As an atheist, how do you deal with the idea that good people and bad people all have the same fate in the end?

Convicted serial killer Ted Bundy sits in the electric chair awaiting execution. He opens his heart to accept Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. His body is subjected to 2,000 volts and he dies. Some Christians would believe his sins have been forgiven and he goes to Heaven.

The Mahatma Gandhi awaits a Hindu prayer meeting surrounded by his entourage. A Hindu nationalist approaches him and shoots him three times in the chest. As he falls to the ground, he chants Ram, Ram, Ram…, the name of a Hindu deity. He dies.

The same people who believe that Ted Bundy went to heaven, believe that Gandhi went to hell. This is because Gandhi had heard the Christian gospel, but choose not to accept the Christian God as the only one true God and accept Jesus as the only way to that God.

Personally, I find this less acceptable than Bundy and Gandhi having the same fate in the end –as they would, based on the atheist perspective.

The most just religious belief that I am aware of in this regard is karma. The concept of karma is found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. With karma, one is punished by their sins. It doesn’t require a supreme being to mete out the punishment. It is seen as a law of cause and effect much like Newton’s laws of motion.

There is a problem with karma, though. It becomes easy to see an underprivileged person as deserving of their fate because of their karma. They must have accrued bad karma due to bad deeds from a past lifetime, otherwise their circumstances would be better. This can lead to the oppression we see in the caste system in India and it can stifle generosity and compassion.

If a deity sent souls to heaven for good deeds and to hell for bad ones, there would be people who would use good works to buy their way into heaven. When an atheist performs good works there is no expectation of a heavenly reward. Isn’t that that more noble?

As an atheist, I accept that good and bad people both cease to exist upon death. At that point, exacting justice on the perpetrator is irrelevant. In other words, I accept it as the way things are.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

5 thoughts on “As an atheist, how do you deal with the idea that good people and bad people all have the same fate in the end?

  1. As a padawan (Buddhist) learner, the fate of Ted Bundy would be to go to a hell realm, be reborn as a lower life form or be reborn with a more difficult life due to his accumulation of Karma… but.. as an “atheist” (I hate using labels) I can only go with what I know for a fact…

    No matter if you are a good person or bad, your body returns to the earth. We become the hummus of the earth, the soil, the water, the grass, flowers, plants and trees. We become the wind, the rain and the air others breathe. Our bodies become the earth.

    There are many other after life beliefs but I just hope I am remembered- whether someone looks up, down or touches the ground 🙂

  2. There’s nothing to ‘deal with’, it just happens. There is no apparent reason to think there is am after-life. Except in one respect. We, sort of, live on in those we leave behind. We leave them with memory and influence (or none).
    I personally hate the ideology that there are good and bad people. It has too many undesirable side-effects.
    There are simply, people.

    1. I said in the blog that I do not believe in an afterlife. I agree that our legacy lives on, by which I mean how we influenced others.

      People are complex and have faults as well positive qualities, so they are a mix of good and bad. I agree that terms like good and bad have been used to demonize people and to excuse untold horrors and we need to make distinctions if we want to do good in the world.

      I picked extreme examples to make a point. However, the Mahatma wasn’t a saint. He admitted to beating his wife. Bundy may have done some good things too, but this would be overshadowed by his murders. I do agree with you though that we have to be careful with the words good and bad.

  3. This is true for the body. But you are not your body. We are what hears through the ears and sees through the eyes but ewe are not the ears or eyes. We are the consciousness behind it all.

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