Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What If I'm Wrong?

The question inevitably exits any religious person's mouth in conversation with an atheist, usually when every other argument has failed. Typically it is presented as a variation of Pascal's famous wager. "What if you are wrong?" Then, the insinuation goes, you will burn in a hot hell for all eternity while your Christians relatives prance around on cool green grass in heaven and refuse to even dip their finger in water and moisten your lips to relieve a bit of the agony. Surely that thought is enough to get you to change your mind and accept Jesus as your personal saviour?

But, it is worth really examining that question. Richard Dawkins has been asked this question in public and more or less makes fun of the sincere but simple questioner in the audient. (See video here). That is certainly one approach, and probably after being asked the question a thousand times, and with limited time to respond, I might take the same such approach. Really, though, there are two main issues to consider: 1) what if the atheist is wrong about there being no God; and 2) what if the Christian is wrong about there being a God. It is only fair to ask the Christian to consider the same question.

Firstly, what if atheists are wrong and there is a God? Pascal's Wager is very illogical, of course, mostly because it assumes that if you decide to bet on the fact that there is a god, then you have to pick which one you believe exists. If you're wrong on that one, then you're no better off than if you didn't pick one at all. (This is the general approach that Dawkins takes in the video: he asks the Christian audience member to consider what happens if some other god turns out to be the one true one). But let's assume for a second that we're talking about the Biblical God. Let's ignore the thousands of other gods that humans have created and focus on the Christian God. If I, as an atheist, am wrong, then yes indeed I will go to hell. I will surely regret my decision and life on earth because a few decades lived as a Christian would be a small price to pay to avoid an eternity of hell, no question. But, what is really important is not that simple arithmetic, but the plausibilty of me being wrong. Consider what the Christian God would have to be like in order for that to be the case. The character presented by modern Christians as the loving father is not possible. What loving father could possibly sentence his own children, often through their own ignorance rather than simple disobedience I might add, to an eternity of suffering. I'd hate to see my own son suffer for five minutes, let alone all eternity. Of course, the standard Christian response to this is that God gives us free will, but not without consequence. Again, what loving father would give his child unlimited free will to decide whether to love him and to be obedient, and then when the child decides to follow his own path in life would shrug with an attitude that says: "Oh well, I tried to warn you, it's your problem if you suffer all your life as a result of being disobedient."? Only a monstrous father, selfish, vindictive and petty, would behave that way. Consider, in addition, that in the case of the fatherly Kingdom of Heaven, he knows all along what the outcome is. So, before you are ever born, indeed before he ever created the universe, he knew I was going to be an atheist and decide not to follow him, as are billions of others in human history. Yet, he decided to go ahead and set up this system that permanently punishes his disobedient children for all eternity. And all just so that he could create some children that have free will to decide if they want to relate to him or not, because he only likes the company of humans who have decided of their own free will to hang out with him. Petty hardly seems a strong enough word for this type of approach, does it? Insecure, immature, petulant, vindictive, mentally insane, evil, are all terms that we might use to describe a man who approached parenthood in such a manner. So, if I am wrong, then yes I will go to hell, but it will be because the god that Christians worship is nothing of loving father that they claim. What would an eternity of heaven in the presence of such a control freak paternal figure be like?

Secondly, what if Christians are wrong and there is no God? Well, this one might be a bit more simple. They are missing out on the one life they will ever have. At first they may not feel that they are missing out. Every Christian I've ever met always insists that they love their Christian life and that they would still be a Christian even if there was no afterlife. Yeah, right. Both of those statements ring very false. Christians love their Christian life yet walk around full of guilt. They walk around choosing ignorance over science and wonder. They prefer the simple non-explanation of how nature came into being and how it works over the amazing and wonderful truth. They prefer to share their guilt with others by poniting out that we are all born miserable and worthless sinners. (Again, what parent could possibly look at their new-born baby and actually believe this?). Christians may not think they are missing out on life by living as a Christian but they are. I know. I was a Christian through my young life, and it warped my sense of reality big-time. It caused me to live life in a specific way that I never would have done had I believed there was no god. I never would have felt the constant burden of sin and guilt, occasionally "washed away" by the blood of The Lamb. I never would have shunned science and had a superior attitude towards people who actually knew far more than I did about reality. I looked down on people who had spent their entire lives collecting knowledge on topics. I looked down on them because I figured they didn't really have the truth. They were at a disadvantage because they didn't know God. What a pathetic and wasteful way to go through life. I can't count how many relationships I missed out on because of my own arrogance and ignorance, how many friendships were superficial because I dismissed potential friends as too "wordly".

If you are a Christian, I challenge you to really think about this question: What if YOU are wrong? What are you missing out on in life? What attitudes are you going through life with that are entirely wrong and inappropriate? How much of this wonderful, complex, and beautiful world are you dismissing because you are so focused on serving a figment of your imagination?

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