[quote=Hitetlen]Maybe this thread will not go to hell in a handbasket, one can only hope. Many apologists keep repeating that atheists will reap the “rewards” they have sown, and the “reward” is eternal damnation.
They also say that atheists “reject” God, and therefore they can blame only themselves for their fate. Let me clarify the issue: I don’t “reject” God, I am simply unconvinced of his existence. Whether you believe in something or not is not subject your volitional control. No one can force oneself to believe in something. Beliefs are predisposed by experience, they cannot be changed volitionally.
So why should God punish atheists for something they have no control over, of which they are literally innocent?
I could go through the motions and join a church, go to mass, pray etc., but that would be a set of empty motions if I could not believe in the rituals, which I cannot. Even if I liked to believe them, it would be impossible for me.
Do you think that God would be pleased by my “subterfuge”, by my attempt to display the “surface” of believing, while knowing full well, that it is just a pretense and not real? I don’t think so. But maybe you disagree, I don’t know. So get out the big guns.
If you don’t believe in God, why do you worry about what would please Him?
Belief is not fully under our control, but it’s not completely separate from the will either. I think William James described it best. He argued that for each person there are some beliefs that are “live options” and some that are not. For me, for instance, Mormonism is not a live option–neither I think is Islam. Hinduism or Shintoism, on the other hand, I could conceivably believe if I weren’t a Christian. For other people, polytheism is not a live option. For you, perhaps theism of any kind is not a live option.
You can’t force yourself to believe something that is not a “live option.” Similarly, there are some beliefs that force themselves on us with total certainty, so that we couldn’t conceivably choose not to believe them. But there are many beliefs regarding which we don’t have perfect intellectual and/or psychological certainty. Again, this is going to vary from one person to another. But in the end we have to choose every day to believe or disbelieve all sorts of things about which we don’t have perfect evidence.
The great lie of modern agnosticism (represented by people like T. H. Huxley) is that if you don’t have convincing evidence of the sort that could prove a scientific theory, then you shouldn’t believe anything. This is purely ridiculous, in my opinion. This is not the way any normal person lives. It’s a peculiar insanity of modern industrialized civilization.
Choosing which “live option” to believe does involve an act of the will and it is to some extent in our power. It is going to be influenced by our desires, hopes, fears, prejudices, etc.
So my answer to your question would be–if belief in God is genuinely impossible for you, then you are not culpable. But if you find within yourself a desire to believe in God, and a suspicion that God might be real, and you stamp that desire and that suspicion out–then that is going to do very bad things to your soul. I think that the Catholic Church would generally agree with what I’m saying, though I’m not Catholic myself. (