An Atheist on Judgement Day
by Adrian Barnett
by Adrian Barnett
The line seemed to stretch back forever. Hundreds of millions of souls, waiting patiently for their turn before the throne. The date... Well, the day is Judgment Day, so you won't find it on any calendar. The queue of people winds its way down the mountain, through the valley and off into the far distance. Everybody in the queue can see the final destination at the mountain peak. A hundred miles away, they can see it perfectly clearly. And they wait, moving forward a couple of steps at a time. Towards God, and the Decision.
At the head of the we find a young Christian, wearing an expression of awe and joy. Behind him, an atheist, looking slightly astonished, examining a leaf she has picked from a nearby bush, trying to decide if it is real or not. Heaven, she thinks, should be whiter, with more dry ice swirling about; not look like a Welsh hillside on a hot day.
The Christian steps forward for judgment.
"Hello Martin". God's voice is calm and gentle as He speaks.
"Erm.. Hello. Lord". Martin's voice is nervous, as a dozen emotions fight for room in his mind at once.
"This is it. This is where I decide what shall happen to you, Martin. In life, you were a Christian". It was a statement, not a question.
"I was, Lord. I still am. I have been all my life. I have dedicated myself to your service."
"Tell me, Martin. Why were you a Christian? Why did you believe in me?"
"Why? Well... Because you are God! I've always believed in you."
"That is not what I want to know. Why did you believe?"
"Because I knew it was true. You were always there for me. You helped me through the bad times. You answered my prayers. You gave me the strength and courage to get through life. I could feel your presence with me all the time."
"I said no, Martin. I have never helped you. You seemed to be doing perfectly alright by yourself. I heard your prayers, but never answered a single one. Your belief in me definitely helped you on occasion, but I have never intervened in your life. Certainly, you gave me credit for all the good times, but they were your own doing, not mine. You did not feel my presence, because it cannot be felt. The only actual proof you have that I exist at all is here and now. Again, tell me why you believed."
"I.. I had faith, Lord. Since I was a child I have been to church, prayed and sang every Sunday. My faith in you never wavered. Even when my mother died, I had faith that it was your will, that it was a blessing from you that she passed peacefully. I was raised to believe in you, and as I grew I read the Bible for myself, and learnt of your miracles, and all the saints and martyrs, and the good done in your name. I read the works of great philosophers and they merely strengthened my faith. I knew it was true. "
"No, Martin. Your mother died of natural causes, and she died peacefully because of the actions of the hospital. I watched and saw, but that is all. As for the rest - the saints, martyrs and philosophers had similar reasons for their belief in me, just as dictators and murderers have had. People have done great good and great harm in my name, and in the names of a thousand false gods. The Bible was written about me, not by me, and was written by people who had similar reasons as you for their belief, just as a thousand other Holy Books have been written about the false gods, or different versions of myself. I ask for the third and final time. Why did you believe in me?"
Martin looked shocked and ashen, but pulled himself together. His Lord was testing him, and he had lived his entire life for this moment.
"I believed because I could feel in my heart it was true. You sent your son to die for us, and I gladly accepted Him as my saviour. I.. I just knew it was true, and now that I see you, my faith has been vindicated. I no longer need to believe - I can see for myself the truth and majesty of my religion."
Quietly, God spoke again. "Martin, you have impressed me". He paused.
"But... not enough. You believe because you were taught to believe. You believe because you mistakenly attribute to me anything positive that has happened in your life, and discount anything negative. You believe because it is comforting to believe, and because you are frightened of the consequences of my not existing. You believe because... you believe. I'm sorry, Martin, but there is no place for you here."
God gestured briefly with his fingers, and Martin vanished. His shadow lingered where he had stood, fading rapidly to nothingness.
The atheist, somewhat shaken by what she had just seen, stepped forward.
"Hello Eve. I like that name."
"Ah. Hello, God. Thanks", said Eve, not entirely sure how to address a being she had, until now, considered fictional.
"Yes, you may call me God. Eve, in life you were an atheist. You doubted my existence, even objecting to the very concept". Again, a statement, not a question.
"Yes, I did. Clearly, I was mistaken."
"Clearly. Tell me, are you still an atheist?"
"I suppose not. I'm not a Christian, Jew or anything else. I guess I'd have to be called an involuntary theist. Ah ha ha", Eve laughed nervously, hoping the very real and solid-looking deity before her had a good sense of humour.
"Mmm... Tell me, Eve. Why did you not believe in me?". God's voice was kind and gentle once more.
"At one point I did. I was raised as a Christian, and often went to church, and prayed every night before bed. When I was feeling down I would read the Bible. The act of reading it seemed to comfort me, even though the words themselves didn't seem much help. I think, like Martin, I believed because I believed."
"And then you lost your faith? You decided I did not exist, and you knew better than those around you? You knew better than your pastor and family?" The voice was losing its kindly edge a little.
"That is one way of looking at it, yes. What I believed did not seem to fit with other things I knew. The Bible clearly could not be literally true, word for word. I knew from biology and paleontology that humans had evolved like all other life, and were not special creations. How life or the universe began, I still don't know, but could not just merely accept 'God did it' as an explanation. I learned about other religions, and how they all claimed a monopoly on truth, happiness and morality. I saw the good done in your name, but I also saw the oppression, genocide and wars. I saw that if people were in need, it was up to us to deal with it, not to rely on heavenly aid.". Eve felt a little braver, but was expecting the traditional thunderbolt any moment. The people behind her, now at the head of the queue, were slowly moving backwards, trying not to draw attention to themselves.
"Yet here you are, before your God, on the final Day of Judgment. Why should I allow you in - a heretic, a disbeliever, an infidel - when your predecessor, devout and faithful, full of love for me, was consigned to Oblivion? Tell me why. Justify your entry to my Paradise."
Eve straightened up, looking God in the face. "Why should you let me in? Because I am better person than you."
If Eve had looked round, she would have seen the entire line of souls, perfectly still and wide-eyed, staring at her in shock.
"What did you say?", enquired God. His voice, though barely audible, caused tremors in the mountain.
Surprised at still being alive, her mouth dry, Eve continued. "I said, because I am a better person. You have shown it yourself already. You told Martin that you watched as his mother became ill and died. You destroyed him for believing for no good reason, when his whole life had been shaped by that belief. Your preachers on Earth encourage unquestioning faith, yet you do not tell us whether that is what you want. You give people no rational basis for belief, and then when they make up their own that is not good enough for you. You listen to our prayers, yet do not answer, leaving people to rationalise events for themselves. People kill and slaughter over trivial differences in doctrine, and you look on. In the churches and temples raised in your glory, children are mentally and physically abused - in your so-called House! All over the world, throughout history, people have murdered each other for believing the wrong thing about God, for believing in the wrong God, or for not believing in any God. The poorest and most helpless people are relentlessly targeted, being told to give what little they have now, for the promise of eternal bliss later. When a person is at his lowest ebb, that is when the smiling missionaries appear, knowing that his life will probably get better naturally and they can give you the credit. In your name, the ends justify the means as long as souls are saved". Eve paused for breath, and continued.
"And you? All-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing? You just sit here and you watch it all... Any person in this line, had they your power, would show greater compassion and morality. You may be God, but you are far from Godliness."
God smiled. "Are you finished? Good. Eve, you have impressed me". He paused. Eve held her breath, shoulders tensing.
"You have impressed me a great deal. You may have believed in me for all the wrong reasons, but you disbelieved for the right reasons. You led a good life, and used the intelligence I give to everybody in the correct way. Even though you came to a conclusion about me that was hopelessly wrong, you came to it in a way that cannot be faulted. You may pass into paradise, Eve, with my blessing."
Eve did not step forward. Instead, she spoke once more. "No, I will not".
"No? You refuse Heaven? You defy my will?" The smile had left God's face again.
"Do you think I would want to spend one more minute, let alone eternity, in your company? You allow people to suffer, sometimes for their entire lives, for no purpose, and then judge them on their reaction. You hide yourself from the world and allow your creations to persecute each other over differing interpretations of the lack of evidence. You see all the pain and ignorance caused in your name, and just sit there as this queue grows daily? And then you have the audacity to punish good people for believing in you 'for the wrong reasons'?"
"Eve. Enough of this. The gates to Paradise are open to you. Be silent now, and enter."
"No. If it is a choice between oblivion and an eternity with a monster like you, I gladly choose oblivion. I ask only one thing, before you destroy me."
"And what is that?" asked God, getting impatient.
"That, if you can, you look me in the eyes as you do it."
Shortly afterwards, the next person in the queue stepped towards the top of the mountain, and Judgment.