How is it fair that atheists who lead good ethical lives and don’t hurt anyone are destined for perdition, whereas, a theist-no matter how sinful they may be-are admitted into Paradise? Or, is it the case that all people are saved at the end of time? Perhaps religion is a man-made fantasy created to appease people’s desires and help us cope with the inevitable-when we die, that is it! A theist would refute this, and hold that your eternal fate is determined by the life you live now.
The human being was created with the ability to freely carry out actions and choose which path it takes in life. The ‘thing’ that dictates a human being’s intentions is the soul. Science, after all, cannot explain why the human brain forms intentions. The soul was created for a divine purpose, and has a divine secret within it. However, this secret, ingrained deep down within the soul, was forgotten by the human being upon birth. At the essence of all humanity is a soul created in submission to its Creator. Whether the soul acknowledges this on a conscious level or not is a matter of grace (1).
The word in Arabic for disbelief is ‘kufr’ which can mean disbelief, ingratitude, or an arrogant rejection of the truth, but has other nuanced meanings in the Islamic tradition (2). Kufr is also a response to the truth which involves concealing or covering up the truth. Many Islamic thinkers, however, have equated disbelief with ignorance which, in turn, leads to a denial of God. The Quran mentions that when one is troubled by the truth, one begins to think about, and decide what the best position is to justify a rejection of the truth. Here’s an example. I told an atheist friend of mine who I regularly debate with (many of you will know who I am talking about) about what many famous and honourable people have said about the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his impeccable character. Logically speaking, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) must have either been a prophet-like he said he was, or a liar-which many claim he is. My friend had another alternative, he said there must have been something “psychologically” wrong with him.
Disbelief can have many permutations, as some types of disbelief are worse than others. For example, some may know the truth, but they can’t bring themselves to embrace it, maybe because they are scared of what family/friends might say-this particular example is not just about atheists but about a person of religion not being willing to embrace another religion. A worse permutation of disbelief is when one knows the truth but conceals it because of envy, pride or their attachment to this world. Many atheists are intelligent and very capable people but what is interesting is Aristotle’s definition of an intelligent person. Aristotle said intelligence was the mean between stupidity and cleverness or craftiness (3). Intelligence can therefore be used as a means to reject the truth.
It may seem as if many atheists are doing good in their life, but what is often present, though, is a spiritual sloth. This spiritual sloth is insidious because it is often veiled with a cloak of useful worldly activity such as partaking in charitable works. Furthermore, the term ‘good’ which has been debated within meta-ethical language for many years, is not defined by us, but by our Creator. Righteous deeds are not enough without faith, likewise, faith is not enough without righteous deeds. It is a two way process. Therefore, a believer who abandons doing good as he/she thinks faith is enough, is missing the whole point.
God brought everything into existence in an act of divine love-this includes all human creation. This means that it is never the sinner that one should scorn but the sin which emanates from the person-something Martin Luther King also preached. Belief in God shouldn’t give a theist a superiority complex and think of those who are yet to believe as lowly or despised in the eyes of God. If God says he does not love the arrogant or the oppressors, it is arrogance and oppression that one must loathe. We must be careful not to deny the humanity that is inherent in the person as God’s love and mercy is open to all.
God is not unjust in the slightest, his mercy overpowers his wrath. God will not put anybody into Hell unless they deserve to be there-and this, of course, is based on God’s perfect judgement. If one refuses to believe in God, they, in effect, become their own God, in the sense that whatever suits them is good and whatever harms them is bad therefore, this person creates their own morality. Interestingly, Karl Marx said that his idea of misery is ”submission” and this is, of course, the purpose of our life-to submit to God. Is this the reason why disbelievers refuse to believe in God? Because they do not like the idea of submitting to any other entity than themselves?
Every single human being commits sins daily, and the difference between a believer in God and an atheist is that the believer’s heart is permeated with contrition upon sinning but the atheist remains in a state of heedlessness. Furthermore, not only are they remorseless, but the atheist is not grateful for all the bounties God bestows upon them in their life. A true believer, however, is ever-grateful for all that they have.
Finally, one may now ask: why should I believe in God when there is no proof? There is plenty of proof. But I would be digressing if I delved into the evidences of God. So where is the disbeliever’s ultimate destination? Only God knows our inward state and why we are the way we are. A disbeliever who claims to be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh but who conceals the truth about God to themselves will be in Hell, likewise an atheist who refuses to believe in the truth will also be there too. Hell is not eternal for everyone and this is important to remember. One will only be subject to the fire of Hell for as long as they deserve, even if it is for a second in order to purify them before they are admitted eternally into God’s Heaven.