Even if they have never heard of Blaise Pascal and his famous advice to play it safe and bet on an after-life, many believers on their death-bed confess their sins and make their peace with God. Alcoholics, drug-addicts, even some criminals change their lives before it is too late. Conan Doyle (no relation of Popeye Doyle of “French Connection” fame) put the cliché into the mouth of another famous detective : ” I had been as blind as a mole, but when it is a question of learning wisdom, ‘better late than never’ ” – The Man with the Twisted Lip“). Sherlock Holmes, unlike Popeye Doyle, never shook his addiction to cocaine, but he was lucid enough to realize that we can succeed, however long it takes, in seeing the light.
Of course, it works both ways. Some unbelievers get religion; some believers get smart, and realize before it is too late that the foundations of their faith were built on sand. The religious texts, discourses and sermons which they had identified with the Truth, they see now were at best fantasies and fairy-tales, at worst, fabrications.
Time is running out for all of us. We owe it to ourselves, and perhaps to others, to decide whether we believe in God or not. My decision, belated as it was, is irrevocable. I could have gone on to become a popular preacher, a rôle-model for Catholic youth, an exemplary priest dedicated to caring for the sick and the underprivileged, to consoling the bereaved, to motivating the depressed, to doing good. I might have become a leading theologian, a respected spokesman for the Church, a Provincial Superior (if not General !) of the Franciscan Order, a Bishop, a Cardinal, a Pope !
Unlikely scenarios. The reality is that I finally decided to hang up my habit and check in my chasuble. I should have had the intelligence, the lucidity and the courage to make the decision sooner, like my decision, ten years later, to bring to a definitive end my journey from Catholicism to atheism. But, man, am I glad I did it before it was too late ! Believers who have ears to hear, let them hear.