An atheist comes face to face with The Creator and is forced to explain himself…
by: Bob Gielow
I can’t believe that you exist…and that I am writing to you. As you surely know, I have been a proud atheist for over forty years, confidently denying the possibility of your existence. Now, after hitting that deer on the highway, I am shocked to find myself in this barren room, meeting with Heaven’s Welcoming Committee and being urged to complete this essay as part of my “Application for Admission to Heaven.”
Given the open-ended nature of your essay instructions (“Please explain why your soul should go to Heaven and not to Hell”) and the ever-lasting consequences of the decision you’ll be making, I am feeling quite anxious thinking about how I might summarize my personal qualities and characteristics in a way that will lead you towards a positive response. Not knowing what you might be looking for in these essays, I am hoping that you will react favorably to my being unreservedly open and honest.
As a side note, I have to tell you that the three members of Heaven’s Welcoming Committee with whom I met have been very considerate and kind. They’ve been extremely respectful of the trauma I’ve just experienced and, surprisingly, were not at all judgmental when I repeatedly asked: “Wait, God and Heaven are real?” Not knowing if they will be returning, I’ve not had the chance to properly thank them for their sensitivity and I hope that you might pass along my words of appreciation.
For starters, and with much chagrin, I feel that I should explain my ongoing lack of belief in, well, you. I was taught early on, and learned to trust without qualification, that only documentable evidence could be used to identify truths. As a boy, and as I grew into adulthood and attempted to make sense of existence, I found that belief and/or faith were poor substitutes for sensorial observations and experiences. With no pressure from the adults in my life to rely significantly on a non-observable entity, and with no close relatives who were “believer” role-models, I learned that faith in an almighty being was a disappointing experience, a waste of energy. As I recall from my childhood, the one situation during which I most fervently believed in and called on you was when I was about to vomit…and I cannot recall that you ever granted that simple request. Understandably in hindsight. Being asked to believe in a God I could not see, hear, feel, smell, or taste seemed just like continuing to believe in a Santa Claus who was disproved as soon as I had enough curiosity and sense to search my parents’ bedroom for Christmas presents.
In case you are wondering, I must admit that I witnessed much beauty in my life, including majestic scenes of rocky coasts and vibrant sunsets. I witnessed breathtaking wonder — the birth of my daughter most notably. I also observed my fellow humans acting with profound grace and kindness, including numerous acts of charity both large and small. What I did not witness was any recognizable connection between that beauty, wonder and/or grace and an almighty being. I saw no evidence that would lead me to believe that you were involved in the world, or in my life, in any sort of a causal or even a peripheral relationship. I am wondering now what information source(s) you would have suggested I rely on to help me know that you were beside me, watching over me, or at least knew of my existence.
Of course, now that my soul has left my broken body back on that highway and I exist somehow in this non-physical form, in this solemn space, I was obviously completely wrong to think that I was no more than my cells and my scientifically testable neural connections. And, if I was wrong about having no soul, then I was wrong to not believe in you. For that, I apologize with sincerity and with much regret. I very much hope that my lifetime of atheism will not be held against me when you decide whether I should live (Is “live” the correct word to use here?) with you in paradise or if my soul should “burn for all of eternity” (which is how Heaven’s Welcoming Committee phrased it) in what I used to call ‘H-E-double hockey sticks.”
As you look back on my life, I am hopeful that you will approve of what I considered to be morally correct values that guided my day-to-day decision-making. I was honest in my dealings with others. I was kind and respectful of the challenges that others were encountering. I lived my life according to the “Golden Rule,” doing unto others as I would have had them do unto me. I was even able to apply the “Platinum Rule” on occasion, by doing unto others only after understanding how they had wanted to be treated. I hope that you will be judging the goodness of my actions as being more important than what I consider to be my understandable doubt regarding your existence.
I can’t help but recall when I was a teenager and a Christian acquaintance of mine told me that I would be “going to hell” because I did not have faith in “God almighty.” Even though I did not believe in you or in Hell at the time, I was pretty upset because she was claiming that my inability to perceive/recognize you was more important than the goodness of the intentions that were driving my actions. She seemed to care very little for the values that were central to how I viewed myself. If actions really do speak louder than words, then I figure I should be more worthy of entry into her beloved heaven than a fervent believer whose life had been spent lying and cheating.
Assuming you might be curious what examples I would offer to demonstrate my morally positive life, I invite you to consider how many times I shared my change or a dollar bill with the homeless folks that I would come upon at traffic intersections. I volunteered at the local hospice care facility. I volunteered to coach my daughter’s soccer team. I shoveled snow from our neighbor’s sidewalk. I donated clothing to Goodwill. I found meaning in life through these small acts of kindness and generosity, without being motivated to act by the fear of eternal damnation. Even though I used your name in vain on multiple occasions, I believe that I did a lot that was good in my life.
I forgot to ask Heaven’s Welcoming Committee whether you were a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other category of God, or none of the above. Regardless, it is my understanding that religious traditions share a set of common values emphasizing, among other qualities, honesty, humility, sincerity, service, respect, patience, charity, forgiveness, and love — for others and for our planet. Assuming that principles such as these are important to you, then please consider that my lifetime of behavior exemplifying praise-worthy values far outweighs any stubborn skepticism I might have been demonstrating towards your presence.
Hoping that you will appreciate the well-intentioned nature of my comments and will not be offended by my hubris, I’d like to offer up a bit of feedback if I might be so bold. If you want for more humans to believe in you, then you and your various clergy should do more to prove what role you’ve been playing in our world, or at least find a way to explain your impact that extends beyond the admonition to “have faith.” While a simple call to faith might have worked throughout most of human history, it is now insufficient given mankind’s access to and depth/breadth of knowledge, along with our growing arrogance.
You might also do more to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, the misbehavior of your human “children.” Have you been paying any attention to the greed, the dishonesty, the hypocrisy, and the incivility that exists in the world? Are you not capable of fixing these human weaknesses or are you allowing them to continue for some unknown reason? Either way, the pervasiveness of repugnant human behaviors contributed significantly to my ongoing unwillingness to recognize your holy presence…until now.
Now, knowing that I can exist outside of my human body, and contemplating an afterlife as everlasting as was described by Heaven’s Welcoming Committee, I am amazed to be experiencing a rising joy, a genuine thrill, as I picture myself in Heaven. The prospect of sharing infinite love with all the other beings who have been found worthy of admission is downright glorious. Just having the opportunity to be considered for Heaven, I am surprised to find myself overwhelmed with gratitude and excited by an opportunity that I have never before believed could exist. All of my previous incredulity seems to be fading away as I delight in my heavenly prospects. Even though the promise of Heaven may not have had any effect on me before, the reality of it is now motivating me to focus on my goodness, to amplify my honorability. I am eager to prove myself worthy, to “live up” to the shared virtuosity that will exemplify all of Heaven’s residents.
In summary, I guess what I am saying is that I hope that my belief and faith in you are “better late than never,” and will lead you to include me among Heaven’s newest members. Thank you kindly for your consideration.
P.S: One member of the HWC mentioned that recent arrivals with atheist backgrounds are occasionally given the opportunity to go back with the promise that they will be fervent believers. Is this an option for me perhaps?
A college administrator by day, Bob Gielow (he/him) spins tales in formats we all use when communicating with each other: text messages, emails, fictional Wikipedia posts, and diary entries all allow him to be clinical and thorough in describing his characters, their thinking and actions…without diminishing his ability to explore the resulting human emotions. Bob utilizes these epistolary styles, and others, to tell tales that frequently explore the most common of human experiences, death. Twitter @bob_gielow.