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Belief as a Moral Issue

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

One of the strangest foundational beliefs of Christianity is that belief in Jesus is a moral issue. In the Bible, Jesus is crystal clear that the worst sin of all is to not believe in him. In fact, Christianity plainly decrees that belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ is more important to one’s salvation than living a moral life. All one may accomplish in the way of living a moral life can be erased completely by the simple act of not believing in Jesus. That’s the biggest sin (with the possible exception of blaspheming the Holy Spirit), and one that assures you of a one-way ticket to hell.

This is made perfectly clear in John 8:24, where Jesus says: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” And, as we know, to die in sin means hell is your destination.

Further evidence is provided in a parable where Jesus is clearly referring to himself: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Here is how one Christian apologetics site puts it. ( “In order to be saved, you have to repent of your sins and believe that Jesus died for you, was buried, and rose again the third day. . . The Lord Jesus Christ came to rescue us from sin and from the wages of sin which is death (physical death and everlasting torment in hell and the lake of fire).”

In Christian dogma, it is so important that one believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ that the New Testament is crammed full of warnings and outright threats on this issue. However, one passage in Matthew pretty well sums it up (Matthew 10:28): “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In short, do as I say, and believe as I say, or suffer everlasting pain in hell.

My point here is that it is illogical to believe that a real god has actually threatened that you must believe or you will end up in hell. Surely a real god would realize that we have limited control over what we believe. Can we, as adults, believe in Santa Claus, no matter how hard we try? And how does obedience under threat from a more-powerful being become a moral matter? No SENSIBLE god would come up with such a scheme. Obviously, this is an idea that was created and propagated by primitive men.

How can anyone think it reasonable to make a moral issue of belief, something we have so little control over? In our legal systems, we are judged by what we do, and never on what we think or believe. We would not find a man guilty of anything in our courts if his only “crime” was thinking all Catholics, communists, or tuba players should be neutered. Until he acts on this belief, and harms someone, he is free to think as he pleases. Does it make sense to believe that a god would hold us blameworthy for our beliefs, if we harm no one because of them? Again, doesn’t this sound rather like something primitive men might come up with in order to scare us into believing what they want us to believe?

Does belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ actually define a person as moral? Shouldn’t it take a lot more than this for one to be considered moral? Should we consider as moral that priest who raped little boys over and over, yet believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ? Should his belief really be enough? Conversely, shouldn’t it take a lot more than disbelief to make one immoral, and deserving of punishment?

Islam claims that Mohammed was taken bodily up into heaven on his white horse. Now what would the Christian think if told that he must believe this or he deserves to suffer in hell? Wouldn’t he object that he can’t just will himself to believe something that makes no sense to him? Wouldn’t the Christian think this is terribly unfair and that no compassionate god would ever come up with such an unfair scheme? Well this is what atheists and agnostics believe; that a demand to believe in Jesus or suffer in hell is clearly unreasonable, unfair and un-godlike.

There is a very serious fairness issue here. We naturally assume that only bad people deserve to be punished. But how does not believing in Jesus make me a bad person? I mean no harm to anyone. And I don’t disbelieve out of some childish petulance or rebellion. I simply find it impossible to believe that a man was dead and then came back to life, without a whole lot more evidence. Is this so terribly unreasonable?

What, after all, is the evidence for the divinity of Jesus Christ? All we have are the words of the New Testament, written in ancient times, twenty centuries ago. A number of Biblical scholars question whether this man Jesus even existed, suggesting (among several theories) that perhaps he was a run-of-the-mill, soapbox preacher around whom a legend of miracles grew up over several decades. Whether one accepts or rejects such a theory, it should be acknowledged that it cannot be disproven with certainty, since there is no hard physical evidence of photos, film, fingerprints, DNA, or anything else.

Here is the essential claim of Jesus (Matt. 11:4-6): "Go back to John and tell him about the things that you hear and see: Blind people are able to see again; crippled people are able to walk again; people that have leprosy are healed; deaf people can hear again; dead people are raised from death; and the Good News is told to the poor people. The person that can accept me is blessed."

He says, then, that anyone who can believe that this list of miracles actually happened, can simply take his word for it - for he offers no evidence beyond his words - is blessed. And, it is implied, those who cannot are consigned to hell.

Now, since I have, at best, only limited control over what I can believe, how could a just and compassionate god forsake me for not being able to believe this list of miracles? Note that I said, “. . . not being ABLE to believe.” I did not say CHOOSING not to believe. I am not making a choice here; I don’t have a choice. I have never seen a miracle, nor have I ever heard a believable account of a miracle. I have been studying science for six decades or so and everything I have learned about it tells me that the laws of nature cannot be violated, ever. I think I am justified in believing this because there is not a single case on record, not one, verified by experiment and peer review, of any of those laws ever being violated.

As far as I can see, I am left with the choice of believing a statement in an ancient book, by an unknown author from a primitive, superstitious age, or believing in the accumulated record of modern science. I contend that the only people who believe in those miracles, and the divinity of Jesus Christ, are those who have taken a leap of faith. They have decided to assume as true what cannot be proven.

To suggest that an intelligent god would punish me with everlasting pain because I could not make that leap, that assumption really - and think it made any sense - is absurd. To think belief could ever be properly considered a moral issue, especially by a god, is equally absurd.