A reader named Chad, recently left a comment on my About post. I thought he asked some really excellent questions and thought it might make for an interesting post.
Here’s what Chad had to say:
Had a chance to review your background and read some of your posts. Fascinating stuff. Never really met anyone who’s migrated from Christianity to agnosticism but seeing as how you had the misfortune of being involved with two cults (YoungLife and SGM) I find myself thinking, “Geez, no wonder this dude became agnostic.”
My question for you is: Isn’t there a part of you that’s even minimally concerned about the whole ‘hell’ thing? That’s not meant to be a rhetorical question or a preamble to some kind of evangelistic pitch or a “love bomb” or whatever. I’m genuinely curious.
You’ve been brutally honest about your assessment of Christianity so I’ll do the same. I’m a Christian and buy into the whole package. Young earth, Noah’s Ark, inerrancy of scripture. I’m totally on board. I’ve gotta say though, the whole concept of eternity, whether it be in heaven or hell, bums me out to no end. It haunts me every day.
When Christians talk about the weaknesses of the atheist and/or agnostic position, they always bring up the utter despair that atheists must feel about the finality of death. Even articles written by atheists acknowledge this despair. But between you and me, I’m thinking, “Why the sadness? This is one of atheism’s primary *benefits*! When you’re dead, your dead. What wonderful freedom. No need to think about the endlessness of heaven and the tortures of hell? Where do I sign up?” I can’t help but think that atheism, or at least agnosticism, would make me a more relaxed person overall. If it weren’t for the hell bit, I’m tempted to think I’d jump ship in a heartbeat. I totally see the appeal of the atheist perspective…
and yet…I have to think…
There must be some part of you that wonders if you made the right decision. You don’t think about hell at all? Seriously? It’s gotta be nagging at you at least a little bit, no?
So let’s jump in and I’ll do my best to answer.
First off, I want to be clear that I have no doubt that SGM is a cult. When it comes to Young Life, I do not view them as a full-blown cult, but as an Evangelical Ministry that has engaged in some methods of outreach that are similar to tactics used by many cults. I know this may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I do not think that Young Life is on the same level as cults such as the Moonies or Jim Jones. Also, my involvement with these groups are not what led me to agnosticism. Even after I emerged from these groups, I still was an active Christian seeking to better understand my faith. It was my study of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and early Church History that led me to conclude that the Bible is most certainly not the inerrant word of God.
As for hell (whether I am worried about it or not) the short answer is no. I have no reason to believe in a hell because I don’t find any evidence that convinces me that there is an afterlife, let alone an eternal place of torture where an All Knowing, All Loving God sends creatures to be Eternally tortured for his glory and good pleasure. Besides the fact that hell seems to be contradictory to a God that is loving and Just, I just don’t find any evidence for such a place. If you think I am uninformed or being cavalier, I can assure you I am not. Not that long ago I still believed in a literal hell, Young Earth, etc…because I still viewed the Bible as the Word of God. Not sure if you read my posts on the subject of hell, but here they are if you want to know some of my background on the subject.
As for the despair that some atheists agnostics speak of…I can say I just don’t relate to it. Sure, if I dwell on the fact that someday I will die and no longer be, it’s a bummer. But it’s because I currently enjoy a full and satisfying life, surrounded by people I love and projects I enjoy. I think the bigger bummer, is constantly obsessing whether or not my faith will be good enough or correct enough to please a Heavenly Ruler who will once and for all, bring me to Eternal Bliss or to Eternal suffering. Since realizing that this is most likely not the case, I do feel free to live my life without the extra burden of wondering whether or not I am doing God’s will. I still attempt to treat all people with love and respect, but I no longer have the guilt induced teachings of Jesus and the church hanging over my head all of the time.
As for your own struggles, I assume they stem from the teaching of the Bible. My only advice would be to study the evidence supporting the idea that the Bible is the true Word of God. If you find the evidence compelling, then you should be worried. But if you find the evidence to be lacking, then you should regard the Bible’s teaching on Heaven and Hell in the same way you currently regard the Egyptian’s Book of the Dead teaching on the afterlife. In other words, in the realm of myths and dead religions that hold no relevance to today.
Thanks again for your thoughtful comment and questions.
- 10 Reasons for Man to Leave Religion Behind (listverse.com)
- 5 Religious Leaders Who Gave Up the Faith and Became Outspoken Atheists and Agnostics (alternet.org)
- The Dreaded Atheist (new.exchristian.net)