Susan Jacoby, author and reporter, recently posted her response to the question "Do You Believe In Heaven Or Hell?". The question was asked of several reporters and you can find their answers here.
Susan is a self described atheist and posted a most intriguing response. As you would expect, her response is heavy in statement deriding and mocking organized faith or religion. But there were a couple of paragrahs that simply stuck out to me:
There is a devil--not a supernatural being but the sum of the worst human impulses. The devil is in us. Or rather, the devil is us. And what so many people think of as a supernatural being called "God" can be understood in the natural realm as the human capacity for good.So my question to Susan would be, and I doubt she's a fan of The Jonah Syndrome, "So who gets to determine good and bad as you expect us to above?"
But I certainly do believe in purgatory. Purgatory is wondering whether the human race in general, and my fellow Americans in particular, will ever grow up enough to realize that we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity--not because we are looking forward to being entertained by harpists among the clouds or are terrified of eternal flame.
And ultimately, that's the question that every atheist, open theist, agnostic, and pagan has to answer. In a world where there is no transcendent God, no ultimate standard, no higher authority than ourselves, WHO IS LEFT TO DETERMINE right from wrong and good from bad? Who gets to do that?
Ultimately the answer they will have to come to, if they are intellectually honest which they are probably not inclined to be, is whoever has the guns. Because whoever has the most guns and bombs wins. At the end of the day, that is who gets to determine what ultimately is good and what ultimately is bad. And unfortunately, atheists drive you to a place where they themselves can't see taking you to. In a society where there is no transcendent authority, whoever has the power determines morality.
And all throughout history, you see this. And if there is no higher definition of good/bad or right/wrong then who is to say that Hitler was wrong? Who is to say that what's going on in Darfur is wrong? How can you? How dare you say that YOU know what is good/bad? Remember, you're the same person that has the capacity to misuse religion to commit atrocities, so by her own admission in the article, Susan wants you to be the final arbiter of good/bad in your life? Her position falls apart on its own merit and its own arguments. It has to, it's the only logical outcome.
Therefore, she makes a perfect argument the the knowledge of good/evil and definition of right/wrong has to come from someone other than ourselves and ultimately from a supernatural, transcendent God. And if He is the one providing the definition, to not care about Him and His definitions is just plain lunacy. It truly is.
The responses of the panelist were amazing. You really should read them. They will challenge you to think and affirm why the Christian worldview is the only viable view and the only one that doesn't fall apart on its own terms.
Susan, you may not believe in heaven or hell, and by your own view, the terms can have no meaning because I get to determine what they are, not you. And in a world like that, words can't have any meanings anyway.