Atheism and Hell

What if Atheists Are Wrong? Aren't They Afraid of Hell?

This sort of question is based upon a common theological argument known as Pascal’s Wager: if the believer is wrong and God doesn’t exist, then nothing has been lost; on the other hand, if the atheist is wrong and God does exist, then the atheist risks going to hell. Therefore, it is smarter to take a chance on believing than to take a chance on not believing, and the atheist is in a bad spot.

There are a number of problems with this argument. For one thing, it assumes that believing or not believing is a choice which a person can make rather than something determined by circumstances, evidence, reason, experience, etc. Wagering requires the ability to choose through an act of will, and it seems unlikely that belief is something which you can choose through an act of will. I, as an atheist, do not choose atheism — I am incapable of believing a claim without good reason, and currently, I lack any good reasons to believe in the existence of any gods. Atheism is not chosen, but rather the automatic consequence of my circumstances as I understand them.

Another problem is the assumption that there are only two options: either the believer is wrong or the atheist is wrong. In fact, both could be wrong because there could be a god, but not the god of the believer. Perhaps it is an entirely different god — indeed, it could be a god which objects to people who believe because of arguments like the above but which doesn’t really mind the doubt of atheists. Perhaps we are both in trouble and taking a risk. Perhaps neither of us in trouble or taking a risk.

The Atheist’s Wager

Why don’t you just be an atheist? If there is a god, and it is moral and loving and worthy of respect, then it won’t mind if people have rational doubts about it and rational reasons for not believing in it. This god won’t punish people for exercising their critical thinking skills and are skeptical of the claims of other, fallible humans. Thus, you wouldn’t lose anything.

And if there is a god who punishes people for rational doubt, why would you want to spend an eternity with it anyway? Such a capricious, egotistical, and nasty god wouldn’t be much fun. If you can’t trust it to be as moral as you are, you can’t trust it to keep its promises and make heaven nice or even let you stay for long. Not spending eternity with such a being doesn’t sound like much of a loss.

I’m not asking you to choose atheism — that doesn’t make much sense, obviously. However, I am asking you to take atheism seriously. I am asking you to consider that atheism might be at least as reasonable as theism, and in fact might actually be much more reasonable. I am asking you to be more skeptical about religion and ask harder, more critical questions about traditional beliefs, regardless of where the consequences take you.

Perhaps your beliefs will be unchanged — but after being questioned, they should be stronger. Perhaps some of the details of your beliefs will change, but you will remain a theist — but this new position should be stronger. And, if you do end up an atheist because you lose any good reasons to continue with your current religion and/or current theism, what have you really lost?