind the FACT that Herod had been dead nearly a decade when Jesus was supposedly born and Nazareth didn't even exist yet! These are just some of the problems with the biblical account of Jesus' birth, if you're among the faithful and you believe that the bible is literally true and the word of an omniscient, omnipotent god, I'd encourage you to rethink your position on that. I digress, and am yet again off topic, let's move on.
Regarding the statement about atheists in foxholes... this is another bit of propaganda I hear from Christians fairly regularly. Nearly 30% of men and women in the armed forces identify as "atheist" or "no religion". And though many do identify as "Christian", it's more often than not because their parents did, or because they went to church on Easter and Christmas growing up. I met very, very few "practicing" Christians in Iraq, or anywhere else while working for the Department of Defense.
The last line is really the reason I started writing about this. The last word struck a chord - "eternity". I was a teenager before I ever really tried to wrap my head around the idea of eternity. When I was finally able to conceptualize something that resembled eternity, I became genuinely afraid. 'Afraid', you might be asking yourself? Yes, afraid. Not because I didn't want to live forever, but because I thought god might toss me out of heaven and down into hell because I KNEW there was no way I wouldn't get bored of bowing down to some shiny, bearded guy and singing those obnoxious songs we had to sing every Sunday while tears were streaming down the faces of the more, emotional gals in our youth group. That sounded TERRIBLE! I now realize that was only the tip of the iceberg. I have no desire at this point to live for eternity, even in a magical place where I feel no pain, sadness, the streets are made of gold and I have a mansion and a crown full of jewels for all my good deeds... (Does this not sound preposterous to anyone else?) Knowing what I know now, having ACTUALLY read the bible and considered the violent, abhorrent, immoral, misogynistic, brutal content objectively (aka not making excuses for, and justifying god's behavior, or the behavior of his followers) I would NEVER bow down to such a monster! Eternity is an awfully long time to be forced to do anything, especially something so asinine as worshiping a supposedly "all powerful" being. He must be pretty damn insecure if he needs his measly little creation to bow down to him for ETERNITY! I still can't get over how long that really is... I might be alone in this, but the idea/concept of eternity is something I find very strange.
If you're religious and you've never taken the time to genuinely consider what it would be like to live forever, and ever... and ever. Stop, go somewhere quiet, sit down and think about it. Not only is the idea of eternal life ridiculous (and obviously a product of our fear of death) but it's also quite overwhelming. If you're not religious, and you've never considered the implications of eternal life from the perspective of someone that is (religious) I'd encourage you to do the same. Put yourself in their shoes, try and think about god the way they would (make excuses for his behavior, ignore the contradictions and pretend what the bible says god does is "love") and think about what eternity really means. Crazy shit, eh?