(Note: you may want to read the prologue first.)
From Rep. Davis’ bigoted outburst about atheists, one part “jumped at me”, and I knew at the time (a few days ago) that I would have to dissect that point. That part is, of course, this post’s title.
If you follow, logically, from a correct premise, you will likely arrive at correct conclusions. However, if the premise itself is wrong, then the best logic in the world will still end up with a wrong conclusion… but it’s interesting to analyze those occurrences. This is one of them.
Rep. Davis, when she said that sentence, was being bigoted and ignorant, sure, not to mention hateful and full of “righteous anger”. However, there was something else there, something else you can hear in her voice. Fear.
And, from her original premise, she has every reason both to be afraid and to hate atheists. Because something very, very precious is at stake: the fate of eternal souls.
I’ve talked about this before, but most people — believers and otherwise — have never really thought about the concept of hell, or eternal torture. Or are simply unable to grasp it in its entirety, because humans have not evolved — nor have they ever needed to, for their survival, so it makes sense — to deal with concepts such as infinity. The worst part of “eternal torture” isn’t “torture”, but “eternal”. Even mere eternal boredom, without any active torture, is a fate inconceivably horrible, to an extent our minds aren’t capable of imagining. There is no crime on Earth, which is necessarily finite, that warrants such a fate — and this is why I believe the doctrine of hell makes the Christian god supremely evil, more sadistic than the world’s most sadistic sadist, and I wonder why more people don’t see it. Cultural indoctrination, I guess.
But, even without fully grasping the concept of eternal torture, Christians know very well — even if sometimes just instinctually — that it’s something to be avoided at all costs, something worse than anything that can happen to us on Earth.
Now, think about it. You believe that the most important thing in the world — to such an overwhelming degree that, compared to it, nothing else matters — is to avoid going to hell. Both for yourself, and for those people you care about — and, if you’re a “nice”, well-meaning person, for strangers as well. Nothing you can do or achieve or feel here on Earth is worth anything if you still end up in hell. So, to save yourself (and, later, others) form hell, anything goes. No amount of earthly suffering really means anything compared to it. No amount of ignorance, of lying, of manipulating, of causing suffering to yourself and others is significant. Taken to the logical conclusion, to condemn someone to hours, days, months, even a lifetime of suffering, is a moral act… as long as it prevents that someone from going to hell! Indeed, this was the belief of the Inquisition. Better to be tortured for days or weeks and repent, thus having a chance of being saved, than to lead a pleasant life and then be damned for all time. If you really believe that God sends people to hell, then anything that prevents that is moral… no matter the suffering it causes.
But this is not simply a matter of suffering. It’s also a matter of knowledge. Any knowledge or way of thinking that can lead one to doubt God is dangerous — indeed, more dangerous than anything in the world — and must be suppressed. Whether that knowledge is true or false is immaterial. Evolution may indeed be a fact, and it is compatible with liberal theism, but it can also lead to non-belief, and therefore its teaching must be opposed at all costs, regardless of its truth — simply because it may lead thousands, maybe millions of children to hell. And isn’t saving innocent children the most moral act one can perform?
Recall the preface in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, where he wrote (emphasis mine):
I suspect – well, I am sure – that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don’t believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents’ religion and wish they could, but just don’t realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you. It is intended to raise consciousness – raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
Therefore, to a believer like Davis, the mere existence of atheists — and, not only that, but happy, moral, fulfilled atheists — is a threat, one that may cause many people to question their faith, to realize that, yes, non-belief is an option, and doesn’t make you a monster. It may cause millions of innocent souls to end up in hell. Morally, shouldn’t that be fought with tooth and nail? The mere existence of atheists is already a threat that is filling hell with souls that might not have ended there otherwise. But vocal atheists? Publicly seen atheists? Atheists that don’t act like hedonists, who don’t have “horns”, or frighten people? How many are they condemning to eternal suffering?
If one believes that God sends non-believers to hell, then it only makes sense to do anything in your power — including oppressing, lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering — to stop any possible source of non-belief. Whether that source is a person or group, or a book, or an idea, or a philosophy, or a knowledge. Whether that source is itself moral, or is itself true. None of that matters. Hell is what matters.
In fact, why stop there? Yes, the Bible says “thou shalt not murder”, so one can assume that a murderer goes to hell. But what greater sacrifice is there than one’s soul? What is giving up your life for others (say, your children), compared with up giving your soul? What could be more moral, more heroic, more noble than sacrificing your afterlife for that of your children… by killing that soul-damning atheist who is making them, for the first time in their lives, doubt what you’ve taught then since birth?
Compared to that, what is disregarding the Constitution (man’s law… pfft.) and taking away the legal rights of an atheist? I’m sure Rep. Davis considers her bigoted actions to be absolutely moral, and probably won’t even understand what all the fuss is about. After all, she was doing it to save innocent souls… in her eyes, she should get a statue, or something.
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