Based on several interactions I’ve had with christians I’ve reached the conclusion that, for many believers, atheists represent a fundamental problem in christian theology. It all comes down to whether a good God would torture people eternally simply because they didn’t believe that God existed. Of course God technically punishes people for their sins, but if he only saves those who believe then really it’s the same thing as punishing someone for not believing. While some have managed to make excuses for God in this regard, most recognize that it would be wrong to punish someone for genuine disbelief only. But God wouldn’t do something immoral, so believers must find some way to justify God’s salvation policy.
If a christian does confront this problem head on, he or she can really only come to two conclusions that fit with their existing beliefs. Firstly they could try to get over their moral instincts and tell themselves that anything God does is good, by definition. This is the definition of might makes right and renders morality meaningless. Alternatively, they could say that the people who are sent to hell actually deserve it. One way this argument could be made is by claiming that everyone actually believes in God, and that atheists and those of other religions have made a concious choice to reject him. This solves the contradiction, and actually has some biblical backing, however it lacks any real world evidence. Furthermore it is incredibly offensive to think that anyone who isn’t christian is lying about their religious beliefs. This position is so offensive and weak that I was shocked when I first heard it. Unfortunately it is a somewhat popular belief. In fact, it’s popularity with people who should know better was what made me realize that atheists were such a problem for christian theology. We essentially back them into a corner, because if a christian admits that moral, genuine atheists exist he or she must recognize that God is immoral, which is a contradiction. Perhaps this is the reason why so many christians are uncomfortable with and around atheists, and why interactions between the two often turn sour. But atheists should be hopeful, because if I’m right one of the best ways to show people that christianity is false is to simply live your life as a good person who doesn’t believe in God. Atheists are a walking, talking refutation of the christian God.