Deconversion is such a gradual thing. This year's 'revelation' was that Christianity is perhaps the most selfish, amoral religion ever. It has taken me over 20 years to come to this realization.
"Salvation" from either one's own sins or Eve's (it's debatable, apparently) is "bought" with the "blood" of an innocent god-spirit-man, who knowingly or unknowingly becomes the "sacrificial" lamb to replace the sacrifices at the temple for all the Jews, and later Greeks, Ethiopians, Lebanese, and Europeans etc. who believe in him and don't fuck people of the same sex.
This is supposed to be a wonderful thing. In my reading this year (thank you, John Loftus) I found out that the term is "penal substitution." Instead of punishing the guilty person, someone else is put in that person's place. And it seems this year I've seen more evidence of evangelicals' embrace of this concept.
One of my facebook pals posted recently about how grateful she was that Jesus was all-forgiving. Being a nice person, I bit my fingers-tongue and didn't type out "unless you're a fig tree." Of course Jesus doesn't have the power to forgive, but you don't have to actually think through theology if you're enveloped in a feel-good movement that's all about YOU feeling relieved of your guilt.
This week Governor Bill Richardson decided not to pardon Billy the Kid. Apparently during Billy's lifetime a pardon was promised, then renegged on, and then Billy continued killing people. Richardson decided on the pardon on the terms he would if the Kid were still alive: based on his behavior subsequent to the original crime. My question is, why didn't he reject it on the pure ridiculousness of the request? It's not like the Kid was on Death Row! I think the answer is that we care about our reputations after our death. We want to be remembered well, and we can't guarantee that we will. We can leave all kinds of instructions for our funerals, pre-engrave our epitaphs, and publish our story in a self-serving autobiography, but when we're gone we won't be able to defend ourselves.
This is where "God" comes in. The trial takes place immediately upon death, and it's quick because there's only one matter to take up: whether we accept Jesus as Lawd, or God, or whatever. (The evangelicals have confused me on this point, I admit) Anywho, if we "ak-Tsept JEEE-zussss" into our hearts at the last possible moment, all the rest is pardoned. And that should be enough.
The Billy the Kid case reminded me of another, Karla Faye Tucker. She was still alive when her earthly fate was being decided on by none other than then-governor George W. Bush. I had just moved to Texas that year and the case really represented Texas for me. Karla Faye had converted to Christianity in prison. While reading the Bible, she was "asking God to forgive" her." She became a cause celebre when she tried to escape the Death Penalty on the basis of her conversion.
She had already something of an evangelical celebrity as her conversion and subsequent good behavior, so she had the Army of Gawd on her side. (This, of course, is quite opposite to what Christians should have wanted for her -- the best she could have hoped for was life without parole, but if she'd been executed she'd be in Heaven with Gawd). But perhaps her jailbird testimony was just too delicious for them, and they wanted her to stick around for their purposes.
The conflict for Dubya: the death penalty, which is almost sacred in Texas, vs. born-again Christianity, which he himself professed. He chose not to forgive her, and Karla Faye was executed. Her last words included the following: "I am going to be face to face with Jesus now." Yes, Jesus forgives murder.
I don't remember any debate about whether she would in fact be forgiven by God for her part in the murder of two people. It's convenient that Christians are all about the Ten Commandments when they want them posted in courthouses or recited by school children, but when one of their own has violated one, they suddenly don't care so much.
The true common element for Billy the Kid and Karla Faye Tucker is time. Christians will forgive if enough time has passed without further ill will. Billy the Kid stopped murdering people ... upon his death... and hasn't broken any laws since then. Karla Faye was a youngster and had spent many years in prison waiting for her lethal injection. After so much time has passed, m'eh they're okay.
Supposedly hell and heaven are forever decisions. God doesn't forgive, and he doesn't forget, either. His judgment isn't mitigated by time or good behavior. Either you're with him or agin'im, and that's forever.
Yet somehow the Ten Commandments only matter when we want them to. Forgiveness is not God's to give or retract, but ours. The whole judgment-in-heaven concept is a projection of our desires. It's 100% cultural, and has nothing to do with eternal spirits, burning bushes, or any of the rest of it.
What it comes down to is this: We want to be forgiven, and we also want to forgive. The Christian theology of forgiveness is a reflection of our human nature, not the cause of it. Society holds together based on whether members of the community can trust each other to behave in a way that supports the community. We have that trust at birth, and we can lose it. It can be lost forever, or it can be regained after a time-out, or some act of redemption. Folk stories from around the world reflect the very human need to keep the very human community intact.
Sometimes we can't control whether we get that trust back. If we've killed someone, they can't turn around and say "aw it's okay I know you're really a nice person." Or if someone holds a grudge we can only do so much to get back into their "good graces." So we ask the Sky Daddy to forgive us. How that happens depends on your interpretation of the Sky Daddy. Evangelicals don't have to do much at all, though they will tell you they base their morals on a fear of Hell. Episcopalians mumble contritious words at weekly services. Catholics go to confession and do some act of penance to make up for whatever they've confessed to.
My absolute #1 favorite religious tradition is the Jewish New Year tradition of self-reflection for acts done during the previous year, then doing an act of charity to erase those deeds. It's all done in one's lifetime, and within a brief time span so guilt doesn't accumulate. Lazy Jews donate money to "the building fund," but a lot donate to actual charities or give their time to the needy. Animal Sacrifice went the way of the dinosaur after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (oops, C.E.), and God has stopped punishing entire cities and countries for group misdeeds. This is their substitution. I think it's a great idea. When it was explained to me it was called "mitzvah" and I even like the sound of the word.
Last year I had the means and opportunity to do an act of charity that directly made up for something I regretted. It cost me a lot of time and money but when it was done it was a very "clean" feeling. My mitzvah had been accomplished and though I could never set right the original situation, I had done the next-best thing. My guilt for what couldn't be righted (don't worry, I didn't break any laws, just felt guilty) was matched by my satisfaction of making a real contribution in a parallel situation. I can start the New Year with a clear conscious, knowing that what's past is past and I've done my best.
When Christians ask me why I'm not worried about Hell, I don't go into all this detail. I simply say I'm not afraid of something that doesn't exist. They're not really interested in a "sermon" about guilt, retribution, redemption, making the most of one lifetime, paying for your own "sins," etc. but I wish they were. Atheism is liberating, but in a grow-the-fuck-up and take responsibility for yourself kind of way. That's much more frightening than Hell to them.
So Happy New Year, atheists. Let's make the best of the time we have and not worry about our 'afterlife' here or in the sky.