In the previous post on the “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, Smalley seemed to imply that he’d read a lot of theology. He does so again here, but clearly betrays a lack of reading with the same words:
5. In the technicalities of most religions, there is no difference between a believer that dies before having time to repent, and a nonbeliever that rejected the doctrine altogether.
I can’t claim with certainty which particular religions Smalley has in mind, of course. But, depending on this, his claim is either irrelevant or false.
It’s irrelevant if by “most” he’s referring to the vast numbers of dead shamanistic, pagan, and spirit-worship religions. Repentance is little to no value at all in these belief systems. So, while it is technically true that there is no difference, it completely misses the point.
Rather, I suspect that by “most religions” Smalley means “Christianity”. If so, his statement is false. There is a small minority of Christians, no doubt, who would agree with this. But, if we’re talking about anyone who knows more than what he picked up while nodding off in Sunday school, then this is simply incorrect. Saving grace is a basic state of one’s personal choice to be with God, not a contract re-issued every time one repents of particular sins.
Nor, if they are what he had in mind, does Smalley’s argument apply to Judaism or Islam.
Whether or not one believes in Christianity (or any other religion), the point is that a misunderstanding of it does not count as a valid reason to be an atheist. Nor would it anyway. Even if this were an accurate account of Christian belief (though it isn’t), it does absolutely nothing to show that Christianity is false, it would merely show it to be unpleasant. This reduces to another “theism is false because I personally don’t like this part of it” objection. None of this, even in the imaginary universe where these statements are true, undermines the arguments for God’s existence.
In this way, Smalley’s comment is like quite a few things I hear out of passionate opponents of religion. Many have offered me a heartfelt critique of a sophomoric understanding of the Bible as if that closed the case on all forms of theism–once and for all. Dawkins himself has done this even while complaining that some of his critics haven’t read his book.
Really, these types of arguments are no more than personal complaints about a distortion of Christianity. But we hardly need to be atheists to realize that misunderstanding a religion will often lead one to dislike it.