|Just a minute...|
I have a persistent fantasy in which I lay dying and an appeal is made for me to accept Christ as my saviour in order to save myself from damnation. Like many of my fantasies it’s basically a set up so that I can say something I think is profound. (Is that a writer’s thing?) In this fantasy I reply “I trust in God and I shall not fear the Devil.”
As I have a colonoscopy planned today and my higher than average risk of bowel cancer is on my mind I’d like to take the opportunity to explain myself. This will spare me the bother on my actual death bed. Hopefully this will clear up any confusion over what a non-theist is saying “I trust in God” for.
Firstly any celestial being I could consider God is not going to make both unreasonable and unnecessary demands on my integrity. The mark of a true God would be to encourage those intellectual attitudes which would help people, especially those vulnerable at point of death, to distinguish them from a non-entity or random djinn. Such attitudes would include caution in offering allegiance to just any deity. So long as a God’s existence is dubious to me I think if they are actually God they would want me to be shy of proclaiming them. Anything less is consistent with a false God, not one with truth on their side.
This argument is strengthened by the realisation that boldly proclaiming God to exist while being doubtful is not just unreasonable but unnecessary. The twin ideas that your life continues after death and that God needs you to form a relationship with him before death are incongruent. If God’s existence or not is due to become obvious in minutes the simplest response is to wait and see. After all, the afterlife is eternal so the five minutes of obviousness I would need to happily recant my atheism shouldn’t be any bother. No? I have to worship an invisible God now because as soon as I die the super-efficient afterlife will have me whisked off to hell before I can yell out “I was wrong.” That’s ludicrous and completely unnecessary. I trust God to be better than that. I trust I can go to my death as an atheist and still work it out with God if I’m wrong. I even trust that a true God would want me to do just that if it was where integrity led me.
As for not fearing the devil, if there is any supernatural being who would accept my worship (let alone desire it) when that worship is due to the threat of eternal suffering then that supernatural being is the devil. Plain and simple, that’s exactly how the devil would operate. If the devil whispers in the ears of earthly kings they are going to be perfectly encouraging of scaring ones subjects with the rack and the stake. Even if that whisperer is in the driving seat of the whole cosmos and who gets into heaven or hell, then they’re the devil by character. I do my best not to pay them any heed as inspiration in life and I will try not to fear them on my deathbed either.
One of my favourite imaginings of the afterlife is that once you die you are greeted by a towering God King who perfectly corresponds to all those images of the angry patriarchal God we know so well. They carry a sceptre and sit on a throne and their face is stern. They command you to kneel and most people throw themself prostate. With no aching knees in the afterlife people can stay like that for eternity. Those who don’t get down and stay down are hit by laser beams from the great God Kings eyes and are destroyed. In my imagining the only way into heaven is to stand. It’s the ultimate act of trust in God and refusal to fear the Devil.
Now I don’t know that when the morphine runs through me and my death rattle fills my belly and a bikini-clad Christian orang-utan (the morphine remember) starts up converting me I won’t break like a baby. Maybe I’ll swear allegiance to the angry God King of my dreams in order to be spared those laser eyes. Maybe I’ll throw a bet their way or at least both ways. What I hope I say, what I believe I should say, is “I trust in God and I shall not fear the Devil.”
Does it matter? Paradoxically if I am right and there is no afterlife it matters less. If I am wrong then it becomes all the more important I stick to my non-theist guns. If life genuinely continues then I’d better not convert “for the hell of it.” That path leads away from any heaven I can think of.
Halleluiah and Amen.
P.S. Bum check was all clear. No cancer or even polyps.