A/N: I am an open-minded atheist. I do not believe in God at this time, but I spend many hours thinking about religion and all the possibilities. This is one of my newest thoughts on Christianity. It was not written to offend, but if it makes you feel like you are living poorly, I'm not sorry. We all need to step back and look at ourselves sometimes. Please tell me what you think.

The Ultimate Temptation

The tears fell as James took his last breath. He didn't see them. He didn't hear the sobs that came from his daughter, and he didn't hear the nurse dialing for the coroner.

What he saw was the whitest of lights, as if the hospital room had faded out and then the white light was gone as the new scene faded in. His feet came to rest on a surface that went on forever.

He turned once, but before confusion had time to register, the floor was shrinking, the edges rushing towards him at an impossible speed. Suddenly, it stopped.

He turned again and now there was a low desk. A woman sat behind it in a green robe. Her hair was long and dark and braided forward over her right shoulder. She was turning the pages of a book, but she marked her place with a finger and looked up at him.

Please sit down.

Here, in the armchair?

If you wish.

Where am I?

This isn't a place. On the contrary, we are in all places and yet in none.

Why am I here?

Because you have left Earth.

Is this the entrance to Heaven?

The woman's smile deepened.

You would call it such. You are James Myron Haleson. You have been married twice and have two children and one stepchild. You were a mid-level executive in a manufacturing company and you were able to retire early.

She looked at her book again.

And you've attended church nearly every Sunday for the past sixty years.

That's right.

But tell me, James, what did you do?

I – what?

What did you do? Did you volunteer? Did you donate money? Did you befriend those who were in need of a friend?

I put five dollars on the collection plate every Sunday.

James, if you were a single parent raising four children on minimum wage, five dollars would be somewhat of a sacrifice.

I don't know what you want me to say.

You sat idle every Sunday and criticized and condemned those who tried to make the world better.

I did not.

Your neighbors, Tim and Dillon, they both worked for the Peace Corps for eleven years. When they moved to your town, no one on your block extended the hand of welcome,

They were homosexuals! That's a sin!

The loved, rather than hated. What about June Thompson, the woman that you and other parents forced to step down from the school board?

She was a practicing Wiccan. They do the devil's work.

She spent much of her free time tutoring dyslexic children – at no cost to their families.

It names the sins in the bible. Everyone knows that if you sin, you go to hell. If you fraternize with sinners, your chances of heaven are lessened. If you follow Jesus Christ and state your love for him, you're supposed to be saved! I hated who he told me to hate!

Jesus Christ loved everyone.

Then I hated those who God told me was evil!

So your beliefs revolved around the church?

Of course! I didn't drink, I tried not to swear, I didn't steal or commit adultery, or lie.

So what of those reduced to theivery by good Christians who turned the other cheek?

Who are you? I don't understand this!

James, I am here to talk with you about your life and the choices you made. I am God's emissary, as you might say, to tell you what he has decided.

And?

Your soul is full of hatred. You feel hatred towards all those who are not like you.

Are you calling me racist?

Don't be foolish, James.

He was going to protest again, but her gaze bore into him and he found he was frightened and did not want to say anything.

Christianity is the ultimate human temptation. It's seems to be such a magnificent agreement – a few hours of your week in a house of worship, as well as abiding by a few simple rules, and you get eternal salvation.

But it's not true?

I'm afraid that it's not true. Do you really think that God would mind if you had a drink after work on Friday with your co-workers? Do you believe that God is offended if you love someone of the same sex? God made us to love, not to hate.

But what about those who don't believe? God can't stand for that!

God didn't create humans to be his audience. If an atheist lives a good life, then the atheist is welcome in the eternal kingdom.

And…and I?

I'm sorry.

He thought he heard genuine regret in her voice, but she was fading swiftly into nothingness. And he was alone.