I still recall some of the lessons I learned in Sunday School. One of these is that good works are not enough because God can see into our hearts and he easily can discern if our motivations are impure. Even if we comported ourselves as perfectly as possible, one ill thought could jeopardize the whole deal.
One leering thought about a woman. One desire to snatch the last brownie. One consideration given to telling a white lie, even if I ultimately decided against it. All it takes is one wayward thought and the presumption of perfection is ruined.
With this preface as a backdrop, my wife and I recently purchased a shelf for our kitchen from a local thrift shop. In the South Bend-Raymond area, there are three thrift (secondhand) stores and all three of them are run by religious organizations. Two of them are pretty cool because the staff and volunteers don't beat you over the head with their brand of religious belief. This is not true of the third one -- the one where we purchased the shelf.
Having paid the posted price, the sales clerk invited us to attend her very fundamentalist church. We smiled and said, No Thanks. Of course, when it comes to fundamentalists, no means they simply have to try harder! So, the woman tried again.
I informed her that there was no way in hell that I would ever attend her church. "Why not?" she asked in an astonished tone. "Because I'm an atheist," I replied. "I don't believe in God -- your god or anyone other god."
At this juncture, she trotted out a rationale that explicitly contradicts the point I raised at the beginning of this post. "Don't you think it would be better to believe just in case you're wrong? You know, to cover your bases?"
In my view -- and I certainly pointed this out to her -- that has got to be the WORST reason in the world. If her god can look into people's hearts, then he would know that I was signing on "just to cover my bases!" He would know that I wasn't sincere which sort of DEFEATS THE WHOLE PURPOSE of the exercise.
Not surprisingly, she wouldn't grasp this concept. She kept repeating that it would be better to "cover my bases" than to burn in hell for eternity. I let it drop at that point because my wife needed to get back to work and I needed to figure out how we were going to get the shelf home (it wouldn't fit in our little car).
If I had stayed to debate her, I would have pointed out that the "covering the bases" strategy would in no way save a person from hell...unless she believed that her all-knowing god could be so easily duped by a fallible atheist like me. If that is true, then it follows that her all-knowing god isn't all-knowing and definitely is not worthy of her undying worship.