I have an issue. Please be patient while I work it out because it’s pretty deeply ingrained and I need to work it like a loose tooth before it comes free.
This is an imaginary conversation between me and a non-existant atheist (to better explain the point):
Atheist: Why do you believe in God? Don’t you want the freedom to do what you want without being afraid of some big judge in the sky sending you to Hell if you don’t follow his list of oppressive rules?
Me: In the first place, I have the freedom to do what I want. I choose to obey the Word because the Word has given us excellent rules to use to get along with everyone else. I have yet to meet an atheist who genuinely thinks that “thou shalt not kill” can be an optional rule ((yes, I know Peter Singer says so, but I haven’t -met- him, that’s the thing)).
In the second place, I’m not afraid of Hell because in Hell, you want to be separated from God. You have no desire to ive under His rules or to be sorry for your sins. That’s why you go there. But what I want to be sorry for my sins, and I want to pay back my mistakes, and I want to glorify God. I think I’m going to do a stint in Purgatory, but I don’t fear Hell because, quite frankly, I want to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strenght. ((I know I fail, but I want to and God willing I will when I see His face)). I don’t presume that I’m going to Heaven, but I know that God is 100% fair, 100% just, and He judges you by exactly who you really are, so if I go to Hell, I’ll have my true self shown to me so I will see the absolute justice in that decision. But since God is a God of mercy, He won’t cast me into Hell unless there really is an excellent and perfeclty just reason for me to go.
In the third place His rules aren’t oppressive, and if there were no greater standard for judging good and bad, then you couldn’t assume his rules were “oppressive,” because you’d have no yard stick to measure “oppression” against. If we have good as a concrete fact and evil as a concrete fact, we must have something ultimately good to judge by, and that would be God.
Atheist: Okay, granted, but I don’t think there’s a God,and I don’t think there’s an afterlife. And the fact that as a Catholic you claim that you don’t know that you’re going to Heaven should make you wary of Hell, right? What about me, then? I have the ability to do what I want whenever I want, and I don’t have to be afraid of Hell because all that happens is that I just cease to exist.
Me: That’s very Socratic of you. I’m thinking more like Nietzsche, though. If there’s no God, then there’s nothing to grasp, and the world and this life become a joke.
Atheist: Absurdism, right. Well, from my perspective, life is only absurd if you make it absurd.
Me: No, life without something to center it on is absurd, whether you feel it is or not. And you can’t center your life on something that’s hollow, like your own self or on material possessions. You have to look outside the world if you want to have a strong center. Only by looking outside the world can you act impartially on what happens here - take good fortune and bad fortune both in stride, learn to live with people who are hard to live with, try to be a good person, etc. You have to have a reason. Just saying, “I feel like being a good person,” isn’t going to cut it, because what if you’re feelings change? Or what if someone else has the feeling he wants to be bad and does something horrible to you? Don’t you want both justice and a way to live with the consequesnces of his actions?
Atheist: That’s why we have laws and courts.
Me: But where did laws and courts originate?