15 January 2019

What if you're wrong?

Nan's Notebook has a post up on a question Christians sometimes pose to atheists:  "What if you're wrong?"  It's basically a reformulation of Pascal's wager -- if you live your life as an atheist and die as one, only to find God waiting to judge you in the afterlife, you'll feel pretty foolish (and doomed), won't you?

Follow the link above to see other readers' answers.  Here's mine.

If it turns out that the universe is, in fact, ruled by some kind of all-powerful petty tyrant who will consign me to torture for all eternity because I couldn’t believe a bunch of ludicrously-implausible stories which all available evidence shows to be just one more random mythology like hundreds of others, regardless of all the good I’ve done during my life, then I guess I’m just shit out of luck.  I don’t see any point in worrying about it because there’s nothing I can do about it.  I don’t have the power to make myself believe things that are utterly unbelievable, any more than a Christian could psych himself into believing in Vishnu or Zeus when he simply sees no reason to believe in those entities.  And there’s no point in trying to fake it.  Pretending to believe might fool people, but it wouldn’t fool an omniscient deity.

And that’s another problem.  What, they ask, if you disbelieve in the Christian cosmology and then you die and find yourself being judged by Jehovah for it?  Well, what if it turns out Odin was the true god all along and you’ll suffer in the afterlife for not worshiping him?  What if it turns out the Muslims are right and you spent your life not being a Muslim?  What if the ancient Egyptian religion was the true one and we’re all doomed in the afterlife because we don’t perform their mummification rituals?  What if the religion of some tribe in Papua that you’ve never heard of is the one true faith, God having singled out that tribe as his chosen people -- the sole recipients of the Truth -- for some reason beyond our understanding?

All those possibilities, and hundreds of others, are equally plausible.  There’s no visible reason to judge any one religion more likely to be true than any other.  If you choose one and it turns out some other one is the true one, you’re still wrong, and presumably still in trouble in the afterlife.

I believe what the evidence supports -- that there are no gods of any stripe, and all religions are just stories concocted by humans.  I might still be wrong, but it’s the option most likely to be right.

[Image at top:  the statue of Zeus in the Temple of Olympia, Classical Greece]


Blogger Jimbo said...

As science has advanced, it has become clear that the known universe is enormously complex and simply doesn't comport with some petty, mostly angry and arbitrary god that is obsessed about humans. God botherers never are able to explain the vastness of the universe and its complexity other than stipulating it.Why? It's all so unnecessary if. the focus is just on an angry god ruling over one little planet

15 January, 2019 20:03  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

One of my favourite cartoons is of Colonel Sanders arriving in heaven for his Day of Judgment and finding out God is a chicken. "Uh oh," he thinks.

15 January, 2019 21:08  
Blogger Leanna said...

I see it this way, most atheists have higher morals and values than the people that believe in a higher power. So, those that believed in god are more likely to end up in their own little hell.

16 January, 2019 07:35  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

I remember reading of a 16th century Turkish Imam who had this to say: If a God were so malevolent or capricious as to doom a man who has been good all his life to eternal torment because he believed the wrong thing, why would we expect that this same God would not send people who did believe the "right" thing to eternal torment also? Strip the God's decisions of rationality or decency, and he might just as well punish the good as the bad.

16 January, 2019 17:55  
Blogger Martha said...

I've also thought that if there is to be judgment when you die, it should be based on how you lived (being kind, ethical, etc.) and not on who/what you worshipped. That would make for a God with a big ego, no? I'll just live my life being a decent human being and take my chances on that :)

16 January, 2019 19:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jimbo: Yes, it's become a struggle for them to continue asserting the continued relevance of beliefs that obviously come from ancient primitives living in utter ignorance.

Debra: Reminds me of the one about an early astronaut who said he had seen God while he was in space, and when someone asks him what God looks like, he replies, "She's black."

Leanna: Religions tend to be a great source of excuses for behaving immorally, as well as sources of prejudice.

Green: He had a good point. It's like trusting one's fate to the whims of Stalin.

Martha: Well, that's what you or I would do if we were in God's position. But it's not what most religions actually say -- most of them require acceptance of their dogmas or submission to their leaders to get a good result after you die. If you think about it, if it were just a matter of being a good person, most religion would be pointless. Always remember that religions are not attempts to provide a coherent moral system or explanation of reality. They're tools for controlling people.

17 January, 2019 04:20  
Anonymous Judyt said...

I've said it before: one of us believes in God, one of us doesn't. When we die, one of us will be right and one will be wrong. =)

No one, to my sure and certain knowledge, has ever returned from the dead with a 'Get out of Hell" card, or a free pass for friends. It's a terribly alone feeling, in some ways, but when I think of the family/friends/old boyfriends already there, waiting for me...No. Just no.

And I love the idea of if there IS a god, which one is it? Suddenly I see Heaven as having as many boundaries as any big city--Muslims over there, Jews over there, Cat'lics here, Rastafarians over in the corner...

17 January, 2019 09:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Judyt: And the section for the fundamentalists will have a big Trumpian wall around it, so they can maintain their cherished illusion that they're the only ones there.

Seriously, if I died and found myself in Heaven, the first thing I'd want to do would be to tell people who were mourning for me back on Earth that things were OK and they shouldn't feel distressed. If I couldn't do that, it would hardly be Heaven to me. But as you say, no recently-dead person has ever been able to provide such reassurances to the living.

17 January, 2019 19:45  
Anonymous Judyt said...

I really feel that like so much else in religion, heaven (or valhalla or dancing girls for eternity) is a way of easing that primitive fear of death, of wondering where we really go, daddy, when we die? So we make stuff up to comfort us, the way we tell our kids that the hamster that just died goes to hamster heaven, or the cat is now on the rainbow bridge.

I wish there were a heaven, but it would have to be MY terms, MY choices of where to put the furniture, and who's allowed in. Actually it would look a lot like my porch, but with better furniture. And I don't think it's really an option, anyway.

I love the idea of the Trumpian wall--which, after all, walls out as well as in. There's comfort in that thought.

19 January, 2019 09:47  
Blogger Nan said...

Thanks for the mention! :-)

19 January, 2019 10:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Judyt: That's the main power it has -- along with the threat of eternal and inescapable punishment in the afterlife for those who don't obey the religious hierarchy. If you can make people truly believe in those things, you have power over them that a king could only dream of.

My own idea of Heaven would be pretty different from the Christian one.

Nan: Thanks for the post! It provoked me to write this.

19 January, 2019 15:58  
Blogger Unknown said...

Also, why would I WANT to go to a Christian heaven when I don't particularly like to hang out with "those people" down here? :D

30 January, 2019 07:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I think it's really more about avoiding Hell. But the Christian heaven sounds pretty awful if you think about it.

30 January, 2019 19:07  
Anonymous AZ Guy said...

My fear is it's the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) and I've been a Lasagne Man.

01 January, 2020 07:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

A frightening prospect indeed, to face noodly judgment for such heresy.....

01 January, 2020 08:23  
Blogger Lady M said...

Bravo my friend. Well said! That is indeed how I feel.

02 January, 2020 09:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Lady M: Thanks! Luckily, the proposed situation seems unlikely to arise.

02 January, 2020 16:57  
Blogger Sooo-this-is-me said...

I made a cashier laugh because I bought myself The God Delusion for Christmas. Also I always say it will be ironic for Christians if they are right because as their own book says, almost all of them are going to hell for not being perfect Christians. At least we had a bit of fun first.

10 January, 2020 19:09  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

That's a good way to look at it. Believing in God isn't cost-free. You renounce a lot, probably for no reason.

11 January, 2020 04:58  

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