Below is a footnote for a book I’m writing, and I would very much appreciate some feedback.
if you want the context for my footnote, the body of the text can be found at the following url: xanga.com/desertraindrop86/6 … /item.html where I have posted two preliminary drafts as a single blog entry
As evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has pointed out, specific religious beliefs are often “an accident of geography”, i.e. largely (though not entirely) influenced by environment and geographic location. People who grow up in the Middle East are more likely to have Islamic beliefs by no choice of their own; it is a matter of conditioning. They usually do not feel any pull towards Christianity, just as Christians usually do not feel any pull towards Islam. And although some Muslims convert to Christianity (and vice versa), they usually are not swayed by apologists on the other side. We do not choose what we believe, or at least most people do not. Instead, people can choose to perform an investigation, but the result of that investigation is not chosen – the mind involuntarily assents to a particular conclusion based on what strikes the investigator as most reasonable. Whether something appears more reasonable depends on several factors (including neurobiological and even para-natural). An agnostic may be “moved” into becoming a Christian, but similarly, a Christian may be reluctantly swayed by atheists. For example, Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman grew up Christian, but “painfully” became an agnostic during his scholarly education. He did not want to lose his Christian faith, but he had no choice. Many atheists are reluctant atheists in the sense that they truly yearn to have a belief in God, but simply cannot produce it (by no fault of their own). If beliefs are freely chosen, then I could will myself into believing that Bill Clinton is really an alien from Mars. But no matter how hard I try to force myself into believing that claim, I will never believe it apart from convincing evidence (or what I perceive to be convincing evidence).
So if God imposes retributive punishment onto people because of their beliefs, then God punishes them for something they cannot control, which means that God would hold them responsible for something they are not actually responsible for. This is still compatible with the idea that faith is a requirement for salvation because one could argue that atheists will have postmortem chances to acquire it. Some may argue that postmortem chances of acquiring faith render Earthly life pointless. This counterargument implies that the purpose of life is to know Jesus (or at least that is one of life’s purposes according to this counterargument). However, there are people who never get to hear of Jesus’ ministry (e.g. aborigines in remote locations), and these persons demonstrate that the purpose of earthly life is not to know Jesus. If it were, then everyone would be given an opportunity. This does not rule out the idea that Christians are still required to spread the gospel. Perhaps, one day, a time will come when everybody will have an opportunity to learn about Jesus’ ministry, the historical evidence for his resurrection, etc.
A few additional points should be made. It should be pointed out that disbelieving in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection is not the same as outright rejecting Jesus. Before going further, allow me to define my use of “reject”. I am using it in a social sense, e.g. “I asked a girl out to dinner, but she rejected me” (something that cannot occur if the girl does not believe in the existence of the person she is rejecting). Genuine atheists cannot reject Jesus in that sense of the word because they do not believe that Jesus exists to be rejected. People can reject something only if it exists to be rejected (or if they think that the thing exists). Likewise, Muslims do not reject Jesus (in the aforementioned sense of “reject”); they simply have a different set of beliefs about Jesus’ nature and ministry. However, if these same persons were to become convinced of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection, but turned Jesus away, then we could claim that they have rejected Jesus. One cannot knowingly reject a gift unless one believes that the gift exists in the first place. To clarify, I am not denying that some people will/do reject God, but instead I am attempting to demonstrate that Christians should not be so condemning towards those with non-Christian beliefs.