Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What Would Pascal Have to Say?

The New York Times has a report on an unusual ad campaign in Britain in which atheists are trying to reach the people. The idea was born in response to the Christian advertising already in place.

The advertisement on the bus was fairly mild, just a passage from the Bible and the address of a Christian Web site. But when Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer, looked on the Web site in June, she was startled to learn that she and her nonbelieving friends were headed straight to hell, to “spend all eternity in torment.”

I'm not completely objective in this, but comparing the two messages, one threatening hell and the other suggesting to enjoy life, I have to side with the enjoy life crowd.

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey in the 50s and 60s, the standard fare at Catholic school was pretty much the same and the Christian message cited above. Only baptized Catholics who died in the state of grace could get into Heaven, they said. I think that was the very first thing I rebelled against. Something deep inside me knew God would never have it that way. And, I'm happy to report the Catholic Church has lightened up on its teaching in this area since the Second Vatican Council.

What do you think about this spending "all eternity in torment" bit? Isn't it self-contradicting to preach "love thy neighbor" while threatening something like this? If there really is a God, wouldn't he or she be bigger than that? If God could create the universe and keep it running, wouldn't the same God be able to reconcile that which the little human mind finds irreconcilable?

Pascal made it very simple.

What's your opinion?


  1. My opinion?
    Simply that evolution is a physical process and an intellectual one.
    The intellectual need for religion is an evolutionary bottleneck...a traumatic event we as a specie have to get beyond for our own survival.

    I was raised as a catholic, but when I was 12, I was well on my way to my present acceptance that the concept of god, as presented by western religion was an outdated tool for rationalizing ones relationship to the universe.

    The ad campaign which is so British, "There probably is no God, so just enjoy your life" raises some eyebrows in Britain, but if an aethiest group tried the same thing in the USA, Bill O'Reillys head would explode, again.

  2. Here's the big thing that I don't get. What does an all-powerful being even CARE if you believe in him or not?

    Personally so long as people believe in right and wrong, and attempt to leave the world better than how they found it, I suspect whatever the answer to the biggest cosmic riddle is that person will be in the best place.

  3. the notion of putting up advertising banners for one's religion is, somehow, deeply weird and strange to this atheist. the atheist banners seem worded and designed to point that out, at least to me.

    i mean, think about it: it's a banner that tells you to just get on with your life. if there were such a thing as a world without religion, such a banner would be an absurdist joke in that world. how much more of a joke must the "you'll burn in hell" banners be, eh?

  4. If there really is a God, wouldn't he or she be bigger than that? If God could create the universe and keep it running, wouldn't the same God be able to reconcile that which the little human mind finds irreconcilable?


    The reason that you and I are able to freely and guiltlessly state this is because we are using our brain: human reasoning. If one 'believes' otherwise, he/she is tied to a belief system which was carefully taught them from their early days.

    Just two days ago on my blog I was confronted by this statement by a young fundamentalist, matthew, speaking of his 5-year-old daughter:

    She definitely knows:
    God made her
    God loves her
    Jesus died for her
    Jesus demands her obedience
    She must trust Him

    She understands all of this. It's simple, child-like faith and it's what we're all supposed to have.

    I suggested that my 5-year-old grandson knows absolutely nothing about any of this, but is a happy, playful youngster who loves his parents and me.

    That was not good enough for the fundamentalist and so he expanded HERE if you care to read further.

  5. an interesting discussion between Matt and Mudrake.

    I found it helpful in raising my four to have God's back-up for why selfishness (etc.) was wrong. It's not just "because I say so" --but "because God wants what is best for you --and people who are all wrapped up in themselves make very small packages" --I used to say. Among other things.

    Pascal would say the atheists are taking the biggest gamble, wouldn't he? being so sure they are right when they have the most to lose if they are wrong.

    My faith is in a person. I believe the history about Jesus. He said there is a day of Judgement --and a separation of believers from the others --and that the unbelievers will suffer for Eternity. He said He is the TRUTH.

    I would prefer to believe that the unsaved just cease to exist --dust to dust. I would like to think they get a 2nd chance. But the Bible says there is a time ONCE for man to die --and after that the Judgement. It says Jesus will be the judge. And that there will be a Hell.

    It's alright with me if God gives you all a 2nd chance after you find out Jesus was telling the truth. But that isn't promised.

    Yes, God is big enough to do whatever He wants with His creation -- but I believe it's His nature to tell the Truth about the hereafter --and not be hyperbolic just to get us to repent and believe. Jesus said He went to prepare a place for us that where He is, His disciples may be also. These are comforting words for believers at the graveside. John prophesies a reign by Christ on the earth. There are mentions of a new heaven and a New EArth. I'm no prophecy student --and I don't have the future figured out --and I don't think we are meant to. Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour of His return. but He said we would see the signs. We tend to see the signs in every generation --and perhaps this fortifies a saving faith so that people in each generation will believe and repent and be ready for our day of death.

    It's OK with me if Hell is a metaphor for non-existance --if there really is not an ongoing consciousness and torment. C.S. Lewis theorized that hell might be alienation from everyone --whereas heaven is to be with the believers and the Lord in a place of many mansions or rooms. People who can't get along with anyone now would be totally estranged. Some have said Hell will be waiting in line eternally! facetiously.

    I don't know. I just know that the first century Jews who followed Christ insist that He resurrected --and healed --had power over nature -was sinless and claimed to be the Son of God, one with the Father. They say we needed to have our sins atoned for by His sacrifice. I believe it --while others fight this message all their lives, resent it, rankle at it, put signs on buses to refute it, want others to agree with them, do not want to even HEAR about the Christian Gospel --It depresses them because they know they are not safe --if the Gospel is true.

  6. I recommend praying to the God you doubt is there and asking Him to let you know what the Truth is about Him --and the hereafter. Like Nicodemus who came to Jesus and said, "Lord, what must I do to be saved?"

    And He said, "You must be born again--born of the Spirit."

    How does that happen? by faith--simple belief and repentance. The WILLINGNESS to accept TRUTH no matter what it is. The willingness to have faith in Christ and God and the Bible as His Word.

    To dig one's heels in and say, "I don't believe and I WON'T believe" is not the sort of position that Jesus recommended when He said, "Ask and you will receive." "If an earthly father knows how to give good gifts to his children, how much more will the Heavenly Father be willing to give the holy Spirit to those who ask him." We receive the holy spirit when we believe in the Son.

    "To those who believe on his name He gives the right to be called 'children of God.'"

    I'm not proselytizing here really; I'm discussing this topic and explaining stuff --what would Pascal have to say? about atheist pronouncements that they are right?

  7. Here's the big thing that I don't get. What does an all-powerful being even CARE if you believe in him or not?

    and if by some chance one does care, why would he/she/it have to go through intermediaries, or expect us to take the word of badly translated bronze-age myths for it?

    i used to have a standing offer to any and all gods that wanted my belief: they knew where i lived, by definition of divinity; they could drop by some evening when i was home and ask me in person. i'd take them down to the local pub, order a couple pints, and start asking questions. if they could answer to my satisfaction, i'd not only believe in them, but pick up the bar tab too.

    since then i've moved to where there's no good pubs in walking distance. now, i'd have to ask any god that might show up to bring cab fare. unless they come by in summertime and ride their own bike or something.

    the offer still stands, though, with those modifications. i mean, it really wouldn't be too much to ask of a mere mortal human, so why should it be at all too much to ask of a deity?

  8. Nomen- a god, you and a pint at the pub. Priceless!

    mike- "What Would Pascal Have to Say?"

    Well, a most curious and interesting line attributed to Pascal is this: "Sickness is the natural state of Christians."

  9. Barb summed it up pretty well, saying that Pascal would say the atheists are making a bad bet. But to me that always seemed like a shabby reason to believe in something.

  10. the wikipedia page on pascal's wager you posted a link to, mike, sums up the criticisms of the wager pretty well, too. it's fairly roundly derided in atheist circles, most often for the "which god should you wager on" weakness.

    as well, any god who'd fail to spot the insincerity of believing only based on such a wager wouldn't be much of a god; any god who wouldn't care about such insincerity...

    if i absolutely had to take the wager seriously, then i'd have to wager on the Flying Spaghetti Monster, myself. it's got the best afterlife --- beer volcano! stripper factory!

    (see, i can take either one of two things seriously: Pascal's wager, or deities. choose one and only one, because my incredulity can only be suspended so far. usually it's the gods that i take seriously, and hence why i am an atheist --- if you want me to choose the wager instead, it'll have to be ridiculous gods instead.)

  11. Judging by the Wikipedia article, Pascal said you don't really lose anything by having faith --even if there is no Heaven to gain.

    You have hope when you die and for your loved ones. Hope is better than despair or even resigntion. Chances are, you live a better life with faith --responsibility toward children and spouses, moral choices, resisting addictions --and if you do those wholesome things without faith, chances are, you do it because you had enough religious exposure from family, church and school, to believe in those traditional values as good. You have a cultivated conscience that keeps you on the straight and narrow.

    A recent study has been reported --finding that religious people are the happiest --by their own self-evaluation.

    For sure, making marriage work --which religion teaches and helps us to do --would eliminate a lot of misery, bitterness and loneliness --and the economic and childcare hardships of single mothering.

    They found that the religious marrieds were the happiest. St. Paul said men should love their wives sacrificially as Christ loved the Church--and wives should respect and be subject to their husbands as heads of the homes. Such respect and subjection is easy with a self-sacrificing husband. It becomes a "golden rule" arrangement --doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you. I observe and have experienced that this provides an excellent foundation for family life that gives kids security and happiness.

    Good preaching of religion inspires noble ideals, making us want to be our best selves --helping us to see our faults.

    Of course, it's a gamble you place your FAITH in --not just a gamble.
    I BELIEVE that this Gospel of Christ's is Truth --that He rose from the dead and can raise me, too --as He reportedly said. I believe those scriptures that say the Creator visited the planet and gives us Eternal Life through acceptance of Him.

    If we could, we might create a God who just eliminates all evil and makes us all immortal. That's sort of what the Bible says God did --before we ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve neither knew nor cared that they were naked before God --until they ate. Once they chose, they knew. And then became accountable and guilty.

    We would rather there never was a Satan--only righteousness and good. But truth is whatever truth is. We either have a revelation from Jesus Christ and the writings about Him and from the early Church--or we are duped.

    I'm gambling that the Gospel is true --and losing nothing in the process.

  12. I also know what it is to FEEL certain that God is NEAR me, accessible, MY Savior, within my mind/spirit. It's the phenomenon of His Holy spirit bearing witness with OUR spirits. Jesus promised this holy, FELT presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit --He is God the Father, God, the Son, present with us because of the Spirit of God.

    I've known what it is to feel that He is NOT present but very distant and not real --for a short time in late high school --a young ministerial candidate counseled me through that in one session about "Fact (the Word), Faith, and Feeling" and their interdependence. Then once during my first pregnancy when my husband was in grad school and I was teaching --it was a clinical depression, chemically related to the first pregnancy it seemed--a pervasive gloom (I was nauseous for 9 months and I don't suffer well)

    and then once more after my father died when I was a young mother. And that time, my college roommate, a devout believer, wrote me to say God had laid me on her heart --and she felt she was to write from many states away --after many years of not communicating with each other, other than a Christmas card --to say that I was being tested like Job and must not despair. She didn't know my father had died or how it had tested my faith to lay him in the ground. I can't tell you how that moves me to this day--that the Spirit of the Lord moved her to counsel me --out of the blue.

    The Walk of Faith is hard to explain to others --we just have an inner knowing that our Pascalian wager is not a risk.

    The Word of God picks up a flagging faith -which brings that Spirit of God close again. The Word says, "Draw near to me and I will draw near to you." It's really that simple --the God Seekers will be the God Finders.
    "Seek and you shall find." "Ask and it will be given unto you."

    Revelation 3:19-21 (King James Version)

    19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.21To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

    I think the language is metaphorical here --we can't all sit on the same chair, can we?

    and in the New International Version Rev.3: 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

  13. Barb, No offense, but I find it difficult to reconcile all your talk of Jesus with some of your harsh judgments of Muslims and gays and sinners in general. You seem to exemplify perfectly the thing that many of us non-fundies find so baffling about you Christians. The way I see it is this: if Jesus really is pure Love, and if He is your model, wouldn't the mercy and forgiveness aspects of your view be more prevalent than the justice aspect? This is a question for Bob, too.

  14. Non-fundies seem to confuse the disapproval of sin (as in the Bible) for hatred of sinners and "harsh judgment" of them. If we don't approve gay marriage and homosexual acts, we are hateful to gays as persons. That's simply not the case.

    We know we are all equals at Christ's feet and have all sinned and come short of God's glory --as the Bible says. You want us to say homosexuality is OK --but I see it as something I want children to avoid in their minds and their activities--that they never become habituated and fixated in same -sex attraction--that they would flee such thoughts the way healthy, normal people flee thoughts of incest and pedophilia.

    NOrmal people may think adulterously since JEsus suggested it was a universal sin --to commit adultery in mind if not in deed --thus, He concludes, we ALL have sinned and need salvation. But I don't think it's NORMAL, i.e. mentally sane to think homosexually or pedophilically or incestually. (Not that pedophiles and incestors should get off in court by reason of mental defect or insanity.)

    I think men are reportedly tempted to think lustfully which Christ called adultery in the mind. His point: all have sinned, for if you think lustfully toward other women, it is adultery in the heart. Therefore, all need a Savior; "there is none righteous, no, not one." He wanted the outwardly righteous of His day to know that they, too, were sinners. True Christians believe this about themselves and are not saying they are "holier than thou."

    If we say a religion like Islam is bad for its people, misleading them away from Truth in Christ and His model of love and forgiveness, we aren't saying we don't care about those people. On the contrary, we support missions to reach them with the Truth of the Gospel --that Jesus not only came from God which they believe also, but HE is a Savior. They believe they have to HOPE in the pillars of Islam and cannot have assurance that they will go to paradise --unless they do a suicide bombing, killing others --a guaranteed passage to Paradise for the men, where there are many virgins to make the after-life enticing for them. Seems lust becomes a motivator to kill with approval in this religion.

    Granted, I've said a lot about killers and my lack of compassion for a guy who would bury a little girl alive after molesting her. I have lack of compassion for these guys that imprison young girls for their sexual fantasies. If I meet the guy and find him pathetic and pitiable with his sociopathic personality, I may feel compassion for him and advocate for mercy for him --but in the abstract, at a distance, I think these guys, like the 50 guys who could stone a girl buried up to her neck because she was raped by 3 guys and they want to blame her instead of them --should be lined up and shot and sent straight to Hell. To know one of these guys personally; I would feel really sorry if I knew him to once be a sweet child --and not always a sociopath. Of course, I think sociopaths are "made" not born.

    On the other hand, I can look at the whole mess of such human depravity and feel great sorrow for all involved. As I've said many times, I'm not comfortable with being in the firing squad or pulling the switch.

    But tell me, is compassion what YOU feel for a Hitler or an Idi Amin? Jesus did NOT express compassion for the hard-hearted, vain and selfish and the hypocrites. He died to save them all, BUT --and this is a BIG BUT:

    Jesus said there is a Hell and that He will send the goats to eternal damnation --and save the sheep --so He doesn't forgive the unrepentant --which sociopaths seem to be. Metaphorically speaking of non-believers as goats vs. believers as sheep. He also said he will deny ever knowing some believers, suggesting they were charlatans --claiming to do works in His name while being sinners in some unforgiveable way --probably because they didn't admit or repent of their sins but were proud of their works and self-righteously disdainful toward others.

    Will he save any non-believers? It's alright with me that He save anyone He wants for whatever reasons He wants. Gives them 2nd chances or whatever. I'd like that actually. He is Lord. His promise however, is to save the believers who keep His commandments for eternity. "A time once to die, and after that The Judgment." And we must never forget, His first message was "Repent -for the Kingdom is nigh."

    Our sinlessness is not the standard for salvation; his righteousness as a sacrifice is and our faith in HIm as that sacrifice is. "You are saved by faith and not works, lest any man should boast." Yet, "Faith without works is dead." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." "To those who believe on His name gave He the power to be called the children of God." He said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

    One of those commands is to proclaim the Good News that He saves us if we repent, trust and obey.

    Non-fundies want us to comfort everyone of every faith and tell them that they can believe anything they wish and there is a paradise for them all --or for none. I'm pointing out to you that untruthful religion leads to the contradictions in Islamic behaviors, the desire to oppress people through gov't, the oppression of free will in matters of faith.

    In Christianity, you choose. The Koran reportedly says to kill you if you change religion or if you try to encourage someone else to believe in Christ. Proselytizing is a sin in their book and becoming one in the non-fundies book; yet Jesus commands us to do it.

    Right now Christians are being literally butchered into pieces in Arissa --in India --by Hindu extremists. 70,000 displaced from their homes. I have friends in a mission agency whose missionary friends have been murdered there. The Christian press knows; the secular press is saying nothing.

    Bottom line, Christianity and Judaism are of God; the other relgions are of the Devil and do the devil's works. This is a judgment of the false religions/false prophets Jesus warned about. He said the same.He spoke of the angel of light who would deceive many. Mormons and Muslims both claim extra-biblical revelations through an angel --who changed the message of the Bible regarding Christ's identity and nature and saving mission --and have incidentally resulted in two historically polygamous religions.

    To combat false religion and its effects, we need to restrain the evil-doers (their violence and cruelty, that is) by force when we can (as in just wars) --but spread true religion by proclamation/witness/demonstration--i.e. living it.

    And yes, I must demonstrate love for all peoples--but disapproving false religion and immoral living is not a demonstration of hatred but of truth.

    and for this proclamation of Truth, Christians are killed --as Jesus said we would be persecuted and hated as he was hated --"for no reason --without just cause."

  15. Sorry about the length of that.

    You've been a tolerant blog-host, Mike --and other bloggers here have been similarly tolerant of my worldview which is an offense. the Bible said the Gospel is an offense in that it tells people they need to repent to be saved--and believe in Christ. That's offensive if people want to believe otherwise. And it is a necessarily a depressing tho't --until a person makes that decision to commit their lives to Christ--and then the peace and joy and assurance are like no other.

    To really be Christian is to care that people will hear and heed this which we believe to be TRuth for their own souls' sakes.

  16. Quantity rather than quality...

  17. And some people write with neither!