Response to the Last Deadly Question

My courage is failing me, but I press on to the last of the four questions atheists will not address.

What to you is your understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ as understood by the Christian faith (you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought). If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.

This is a question ‘atheists won’t address’?  Because it seems awfully targeted at me, specifically.

There is not a single Christian faith, there are thousands of different Christian faiths.  Each of them has a different idea about the ‘good news’.  You can confirm this by going to the wikipedia article on the Good News and noting there’s a section titled ‘in various Christian movements‘.  Asking me how I think Christians understand the good news is like asking me how human beings understand their favorite pizza topping.

“If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.”

Oh geez, now I feel bad.  Here I was thinking I was mocking it because it was an ill-formed question, but it must be that I don’t understand it.

“you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought”)

In many cases, the good news means escape from hell…which, in the minds of many Christians, is eternal punishment.  This makes eternal punishment at least a facet of the good news for many believers.  Moreover, it’s a facet that makes calling it ‘the good news’ one of the most glorious misnomers in all of history.  You may exclaim that *you* don’t see it that way, but that only confirms my point about there being no consensus on what the term even means amongst Christians.  And if I were to go after every Christian’s personalized ideas I’d never be able to stop…it’s much easier to point out that all of them have no good reason for believing the things they do.

So while I can’t explain how Christians understand the good news, since so many understand it differently, I can sure as hell explain how I understand it (and how, I’d argue, it makes the most sense).

The good news is that while a place of eternal torment exists, if you believe certain things (not if you act in a particularly moral way) you get to escape the torment and live forever in heaven.  You will share this space with the men who tended the embers of the Inquisition, for they believed fully in the resurrection of Christ.  Your celestial neighbors will also include those who defended antebellum slavery based upon biblical study (you may argue they were wrong, but funny how easy god makes that, isn’t it?), the mysogynists who quoted the new testament while opposing women’s suffrage, and serial killers who made deathbed conversions after a life of carnage absent of compassion.  Chained to the fires of hell will probably be at least some of your loved ones, atheist charity workers, and good people who wanted desperately to believe but simply couldn’t accept that a man rose from the dead without evidence, despite their sincerest efforts.

What many Christians call the good news amounts to the idea that god favors monsters who are gullible enough to believe in miracles over saints wary of their own credulity.  If the implications of salvation are true, then this is not good news; it is horrible.   It means that unlimited power resides in the hands of a being that most values the maintenance of the being’s ego.  The existence of hell announces that this being of frightening power possesses a lack of empathy reminiscent of the most inhuman sociopath.  If this is good news, I can only wonder what a Christian might call bad news.  Two men cuddling?  Pre-marital sex, perhaps?  Heaven forbid.

But I’ve got some good news.  I’ve got news so good I cannot help but dedicate my life to sharing it with the world.  The real good news, Scott, is that the scenario above isn’t the least bit true.  It’s all a perfectly silly fabrication, and thank heaven there isn’t a single decent reason to believe otherwise!  The good news is that you get a single, temporary crack at experiencing the universe that you were never guaranteed.  The good news is that this life you lucked into is your own, and the only rewards or punishments, the only real heaven and the only true hell, are the results of your own actions between now and when you die.  You have an opportunity to live in a way that when your time is up that you will have discovered heaven long before you found death.

The universe is more magnificent than anything the human mind could ever imagine, and the good news that we get a chance at a life of our own design while getting to spend a moment in that universe is more wonderful than dreams of immortality.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Last one:

    John 3:16. Easy. But that one verse carries with it a host of background assumptions, so I’ll elaborate.

    The entire universe was made for mankind’s benefit by a perfect loving god. Mankind became imperfect through an initial act of disobedience, and now every person is born infected with an evil force called “sin”. A person with this evil force deserves to be punished forever and ever in eternal torment, thoughtfully provided by the perfect loving god. But there is a loophole to this. The perfect god became a human and was killed as a ritual human sacrifice, but didn’t stay dead. Anyone who believes this is spared eternal torment and instead gets to spend a happy eternity singing the praises of the being who came up with this whole system.

    As for “mocking”. Do you consider the above to be mockery? I think I understand your beliefs really well, I just refuse to give any reverence to bad ideas, no matter how many people believe them. Is it necessary to show deep respect for the all the religious ideas of others, including those you find preposterous? If so, then I suggest that you in turn must also show deep respect for His Noodliness, the FSM (pbuH) and refrain from mocking our deep and sincere belief that god is a drunken dumbass. After all, NefYoo 3:16 says “For the Fwying Pasghetti Monster so wuvved the world dat he dwank alotta beers an made nekkid ladees.” This is from our Scripture, and so must be respected, yes? May I hear a RAmen?

    • Cwayne

      RAmen. Blessed be the noodletastic appendages.

  • Art Vandelay

    Way to carry on and get through that, JT. Your bravery knows no bounds. All day I was thinking, “he’ll probably address one…maybe two, but FOUR???” Who says all men were created equal?

    Oh and that second to last paragraph? Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    Hat tip to you as well, Ubi. Very nicely done.

    • Ubi Dubium

      Yes, that second to last paragraph went right into my file of “keepers”.

      Now I want to know is, has JT gotten any response from “Scott”?

  • quantheory

    The positive spin I’ve seen on the good news, and the way of putting it that avoids the (often controversial) question of what, precisely, hell is, is this:

    “There’s a person named Jesus who loves you very much. He is the Son (and/or a part of) the being who created the world, God. He loves you so much that he was willing to be crucified for you, to endure a terrible, torturous death so that, if you so choose, you can live forever. This was necessary because you are a sinner, and so only an act of great mercy and forgiveness from God could redeem you. But because of his power and moral purity, Jesus was able to come back to life and return to his Father in Heaven. During your life, you can call upon him to help you. When you die, you can go see him, as well as all the other good people who have died and gone to heaven. There you will never have to be afraid or suffer, living in love and happiness for eternity.”

    The problem with calling this “good news” is that a) it isn’t true, and b) it’s still quite mystifying why an all-powerful deity would have to execute this complex process, and then use an unreliable intermediary to deliver the message. Also, see my incredibly long ranty comment on the last post.

  • Another Scott

    Now that you’ve addressed each question, what will the other Scott’s response be?

    I’m betting on “Your responses weren’t good enough/serious enough/respectful enough , so they don’t count.” or “You didn’t address _____________ which was really what my question was all about, so it doesn’t count”

    Then he’ll go on saying to people “Atheists will not address 1, 2 , 3 and 4.”

    I am predicting something of a moving the goal post reaction, I suppose.

    • JT Eberhard

      Me too.

      • Richard

        Someday, I hope that honesty enters the equation from their end.

        Wait. Then they’d become atheists. *facepalm*

  • Dan L.

    Oh and that second to last paragraph? Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    QFT. JT, that was epic. Ramen.

  • Stacy Kennedy

    Terrific! Your explication of the whole get-out-of-hell-free “good news” is the best I’ve seen yet.

    • Jason Bunting

      @Stacy opined that, “[JT's] explication of the whole get-out-of-hell-free ‘good news’ is the best I’ve seen yet.”

      You don’t get out much, then? For the sake of everyone reading your comment, it would be nice of you to delineate, with specificity, those portions/passages of his rhetoric that you particularly feel makes it “the best [you]’ve seen yet,” so that thereby the rest of us could benefit, because I just don’t see it.

      Honestly, given the fact that you can’t “prove” God doesn’t exist, why are you bothering with the effort? Let’s focus on what can and can’t be observed via science instead of conjecture by either side.

      Let’s allow all to believe how, where, or what they may. It should go without saying that I don’t believe that anyone attempting to push their beliefs on others by force should have such a freedom in that way; let there be no doubt that I believe individual liberty must be one of the most revered principles we hold-to as a race. Trying to force others how to live the lives they’ve been granted (however that came to be) by virtue of rhetoric or sophistry, even if well-intended, is shameful.

      Unless someone can give me a scientifically-sound experiment that proves the non-existence of a “higher power,” no matter what you refer to that higher-power as, be it “God,” “Allah,” “Mother Nature,” etc., I don’t think all of these Atheists are any different than the religious zealots, believing things that are not provable/true (i.e. the idea that you can prove “God” doesn’t exist).

      So, yeah – Atheism is apparently no different than any other organized religion. Congratulations!

      • Crommunist

        Please let us know what your scientifically sound method is for disproving unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and an invisible massless planet between Earth and Mars. I will then use that method to disprove god.

        Seriously, how much of a dick do you have to be to accuse someone else of “not getting out much”, and then show up waving around Russel’s Teapot like it’s a new argument?

        • Stacy Kennedy

          But the faerie folk are real, right, Crommunist? Because you can’t prove they don’t exist, and I think they’re really, really neat.

          And hey, what matters what’s true (or, for the pedants amongst us, most likely true)? Let’s all believe what we want, despite the consequences, and never, ever try to change each others’ minds, because, um…faeries!

          Seriously, thanks. :)

      • Stacy Kennedy

        7th paragraph. Starts out “The good news is that”, ends “despite their sincerest efforts.”

        By the by, what does “proving” a deity doesn’t exist have to do with the theology of hell?

        You’re not nearly as bright as you think you are. You can drop the attitude.

  • Jason Bunting

    JT wrote, “…I’ve got some good news. I’ve got news so good I cannot help but dedicate my life to sharing it with the world. The real good news, Scott, is that the scenario above isn’t the least bit true. It’s all a perfectly silly fabrication, and thank heaven there isn’t a single decent reason to believe otherwise.”

    You can prove that, huh? Just because you can’t find something with the techniques you’ve used thus far, you can declare it to not exist? With absolute certainty? Hmmm… I doubt that.

    You can’t prove that something doesn’t exist. All you can do is know what you have observed – that’s science, right? If you can’t show evidence of something in such a way that it is independently-verifiable through a series of steps (i.e. an experiment), then science can’t say that that thing is “so.” But, it also means that scientifically, you can’t say it isn’t “so,” either. Two sides of one coin, my friend. Can’t have one without the other.

    I guess this means the portion of your rant I quoted is useless as it stands for the sake of intelligent dialogue, therefore you should, perhaps, think about retracting it, since it is nothing more than a lie.

  • Crommunist

    All you can do is know what you have observed – that’s science, right?

    Wrong. I don’t know where you got that definition, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t from a scientist.

    Science postulates that truth is provisional based on available evidence, while methodological skepticism asserts that one should apportion the strength of belief in something to the amount of evidence supporting it. Since there is no evidence for gods, there ought to be no corresponding belief in gods. Saying that since you can’t prove the non-existence of something that everything that can be thought of is equally likely is a fatuous and nonsensical position. We can accomplish a great deal when we move from positions of certainty founded in evidence. We get nowhere when we just make shit up because it sounds good.

    You’re asking for a completely unreasonable standard of “true” and “false”. Since NOTHING (outside of truisms) can be proven beyond all doubt, we have long ago abandoned absolute certainty as a workable standard. By any useful definition of “true” and “exists”, the god hypotheses are lies, and gods do not exist.

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