“Its all an out. Today Americans live in and prefer a society without consequence.  So Americans tend to be Atheist rather than deal with any higher being who disapproves of sin and a sinful way of life. What these poor souls fail to realize is God does not require their faith or acknowledgement to exist. And when they die, which they will, it will be just like when the cop pulls them over, or when someone challenges their beliefs in a profound way; they will back track. Except God is not a cop or a challenger to a belief system, hes THE judge.”

This was a comment made on a friend’s facebook.  Now, I’m no stranger to being told I am going to burn in hell.  I generally do not see this as a threat coming from the person saying it.  Many people simply believe that it is going to happen and want to warn others.  It would be much like saying, “Don’t go into that building, it is on fire,” not, “I am going to set you on fire.”  It’s usually framed within Pascal’s Wager False Dichotomy.

So, I’m not going to address that aspect of this – I’m going to address the actual accusation that atheists (in general) are just trying to avoid consequences.  They just want to do whatever they want to do without the fear of being judged.  I think that the truth is the complete opposite.

I acknowledge that believing that someone/something is ALWAYS watching you can cause an increase in conformity to socially imposed ethical and moral norms.  In other words, if you think someone is watching you, you tend to act in a way that would cause whoever is watching you to think better of you.  This is a well-known psychological effect and is one of the reasons that interviews in person and over the phone have more response bias than interviews that have a greater disconnect from the interviewer.  People will tend to give the socially acceptable answer instead of the more accurate one.  Now, when the “interviewer” can literally read your mind constantly where-ever you go….well, I suspect that compliance to norms increases (however creepy it might be for someone to be constantly watching you).

But, when a person actually does something wrong, what happens?

A Christian: Asks for forgiveness from God.  The person may have to participate in a ritual, such as reciting “Hail Mary” but there is no danger of not being forgiven.

An atheist: Is not guaranteed forgiveness from whomever zie has wronged, and if the person wants forgiveness must confront and make reparations directly.

A Christian: Can engage in intercessory prayer to attempt to ask God to help hir through difficult times, including helping zie when hirs own actions and decisions have caused bad things to happen.  Zie is assured that something outside of hirself guarantees universal justice.

An atheist: Has to deal directly with whatever outcomes resulted from hirs actions.  Has agency in attempting to increase justice in the world with no guarantee that justice is ultimately assured.

A Christian: Can be assured that if hirs life didn’t work out well, by either circumstance or decisions, that an infinite reward is awaiting zie for doing nothing else than admitting that zie sucks and God rules.

An atheist: Has one shot.

What I think many Christians don’t understand is that their world-view, even though it has created imagined consequences to their actions (being confronted with their sins by Saint Peter or someone else), has muted the real ones.

One consequence of that is not only that Christians are protected from guilt, regret, and responsibility – because they are answering to God instead of other human beings – their morality no longer necessarily stems from social norms, empathy, and evidence-based teleological utilitarianism or self-interest – but stems from ancient social norms, absolutist rules, and reality that comes from a book.  That is how an otherwise compassionate, reasonable human being can do pretty horrid things and call it love.

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