story number one:
My son’s bicycle was stolen this morning. He is a good, honest boy who’s never stolen a thing in his life, it’s not in his nature. He was devastated; it was a cool-looking bike, not expensive but with all the fancy things a tweenage boy loves in a bike. And it was his transportation home from school, two miles with a thirty pound backpack. He’s on a scooter until we replace the bike (soon, just not right this minute).
Now, the worthless sort of human vermin who steals slightly beat-up, inexpensive kids’ bikes is overwhelmingly likely to be incarcerated fairly regularly, and like most petty criminals, when he sobers up in jail, gets religious to pass the time and earn good points. And, if he does, and if accepts Christ and asks forgiveness for his crimes, according to the Christian rules, he gets to go to heaven. I’m not saying this is the case with the thief that took my boy’s fire-orange Mongoose, but there are good odds it is.
My son, the sweet, honest boy who is by choice, an atheist, would burn in eternal hell by those same rules.
story number two:
Years ago I knew a lovely woman, a devout Catholic. She lost her husband of some twenty-five years, and after an appropriate interval as a widow, met a nice man in the church. He was also a very devout, strict Catholic, a teacher of music at the local seminary, a tireless volunteer for Catholic youth groups.
You know where this is going, right?
The nice-seeming man raped the lovely woman’s grandson. The woman was, without question, the most forgiving person I have ever met; her forgiveness was based in her faith, and her faith was based in complex rituals which, if followed devoutly, guaranteed forgiveness. The rape devastated the victim and the family, and if the nice-seeming rapist was like virtually every other child rapist who volunteers for youth groups, there were many other children and families similarly devastated by this dried-up amoral pathetic excuse of a man.
The lovely woman forgave him, and the family never called the police; Catholics, as a group, have little use for the laws of man, and frequently go to great lengths to assure that they answer only to their religion’s sick ritualistic system, in which their sins are dealt with as a private matter between them and their god, a system in which the victim is largely overlooked.
The withered-up husk of a child-rapist went to his death in a state of grace, a priest by his side — according to the rules, he is now in heaven. The boy who was raped is now in his thirties. He spent years in therapy and his faith was permanently shattered; he is not now nor will he likely ever be in a state of grace, so when he passes away, according to those same rules, he will be cast mercilessly into the lake of fire.
and yes, i digress:
Any Christian will tell you that it’s not OK to commit sin knowing there is forgiveness available, but you cannot tell me that this aspect of their religion does not affect the decision process. How easy is it for someone who habitually steals or rapes to convince themselves that they are sick, pray for help, and when none comes, continue on their criminal path. By the rules, they get credit for that prayerful effort, and ascend into paradise when all’s said and done.
So when someone tells you their morals come from their faith, remember that in their ethical universe, they are virtually guaranteed to be forgiven by their god, even if no one else would even consider forgiving them. They have a get-out-of-hell free card, no matter how much sadness and ruin they leave behind. How could this not have an effect on their actions in this life?