A commenter left the following comment on the previous post:
“When I was a traditionalisma, I loved an idea that I now despise beyond words. I asked once, “But what about the good deeds of atheists? I have friends who are atheist and they are ethical people, the best people? Are their good deeds worthless?” The answer: When atheists do good deeds, they have real effects in the world that everyone can see and benefit from. But the actions have no connection to the divine. It is as if every good deed created an angel. For believers that angel soars up to the Throne and announces your good works to God who counts that work toward your reward in the Next World. For atheists, their good deeds create angels but the angels simply fly around in circles never making their way to God. So God never knows any good of them to reward in the Next World…and so they are consigned to Hell.
Can I just say this? WHERE WAS MY #(^$&!* MIND? Damn the things I thought! I have actually apologized to a lot of people for the crap I thought and actually said to them. Some have forgiven me, some do not respond to my apology. It is what it is.”
Wow. Just wow.
How fortunate it is that I did not know this commenter when I was still a devout neo-traditionalist. Because if I had, I would certainly have loved, loved, loved this “explanation” about the good deeds of atheists. I would have repeated it to others, and felt quite good about doing so, as well.
I mean, it had everything.
It sounded good. Nay, it sounded positively profound.
To be exact, it would have sounded good (and profound) to me in those days, because it sounded much better than the sort of thing that the Salafis, or the average “why I became a Muslim” speaker at some event-or-other sponsored by the MSA, or my ex would say.
What were the possible “Islamically correct” options available to us to answer such a question, after all?
The “atheism = kufr” approach, which would wipe out any good deeds of an atheist by default, because he/she was a kafir and therefore automatically fuel for hell? (Insert a few “istaghfirallahs” and “haraam”!s here for good measure, preferably in a loud and dramatic voice.)
The sort of liberalish-sounding patronizing approach, which assumed that any atheist just hadn’t heard about Islam (or hadn’t heard about “the right Islam”), so the answer would be to do dawah to him/her and save him/her from hell? (Probably by giving him or her a pamphlet on “science in the Qur’an” or something.)
The hair-splitting legalistic approach, which minutely dissected questions of whether even a believer’s momentary doubts might invalidate his/her prayers or other acts of worship?
Or maybe just the all-purpose dismissal of atheists that refuses to take them seriously at all, much less admit that they can and do act ethically??
So, the bar for a “reasonable” answer to the question of what happens to the good deeds of atheists was really, really low. Almost anything would have sounded better than the responses that I was already familiar with. And it was much the same for almost any question we were faced with, living as converts in an open and pluralistic society. Half-way intelligent-sounding answers that also sounded as though they were grounded in “Tradition” were in very short supply.
It was all very understandable why we bought this sort of “answer,” and repeated it. After all, it was all about us. All about preserving our faith, enabling us to make sense of the world, giving us the reassurance that we had the authentic Islam and were rooted in “Tradition” and that we had access to amazing depths of knowledge that most people (poor things!) would just never have.
So, if a part of us would sort of recoil at such “answers” and raise a question about it, we would quickly squash that doubt flat. Nothing could be allowed to undermine our faith, our assurance, our security that we had found the equivalent of the Well of Zamzam, knowledge-wise.
This sort of thinking—if one can call it that—is intellectually corrupting.
What happens when people leave neo-traditionalism, having acquired such habitual ways of processing information and seeing the world? These habits don’t just vanish—at least, not for everyone. (Much seems to depend on how long you were in it, and how committed you were.) So many mental habits we learned are not functional in the wider world—and especially not in the workplace, to say nothing of in social circles.