Monday, June 29, 2009

See you in Hell, dead celebrities

From the Examiner:

What do Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays all have in common?

The obvious answer to the question, of course, is that they are all dead now.

The less obvious answer to many - think atheists, is that these four folks are all giving an account for their lives now...or not, if you are an atheist.

I do not presume to judge any of these four individuals. I don't know their outcome nor do I want to be the judge to determine their eternal destiny.

Something to consider.

Suppose a person were to live his/her entire life thinking there was a personal God and it was his/her responsiblity to love that God and love their neighbor. Then upon death they learned they were wrong and there was no God. Nothing loss, nothing gained. Right? Just a meaningful life filled with love and devotion.

Now suppose that same person thought there is no God and s/he just went about life doing whatever. Then upon death s/he learned s/he was wrong and there really was a God. Serious problem, no?

The short of it - it just makes sense (and for goodness sake this is not the only reason) to believe in a personal God.

I hope to meet Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays some day. That would mean they are with God, right? I know where I'll spend eternity. Do you?

How are you preparing for the eventuality of death?
As all of you surely know, there are two kinds of people in the world: hard-line evangelical Christians, and atheists. All Christians believe in salvation and are therefore either going to Heaven or ceasing to exist when they die. All atheists believe in nothing and are therefore either ceasing to exist or going to Hell when they die. End of story.

Except, no. First of all, I don't think it's particularly Christ-like to use the dead in this manner. In fact, I looked, and Jesus never said anything along the lines of "these people who just died are super fucked if they didn't believe the right thing. FYI." I would imagine the reason He didn't say that was primarily because He, unlike Bill Belew (the author of this editorial) was not petty.

There is, ultimately, only one reality that we can definitively know to be true, and that is the one in which we are living now. We cannot know if there is an afterlife (at least not at the moment). While we can believe that there is a Heaven and that there is a God, we cannot prove these things. It therefore makes little sense to waste the life we know we have following arbitrary rules about morality and paying homage to a God of whom we are not worthy. I do not believe that God would want that. I find it unlikely that an all-powerful, ever-loving God would give a flying fuck whether we're "born again," whether we've atoned for our sins, or whether we've spent our lives worshiping any god, let alone the one human idea of Him that must be the correct one. I mean, really, can any human idea of God be the correct one? We are limited beings, and we can't prove anything. All we can do is believe in the idea of God that makes the most sense to us and acknowledge the possibility that we're wrong. If that lands us in Hell, then some kind of rebellion needs to happen because clearly God is an evil dictator.

To suggest that God revealed all His truth, which is necessary for salvation, to a particular incarnation of one of many religions, is to suggest that God is cruel. To suggest that important parts of the natural world - such as human sexuality - are sinful is to suggest that God is imperfect. In short, to suggest that belief in fundamentalism, of any kind, is the only path to salvation is insulting to God. And really, the only reason to believe in that kind of God (besides tradition) is fear. Blasphemous though it may sound to some, there is no room for fear in my faith.

Exodus 3:13-14 says:
Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'
He is who He is, Bill. Let's leave dead people alone. WTFWJD?

8 comments:

Marjorie said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for standing up for all of us who aren't Christian evangelists.

Self said...

I especially take issue with this:

"Now suppose that same person thought there is no God and s/he just went about life doing whatever." (emphasis mine)

The intimation here is that no atheist is capable of living "a meaningful life filled with love and devotion".

I happen to freakin' well go out of my way to fill my life with love and devotion to other people.

Here's a "what if" scenario for our friend, Bill:

What if you come to the end of your life and you look back on it, only to find your spiteful and sanctimonious existence wasn't what your creator wanted? What if you spent your time and energy making things more difficult for people who had enough trouble as is - people who wanted to quietly live in a same-sex relationship, or people who wanted to live a lifestyle different to your own, but entirely innocuous - a lifestyle that didn't interfere with the quality of life for others?

What then? Would you judge your own life as having been "meaningful ... filled with love and devotion"?

Jocelyn said...

Exactly, Self. We can come up with infinite "what if" scenarios, each more unlikely than the next. The oft-made assumption that those who do not have a religious moral guide to follow will be devoid of morals (or worse - love), is a great insult to humanity. We're all in this together and it'd be nice if we could concentrate on making the world suck less for ourselves and the rest of our species rather than worrying about who's getting saved.

GrandMoffDavid said...

What he's essentially describing is Pascal's Wager. Essentially, the french philosopher and mathematician decided one day to logically prove that it was wiser to believe in the existence of god than not. The gist is, if you believe in God (and follow his rules) and there is a God, you get an infinite reward (Heaven). If you believe in God and he doesn't exist you get a finite penalty (not getting all hedonistic when alive). The reverse is true if you don't believe in God. Since no finite reward can ever be as good as an infinite punishment, nor a finite punishment balance out an infinite reward, it's logical to follow God's rules even if you don't believe in him.

One of the refutations of this (which delights my agnostic soul) is called the many gods theorem. It states that you have to figure out which God specifically we're talking about. In an infinite universe, there are an infinite number of possible God's, including one that punishes you for believing in him and rewards you for not believing in him. Mathematically this screws up the whole thing, putting infinite rewards and punishments on all sides.

Anyway, the author of this article has a decent point. It makes sense to think about how our lives will be viewed after we're gone and if we were hit by a bus tomorrow, would we be proud of the lives we've lived. He just expressed it in a douchy way.

Jocelyn said...

G-moff - But the many gods theorem provides what I see as an irrefutable counter-argument. How do we know which God (if any) is the correct one? I would argue that we cannot possibly know that, at least not in the empirical sense. Therefore, we have to believe what makes the most sense to us as individuals. That said, I do not by any means advocate a complete negation of morality. But I would contend that the basics of human morality don't really extend to things like "no sex before marriage" or "no gay sex ever at all" or "definitely no abortions." Certainly, we should regard our sex lives with some morality - we shouldn't cheat on people who don't want to be cheated on, nor should we engage in behavior that is likely to get anyone sick. But the idea that we have to remain virgins until our wedding day (for an example) is not only arbitrary, but a denial of pleasure in which we have no real reason not to partake.

I believe it is important not only for our relationship with God, but for our relationship with ourselves and each other to do our best to conduct ourselves in a way that is good. We should not kill, steal, or otherwise hurt each other. That said, I do not at all believe it is in anyone's best interest to waste this life (as I said, the only one we can be certain exists) worshiping one of many possible gods in the hope of salvation and calling ourselves unworthy.

I get what the writer of this article is saying, but again, the idea that there are many possible gods entirely negates his argument. Plus he's a douche.

Grandmoffdavid said...

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with him in the slightest. I just found it interesting that he apparently fell asleep half way through the lecture in philosophy 101. Either that or, being a douche, he left the refutation out on purpose.

I'm personally an agnostic, and the whole of my religious beliefs can more or less be summed up by the old pagan chestnut, "Harm none and do what ye will." (Not a militant agnostic, "I don't know anything and neither do you!") We have only hints, guesses, and second hand accounts (at best) about what's going on divinity-wise, we should take that into account in our actions.

Brett D said...

I just love how there's no possibility for living an ethical life outside of being a born-again, god-fearing christian. Like they a freaking MONOPOLY on THAT.

I like to think of it this way: we can't ALL be right about our individual ideas of god, but we can damn sure ALL be WRONG.

So, like you said, why waste so much human energy in the one reality we DO know trying to assign theoretical importance to that which we DON'T?

I'll grant any Deist their presumption of the existence of a god. Beyond that point however, ALL OF IT is pointless human speculation.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school, and questioning the religion I was brought up in, I asked a friend (who was the most religious person I knew at the time) WHY he was, and the best argument he could come up with was a variation on Pascal's wager - better safe than sorry. That's when I stopped going to church.

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