It is not obvious that God exists. One can look at Creation around you and be struck with awe and wonder, and yet still doubt that God exists. It’s obvious that Creation itself exists, but a Creator can only be guessed at. If that is so, then why should an atheist be damned?
I’ve met a number of atheists in my life. Some of them are good people. And I don’t believe that God would damn them for their lack of belief in Him because I personally do not think that would be fair. It seems too arbitrary. It would be like damning someone for believing in unicorns. Or would that be the reverse case? Damning someone for believing in an imaginary entity versus damning someone for not believing in an existing entity? Suppose that Leprechauns exist, but it is impossible to prove that they exist. Further, suppose only those who believe in Leprechauns can see Leprechauns. If the Leprechaun’s gold could only be found by someone who could see a Leprechaun, would that not seem somewhat arbitrary? What guarantee is there that he who finds the Leprechaun’s gold, will be one who would use it wisely? Perhaps the one who finds the gold would use it wisely, but there is no reason to believe that one of the Leprechaun-blind people might yet be able to use the gold even more wisely. The use of the gold itself (moral living) is in itself not necessarily connected to belief in the Leprechaun (belief in a Deity). Why should a single simple belief be the deciding factor in damnation versus salvation? If it is really just a single simple belief, then the manner in which one lives shouldn’t matter: and I can’t believe that. A man commits ninety murders and then says, “I believe.” He is saved, yet a woman who spent her life working in a hospital and honestly says, “I don’t believe.” She is damned? That makes no sense to me.
They say that you can’t earn your way into Heaven. It’s not a doable task for a human being; that only belief in Jesus Christ can get one to Heaven. I really can’t accept that. I can believe Jesus is the one examining people’s hearts and deciding who gets to Heaven and who doesn’t, but not based simply on the belief in the divinity of Christ or the lack thereof.
Actions must count for something; if they don’t, salvation seems arbitrary. Being religious will, most of the time, despite the Leprechaun argument above, lead to living a better life. I get that. But that doesn’t mean Dave the atheist is a worse person than Sharon the Christian. It only means that Dave the atheist is a worse person than he could be if he were a Christian.