An Eternal Life For Everyone — Including Atheists

You want to make Christians look bad?

Ask them to explain what happened to a person like Mahatma Gandhi — a kind, non-violent, respected, revolutionary, non-Christian man — after he died.

Honest Evangelical Christians will tell you what they believe: He’s currently rotting in hell.

Atheists and Jews and gay people will suffer the same fate, too — unless they convert. (And since these Christians “love” you, they’ll do whatever it takes to “save” you from the misery.)

It doesn’t make them very popular, of course, but if accepting Jesus’ divinity is the only path to heaven, then those who don’t believe in it have to suffer forever… Right?

That seems downright cruel and unusual for anyone with a decent moral sense… and yet, it’s supposed to be a cornerstone principle for Bible-believing Christians.

So why are the results of a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life so different from that idea?

Charles M. Blow writes about the survey in today’s edition of The New York Times.

Blow says that, according to this survey:

Sixty-five percent of respondents said… that other religions could lead to eternal life… Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

Did respondents not understand the question?

It seems like they did. Perhaps other factors played a role:

As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

If you read the article, you may be as shocked as me when you see the percentage of Christians who said “living life in accordance with the Bible” is what it would take to achieve eternal life. I thought the number would be substantially higher.

A more visual breakdown of the Pew Forum’s survey is below:

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It seems like many religious Americans actually find value in a basic Humanist principle: being good for goodness’ sake.

They’d rather judge people based on their actions, not their dogma.

I’m glad to hear it.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    These people have clearly not read their bible. Mark 16:16. Shame on them.

    It’s almost as if they’re making it up as they go along.

  • mkb

    What’s the difference between an atheist and a person with no religion?

  • http://hinduatheist.blogspot.com Hindu Atheist

    Sorry, my experience has been different than survey results. Probably my sample size is too small :)

    Ask them to explain what happened to a person like Mahatma Gandhi — a kind, non-violent, respected, revolutionary, non-Christian man — after he died.

    I have tried this. Many Christians just cop out. They resort to their standard answer – “I don’t know what happens and only God can decide who goes to heaven/hell”.

    They just don’t want to admit that it doesn’t make any sense that a “good” person would rot in hell for eternity. Many just refuse to confront this question in an honest way.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ cat’s Staff

    I know plenty of Christians who would say that atheists have eternal life…eternal life in HELL. If that was the way they phrased the question when they really meant to ask if non-Christians were going to heaven, there may have been a flaw.

  • Renacier

    I tend to be skeptical of surveys like this. What you believe out loud and what you believe in the quiet of your own mind are often not entirely in sync.

    Personally, I think what any survey really measures is how many people don’t want to look like jackasses on a questionnaire.

  • Diana

    What happened with the black protestants and atheists and “no religion?” Did they not answer the question, or were they the only ones who thought that those people only had no life after death?
    There was no discussion of this blank response in the article.

  • http://skepchick.org/teen/ Elles

    Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

    Do tell me that I’m not the only one who found that sentence redundant.

    Apparently Atheists are only a little bit worse than people with no religious faith… oh wait! Same thing.

  • Harknights

    When I see things like this it makes me believe that most people don’t really think about this stuff. They just “look at the answers of their neighbors” and call it a day. I bet if you asked if they have spent even a night by themselves thinking about life the univese and everything more than half would say no. I think every family has one person who is super into religion and the rest don’t care and just do what they are told.

    I wonder. If you were ask the church goers as they were leaving what the pastor, priest, father just said more than half wouldn’t be able to pass a basic test. All you documentarians out there that’s gold.

  • SnugglyBuffalo
    Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

    Do tell me that I’m not the only one who found that sentence redundant.

    Apparently Atheists are only a little bit worse than people with no religious faith… oh wait! Same thing.

    “People with no religious faith” would likely include deists and the various “spiritual-but-not-religious” types, so the distinction between that and atheism is significant.

  • http://www.poligazette.com Lynx

    “People with no religious faith” would likely include deists and the various “spiritual-but-not-religious” types, so the distinction between that and atheism is significant.

    Though I see this as a valid distinction I personally doubt that most respondents had that in mind in their answers. Most people are woefully ignorant about people of different faiths and thanks to the bigotry that permeates American society “atheist” is a loaded term. I think it’s much more likely that in questions where people were asked about “people of no religious faith” they thought it sounded harmless enough but in questions that include “atheist” they attached all the unfair negative connotations that come with the term. The very separation of “atheists” from “people of no religious faith” implies that atheists are more than just people of no faith, reinforcing the idea that atheists share other distinct characteristics, ones that almost everyone is taught are very negative.

  • SnugglyBuffalo

    I don’t necessarily disagree, but I was only pointing out that “people of no religious faith” is not synonymous with “atheist.”

    Whether the survey respondents understood that is just idle speculation without more data.

  • Cris

    Frankly, I’m not really surprised by this at all. I’m an atheist at a Catholic high school which, while mostly Catholic, has plenty of students from other Christian denominations. In religion classes and any time religion is brought up in other classes, it’s kind of just assumed that to get to heaven, you have to be a good person. No Jesus required. Perhaps this is because it’s a Catholic, not Protestant school, but with most of my religious friends, this seems to be the prevailing belief. Many of my Christian friends would cite Gandhi as an example of how a good, moral person should act if they want to go to heaven. I know Christians who would disagree with that, but they are not the majority.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt…

    I realize this is a bit of a tangent… but why would an atheist have to be dragged kicking and screaming to heaven?

    Speaking for myself: If, when I die, it turns out I was mistaken about the existence of heaven — but I’m still going there because I was a good person — I see no reason to kick and scream. If there really is a god, and he’s somehow magically figured out how to make an eternal afterlife genuinely blissful and not either a crashing bore or a robot zombie army in which we’ve all lost our personalities, and he’s also somehow magically figured out a way to either have everybody go to heaven or have it be okay that they don’t… then fine. I’m game.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    That’s a lot of “ifs” Greta. Assuming the Christian heaven is one where we all sit about praising the big guy then you’d need to drag me there, unless everything I’ve read is false. However you imagine heaven to be is really secondary to how anyone else imagines it. It’s not as if there’s an agreed standard idea for heaven.

  • Richard Wade

    Think about it. If eternal life means being you, you know, the person you’re used to being, with your particular consciousness, your focused awareness, your sense of identity and with your separate personality, then no matter how pleasant it is, after a hundred quintillion years or so you would be so bored, so extremely, extremely “been there, done that,” that you’d be wanting annihilation and oblivion more than anything.

    Eternal awareness as an ordinary human mind would be unbearable unless your consciousness was somehow profoundly altered, expanded and “universalized” to be able to go beyond the limits of your human “self.”

    But if that were the case, then you wouldn’t be “you” anymore, would you?

  • Marc Mullinax

    It is better to be merciful in the name of [choose your deity or religious leader], than hateful in the name of Christ.

    As Matthew 25:31ff suggests, it is better to act correctly than have “correct” belief. This is the overwhelming message of all religions, except for a segment of Christendom.

  • Rachel

    Marc:

    I’m looking at Matthew 25:31, and I’m having a little trouble finding any reference to beliefs… think you could point me in the right direction?

  • http://none Mike Whyte

    God is not religious, and only He is good! People tend to overlook the fact that mankind is highly infected with SIN, which eventually results in death and separation from God who is in heaven – a place that is free from SIN. We can’t earn or buy our way into heaven. We need to be SIN free. Even in our own world, people with highly infectious diseases are kept isolated from the general public. Whether we are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we are still infected with SIN and only He can free us from it. God has provided a FREE cure for SIN which relies on our choice of either accepting or rejecting it. If we seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him, the cure, and eternal life.


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