Good Atheists, and Bad Christians

It seems like every time someone dies the internet gets flooded with posts and comments, while good-intended in nature, that are somewhat problematic. You see things like ‘God needed another angel.’ or ‘They were a great person, they’re definitely in heaven.’ Statements like these remind me of the bad theology churches of my youth had. (Someday we’ll have to talk about the great falling-away of my generation, and the things that caused it. It’s one of my favourite topics.)

Here’s the problem with the aforementioned; they’re wrong. Totally wrong. Malarky, one might say. God doesn’t “need another angel.” This is hard for some to grasp, but follow me. People don’t become angels when they die. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.

Simply being a good person isn’t enough. There is a long road between you and the gates of heaven that you have to walk. You can’t just skip to the front of the line because you were nice, popular, a good athlete, etc. In the beatitudes did Jesus say “Blessed are those who are well known, for they shall walk side by side with the Lord.”? (No. The answer is no.)

This is a large, and growing issues in the modern era. People are drifting towards a school of thought where everybody wins, everyone gets a trophy, as longs as you’re happy, as long as you’re a good person, then you get to go to the good place. The thing to remember, if you’re going to keep referencing Christianity, you should well know that salvation is a trophy that not everyone is going to get. As hard as it may be to admit, there are some people who had their chance, and didn’t take it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17

In the philosophy of Naturalism you will find what is called ‘natural morality.’ Within this school of thought is the idea that ethics and morals are inherently born rather than stemming from religious teachings. Is this correct? Well, I would say yes. People, generally, have a natural concept of what is right and wrong. There is no arguing that. There aren’t a large number of atheists who openly walk around killing people. Despite what some people in the church think, atheists can be good people. Humanists all over the world strongly hold to this idea. And, I don’t disagree with it. I’ve known, and know, many atheists who are less judgemental than some lifelong Christians. It’s a sad fact of life.

But, the problem with this is when people think a human moral compass will guide you to the most high on it’s own merits. Almost everyone with a ‘coexist’ bumper sticker wants to perpetuate this idea that ‘all roads lead to God.’ Just to go ahead a burst your coexist-bubble now, within that image is a star of David representing the Jews, a crescent moon and star representing Muslims, and a cross representing Christians. Three abrahamic religions with very conflicting ideas about God. They literally can’t all be right. (While I’m thinking about it, I would like to point out that I think a lot of Christians have an unfair hostility towards Islam. While I obviously don’t agree with the beliefs of Muslims, Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary) is a central figure in the Quran and is recognized as the Messiah. If you have a harsher view of Muslims than Jews, I tend to think you’re feelings aren’t necessarily concerned with religion as much as race. Also, the Muslim body as a whole has a devotion to God, in spirit and life, that the modern Christian church should take a note from. (I’ve added my respect for Muslims to my list of future blog posts.))

Now, to move on to the Christians. How many Christians do you know that don’t lead a life in keeping with scripture, but think that they are going to heaven because they believe in Jesus? I was looking at a copy of a magazine a few months ago. On the cover was a group of three female singers. Each of them competing to see who could wear the least amount of clothes. On one of them was a gold cross necklace. This, I thought, is the problem with the modern church. Not necessarily the clothing, that is a post for another day. (If you want to go ahead and tell me I’m sexist now, feel free to.) The problem is this idea that you can do whatever you want, dress how you want, live how you want, and you’re safe as long as you say the magic words ‘I believe in Jesus’ and sometimes talk vaguely about God.

There once was a girl who was… very close to me. She was one of the happiest people you would ever meet. She was incredibly smart. To date, I’ve never seen anyone learn english as fast as she did. She loved to read. I hardly remember a time when there wasn’t a book in her hand. She used to borrow from my library and write book reports for me to grade. She liked that I challenged her to think deeper about things. I thought it was funny. She always hated the way other girls acted. Always chasing after boys, doing whatever they could for attention. Then, one day, she decided to move on to better things. I would hear from her every once in awhile. Every time I saw her I could see her growing more and more into the girls she used to dislike. Each time, seeking more and more attention. Now she’s in a line of work that… doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. Sometimes I think about her. I think about that young girl with a book in her hand, and a smile on her face. I think about the plans we had. I often wonder, ‘how did we get here?’ I guess that’s how the world works. You get a taste of it, and then it consumes you. The world will tell you that you can do anything you want as long as you’re happy, but the world doesn’t tell you the cost.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:26

How many stories are there like this one? Countless. Over and over again, if you criticize someone, they’ll return with something along the lines of “Jesus loves me,” “Only God can judge me,” “It doesn’t matter, all of my sins are forgiven.” Does Jesus love you? Yes, His heart also breaks for you. Is God the only one who can judge you? Yes, that’s what you should be worried about. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus, He told her to ‘go forth and sin no more.’ No more. As in stop.

I watched a documentary this week called ‘American Gospel: Christ Alone.’ I highly recommend you watch it. In it they talk about how the word of life movement (prosperity gospel) has made the gospel focus largely on the individual instead of on God. One quote that stood out to me was when one of the ministers said “God is not a character in your story. You are a character in Gods story.” This speaks largely to the attitude many Christians have today. We have to remember that it isn’t about us.

And, the idea that “once saved, always saved” isn’t going to cut it. There are some things that a follower of Christ has to do. You can’t just live the life that you want. You have to live the life that He wants. Each person has within them the ability to be the person they were ordained to be. Some people won’t heed the call. We’re going to have to learn to accept that. And, we have to learn to accept the fact that not everyone gets a ticket to the show. Tragic as it may be. There will be people, people whom you love, who are left behind.

I’ll be the first to point out that I’m not perfect. But, I’m trying. I’m not the same person as I was yesterday. Me ten years ago wouldn’t recognize me today. I like to think that’s a good sign. The more time I spend walking, that farther away from my old self I get. The path isn’t as easy to walk as some people like to say it is. Some of us have a hard time navigating. Sometimes we stumble and fall. But, if we’re trying, genuinely trying everyday to be better than we were yesterday, then maybe one day we will be fit to enter the kingdom.

I had an idea of how this post was going to go, but I feel like it may have gone off course a bit. (Bonus points if you see the irony.) I’ll leave you with one final thought. One of my favourite expressions that I’ve picked up over the years is “Mira al este.” Look to the East. For most Protestants there is some symbolism here, but if you’re around a people group with more Catholic influence you’ll glean a little more from it. I don’t want to start a debate about the deuterocanon (apocrypha), but I think this verse is a good one for reminding us where we should have our compasses pointed.

From the Book of Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah; Chapter 4, verse 36:

Look about thee, O Jerusalem, towards the east, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from God.

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