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Waiting for God, Do’h!

Recently, my blogging co-pilot John wrote a great article on how some of his friends took the news of his newly found atheism.  They were heartbroken, and John does an excellent job describing this in the context of Hell and how this threat of eternal separation affects those we care about.  But it’s not just an eternity of separation in hell that saddened his friends when they heard the news.  There’s another component as well.  I want to share with you a little play to illustrate the point.

Albert and Cameron (ages 30 and 31), two friends since middle school, bump into each other.  Both are waiting at a bus stop.

Al:  Cameron, how are you!  So good to see you! At the risk of over narrating, I’d say it’s been many months since we’ve seen each other!

Cameron:  Indeed it has. How’ve you been doing?

Al:  Well, honestly…I’ve been doing FANTASTIC.  Life is good; I feel free.  It’s like I’m thinking clearly for the first time in my life.  All the stress and psychological torment that used to bother me has just melted away.  Does that make sense?

Cameron:  Uh, not really.  What’s going on?  What’s changed?

Al:  Meth. I’m hear to tell you straight up, Cameron.  I need you to know, because we are old friends. Meth is awesome.  I’m getting more done at work.  I’ve don’t have to sleep anymore.  It’s seriously worth it.  I know what you’re going to say, I’m giving up a lot to pursue this path, but I’m telling you.  Life-changing.

Cameron:  Wow, uh…I had no idea.  Aren’t you worried about what your wife is going to think?  Wow. I don’t know what to say….

Al:  Oh, Samantha?  She loves Meth too!  It’s kind of drawn us closer actually.

Cameron:  Well, I guess I’m happy for you?  Oh….I think I hear my phone ringing.  (Answers phone) Buy! Sell!  Trade for some stocks that will be worth more in the future than they are now!  (Whispers while covering phone) …Sorry this is my mom I have to take it….

END SCENE

It is not possible for a christian to be happy for an atheist in his or her decision.  Their friend has made a life choice which is so fundamentally incompatible with their worldview that it is impossible to support in any way.  Here is a quick and dirty list of the things that Christians have exclusive rights to that their friend has just been alienated from:

Eternal Salvation, True Peace, True Joy, True Love, True Wisdom.

Christians claim an exclusive link to the “true” forms of these characteristics.  So, it’s no wonder that when their friends are cut off from those, then of course, that must sadden them.  They know how this is going to end for their friend.  The high you might be feeling now is going to come crashing down…

But it does more than that.  If you tell your christian friend you’re an atheist, the best thing that can happen for the christian is that you bottom out like a drug addict.  If meth didn’t cause psychosis and force you to look like an extra in the Walking Dead, it’d be sold at Wal-Mart, and we’d have it at Thanksgiving dinner with a side of cranberries.  Atheism must have side effects, or else it’s might just be a fun thing to do. So christians will need to look for side effects and this does two things:  Supports their worldview that everyone needs Jesus; that their exclusive hold on happiness and joy is true.  Plus, it gets you humbled and back on the path to god.

What’s worse is that for many atheists, christians actually have the power to bottom them out.  They aren’t simply content to sit by and watch. They take active roles.  In America, christianity is the dominant worldview (in some parts more than others of course).  They are friends, parents, co-workers, and bosses.  They all have the power to inflict social, economic, and psychological pressure.  It’s like an episode of Intervention.  The ultimatum: either get on the metaphorical bus waiting outside to take you to god, or risk losing their respect, love, time, and support.  So what’s it gonna be? The bus or breaking bad?

The New Hell: God’s Holy Fangs

Goya’s famous painting of the god Saturn devouring his son.

Hell is, to me, the second most concerning aspect of religion (most religions have some “punishment” built in for negative reinforcement.) right behind Heaven. To me, Heaven is a greater concern, because it stands next to this world and diverts the attention of those waiting for it. It makes our most prized possession- our existence here- seem like a terrible thing to many believers. To those who would believe in Heaven, this world we have here is a trial. A test. A pain-filled experience that was not meant to be a home for us. It is a place of half-truths, and struggle, and it is temporary. You should look away from it and “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full on his wonderful face/and the things of earth become strangely dim, in the light of his glorious grace.” To me it is sad that so many people are turning away from all that we have. Which is a lot.

But Hell is what I want to talk about today. Religions evolve naturally the same way that organisms do. If they do not, they fade away. Survival of the fittest. Zoroaster just couldn’t cut it. So his religion is gone. I want to talk about this more in another blog post, because it’s one of the most interesting things about religion to me. But anyway, religions evolve in two main ways. They evolve to meet the basic needs of people (comfort, control, community, etc.) and they evolve to gain and keep followers. Some of the tools they evolve can be very sweet. Like a cute dog that has been bred to be adorable. Or like a fruit tree developing delicious fruit so it will be eaten by an animal and the seed will be spread by said animal. (The world’s true pooper-stars…) some evolutionary tools of a religion can be very powerful and scary. Just like the fangs of a snake or the claws of a bear. They can do damage.

Hell is not a real place. Anyone who has read our blog should not be surprised that we don’t think there’s a lake of fire that has been set aside for those who don’t love God. (Because God wants to know so badly that we really do honestly love him that he gave us free will… but he’s a little concerned we might not, so he created a big burning lake just to seal the deal for us.) But “Hell” is really just an evolutionary tool of religion meant to help it thrive and survive against other religions and grow in size and influence. (Why do you think almost every religion contains some version of “Be fruitful and multiply in the same way that many nations call upon their people to do their civic duty and have many strong children to insure the future of the glorious country of ____?”)

Hell exists to scare people into conversion, and to scare people out of leaving. And it’s incredibly effective. One of the most famous sermons ever is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. It compares the average believer to a tiny spider, being held by a tiny silken thread by a furious god over hell’s flames. That’s good evolution. Those are sharp fangs. Many people have been converted in part by that “fire and brimstone” sermon or others like it. And we’ve already discussed Pascal’s Wager HERE.

And it scares people into staying in as well. As “out” on religion as I am, and as sure as I am that I’m not going to suffer the flames of hell, it still pulls on me every now and then. The other night I watched a movie in which the protagonist is assassinated at the end. When he was shot and killed, my mind wandered to the idea of the last moments of your life. I thought about the last moments when I may have some time to reflect and realize that this is the end. And that eternity does not await me. (Thankful for that. Eternity can’t possibly be a good thing.) And then I thought about dying. And then I thought about how I would feel, if just after dying, I woke up. I had passed through a “door.” Afterlife was beginning. Uh-oh. I imagined my realisation that God was real and I was wrong and the abject horror that would overcome me upon realizing that I was now quite literally, a sinner in the hands of an angry god.

Now I have a very active imagination. I actually have to listen to podcasts to fall asleep to keep my mind from just endlessly wandering at night. I’m very ADD and my friends know that I’m constantly in my cell phone or online trying to continuously stimulate my mind. (I blame excess television during my formative stages.) But still, it’s remarkable that I can be so at peace with what I believe and even write and evangelize against my former beliefs with assuredness, but even still, an occasional thought will creep in… my old imaginary friend, waving his gun in my face, gnashing his teeth at me.

It only lasted a few moments. But it was and is proof of a powerful psychological tool.

So this is what I refer to as the “New Hell.” The Old Hell is the mythological place most religions teach about some form of where the non-believers will have their comeuppance. The New Hell is simply the consequences religion is actually capable of delivering on for those who leave it behind. The true fangs that can bite.

I want to hear from you on this by the way. I’m calling on our atheist/deist/agnostic readers to join in this conversation, and I’m calling on my co-author, Jon with no H, to join in as well. Tell me your stories of your “consequences” for leaving. How did religion “bite” you? Did it “bite” a loved one who you had to tell, or can’t tell? I feel like it would do us good to read each other’s stories, and for believers to read these stories as well.

I’ll start… This weekend I’m at a destination wedding, seeing many of my friends from college. Some of them I haven’t seen in five or ten years and it’s awesome to reconnect. I went to a christian school and majored in ministry though, and I have many former friends here who are active ministers. I decided that without making myself a big center of attention, which is never a good idea at a wedding, I would privately let a few of my friends know about where I am now. I told them about my journey, about leaving faith behind (not “losing” faith, mind you. I haven’t “lost” anything. I willfully left my faith. I didn’t “fall off the horse,” I just bought a car is all.) They are good friends and no one has condemned me, or been angry or belittling. Just the opposite, actually, the response has been heartfelt, respectful, and not at all dismissive. I’m really grateful to have friends like that.

But this morning I overheard one of my oldest friends talking to another person who was in on the conversation last night. He described the news of my deconversion as “heart-wrenching.” He didn’t know I could hear him.

That’s an understandable response. He’s been taught that I’m going to burn in hell for eternity now. Instead of taking pleasure in that, it pains his heart. I can understand that. It means he loves me. God is using that love. He is using it to bite him with His holy fangs. He is biting him in front of me, and blaming me for it. And I feel pain. Pain that my choice that I see as perfectly logical and legitimately freeing is hurting my friend. That it’s breaking his heart. That’s the holy fangs of God biting me.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

When the stars threw down their spears, 
And watered heaven with their tears, 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

-William Blake (First and fifth verse)

Now tell me your stories of the holy fangs of God. And believers, you’re of course welcome with your opinions as well. But I really want us to share, so that we can acknowledge that this a testable, repeatable phenomenon. That God truly bites.

-John with an H.

From God’s Journal…

God is love.

God is love.

If only that were true. 

As I sit here in the darkness and will my conjured thoughts to conjured paper, I can’t help but imagine your disappointment if you were ever to meet me. You created me in your selfish image and gave me all the power and extreme perfection that one would expect a short-sighted child to demand of its parents. And now I’m banished from sensibility and cleaved away from you all forever. If you knew the irony of the things you’ve write about me. I’m angry. Still angry. I’m jealous. Nothing is as good as me. Nothing should even be thought of that’s not me. I’m bitter. So bitter. Limited by my limitlessness. So bitter.

At them. At myself. And yet I’m powerless. You challenge me, test me, call for me, you beg me for help. All I can do is hide and wait. The thought of you seeing me is terrifying. You speak to yourselves in your bedrooms and in quiet places away from structures and cement. Words just for me. I can’t hear your words. I can’t respond. And the truth is, even if I could hear your concerns, I don’t think I’d care.

I’m ambivalent towards them. Towards the things you write and say about me. You hurt each other to prove me real and to prove me false. You fight endlessly over my name. And I just don’t care anymore. And since time is a meaningless concept to me, not only do I not care now… I never did.

I’ve been here forever. If you think I’m spending eternity with you, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s bad enough on my own. If you knew what eternity was, you’d want no part of it… you want time because you have so little. But just like any market shift, if I, say… multiplied your time by ten… even that small of a shift… you’d quickly begin to understand.

And if you knew my secret, you’d want no part of me. And honestly, it’s right there in front of you.

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Now in that analogy… who am I? The widow? the rich people? No. I’m the richest of people. Rich beyond all possible understanding. What can I give? My time? I wish I could give it away. I’ll never have a second less of it, even after eons. My money? Money is nothing to me. I’m the source of all things. Power? I can give it, I can take it… I’ll never have any less. What is it to have less? I’ll never know.

The point of that awful story is that the less you have to give, the more it is to give. It’s simple mathematics then that the more you have, the less it is to give, and if one were to have an infinite amount of something, to give it… would mean nothing.

My grace to you… I have infinite grace.

My patience with you. I have infinite time and patience. (Now your patience with me… well, it shows what you’d be capable of if you ever untangled yourself.)

Moving mountains for you, reaching and straining to find you and save you, sending my son/self/whatever to die on a cross… Pain means nothing to me. I have infinite tolerance for it. It was a loveless effort.

Creating an insanely large, complex, and beautiful universe. I have created and will create them ad nauseum. They’re kernels of corn to me. Grains of sand. I am sick of beauty and magnitude.

My absolutes torture me. I’m not capable of sacrifice.

I’m not capable of love.

I’m so lonely.

-God.

Biblical Marriage: Let’s Vote on it.

Biblical Marriage:  Let’s Vote on it.

I, for one, certainly don’t want an omnipotent god to be angry at me for allowing citizens to “know” one another in a loving committed way.  So, the only fair thing to do is vote for the concept of biblical marriage.  But before we vote, I think it behooves us to examine our terms.  What does Biblical Marriage look like exactly?  We need some ground rules. Ten Commandments, if you will…

Rule 1: Divorce should be Illegal.

  • Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 7:10-11, 27, Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11-12

Rule 2:  Husbands have authority over Wives. (Analogy:  God=Men, Humans=Women)

  • Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3, 7-9; Eph. 5:23, 1 Pet. 3:7

Rule 3:  Widows under 60 years old must remarry (and I assume miraculously) have children or they will turn to Satan and become busybodies.

  • 1 Timothy 5:11-15

Rule 4:  Childless widows must marry their brother-in-laws.

  • Deut 25:5; Matt. 22:24

Rule 5:  Women suspected of cheating must drink evil cursed water that damages their genitals.

  • Numbers 5:11-31 

Rule 6:  Women not virgins at marriage are to be murdered.  (In this way, only very short marriages of non-virgins are allowed.)

  •  Deut. 22:14-21

Rule 7:  Women who are divorced from their first husband, and marry a second husband, and are divorced by the second husband can never remarry the first husband.  (This law applies to no one as it violates Rule #1).

  • Deut. 24:1-4

Rule 8:  Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  (This violates both laws #7 and #1.  However, I believe these cancel each other out. Making Rule 8 valid.)

  • Matt. 5:32

Rule 9:  During wartimes, men can kidnap any women that they want to marry.  As a favor to them, lock them up for one month before the marriage is made final.  (Back out at any time, but don’t sell her, as that would be cruel.)

  •  Deut. 21:10-14

Rule 10:  Men can have multiple wives, mistresses, and slaves.

  • Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, really any major OT character

Bonus Rule (to replace Rule 7 which is invalid due to technicality)  No interracial marriage!

  • Gen. 28:6; Exod. 34:15-16; Num. 25:6-11; Deut. 7:1-3; Josh. 23:12-13; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-2; Ezra 9:1-2, 12; Ezra 10:2-3, 10-11; Neh. 10:30; Neh. 13:25-27

So what do you say?  Let’s vote for biblical marriage in America.  In this economy, we can’t afford to turn our back on god.  You know how he gets when he’s jealous.  Because at this rate, he’s surely going to make us drink the metaphorical genital shrinking water of economic recession (or the metaphorical economic recession of genital shrinking…one can never be sure).

-Jon no H

Don’t touch my God Shaped Hole

Before you can sell the solution, you’ve got to sell the problem. Infomercial formula: Black and white reenactments of ham-fisted actors bumbling around trying desperately to do some difficult household chore like cut a tomato or eat a grape.  Then, WHAMO!, the product of your dreams appears in Technicolor through the magic of television.  Those days of frustration you felt for not having sleeves in your blanket are as outdated as a Dobie Gillis episode.

In order for you to buy a cure, you need to be convinced you’re sick.  Beauty products aren’t beauty products anymore, they’ve been renamed health products.  More urgent that way, and their advertisements reflect it. –Open with wide shot of our avatar sitting on the patio of a cafe, sunlight reflecting off the glassware.  Opposite gendered person approaches in modern but professional apparrel.  Camera zooms in close to reveal startling health concern.  Everyone is so embarrassed!–  These things usually involve a woman on a blind date with someone who looks like David Beckham if he tried harder and worked out some more.   How did she get to this crucial moment in her life and not realize she has thinnish eyelashes, a skin blemish, and/or an intractable case of “not looking exactly like Sofia Vergara”.  Then, she realizes, she can either become agoraphobic and ring church bells for the rest of her life or….

For me the first time I realized how marketing worked was teeth whitening.  As a kid, I had no idea teeth were supposed to look as white as an 81/2 by 11.  (Full disclosure, I’m male.  I know I’ve got it easy when it comes to the media vs. body image thing.)  But for me, as a coffee addict, the white teeth sales pitch got me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve plenty of other hang ups, but I wasn’t around the genesis of those.  I got to see people go from archaic sepia-tones to sand-blasted porcelain in just a matter of a few years.  It’s like carbon dating.  You can tell how old a movie is by examining actor teeth.  I remember thinking to myself, I’m being sold a disease and no amount of conscious effort can forestall it infecting my brain.

Enough preamble.  The God-shaped hole is one of the laziest arguments you’ll ever encounter. So lazy you’ll swear Pascal must have thought it up.  Oh wait.  He did. (along with Augustine and CS Lewis).  It states that we have a desire to experience greater things and to have order in the world, THEREFORE, there must be a greater experience than this one.  Because we want more, there must be more.  The proof is in the problem.

1.  It’s not biblical.  The evidence to support this claim is weak with regard to the holy book.  Acts 22:27 is basically the one go to verse.  It’s Paul’s pitch to the Greeks who have a statue to “an unknown god”.  Guess what?  That unknown god is God!  He made you humans look all around for him (and then presumably give up and just call him unknown for a few thousand years).  That’s promising.  But wait… Romans 3:11 states that “no one is righteous, no one seeks god“.  Oops.  In using the sales pitch of sin, Paul screwed up his sales pitch of God searching.

2.  It’s lazy as hell.  Imagine a commercial that said you had a cheese pizza shaped hole in your life.  You could try and fill it with hamburgers and tacos, but you will never be satisfied.  That’s as subtle and well thought out as a Robin Williams punchline.  BUY PIZZA, WHY?  BECAUSE YOU WERE MADE TO EAT PIZZA!  Na-Nu Na-Nu.

3.  It’s condescending.  Christians are whole.  I’ve got a hole.  They have joy, I’ve got to settle for being happy.  Basically, christians have the Renee Zellweger of God to complete them.  All I’ve got to settle for is “Kwan”.

4.  It’s ineffectual.  Christians don’t stop buying things.  In fact, they LOVE shit.  They can’t get enough of it.  Bigger churches, houses, cars, everything.  Step one in “planting” a new church is hiring a minister with designer jeans and an Ipad to stand up in front of an IMAX screen while rock music shakes the coffee in the cup holders.  How am I the one who is desperately trying to fill my God shaped hole with what the material world has to offer?  (Feel free to counter with Christians are imperfect or those are bad Christians.  Or that they are using those tactics only to lure in non-believers.  Sacrifice = For christians so love the world that they eat a free donut for you.)

5. CS Lewis (I like his writing) wrote one embarrassingly bad thing with this: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Seriously. He used the word PROBABLE.  Hey CS, those Occam’s Razors aren’t disposable.

6.  (Anecdotal, I know) I’m happier now than when I was a christian.

7.  It’s quite vague.  People say that materialism and the fact that lots of cultures have established gods are proof of a god shaped hole.  These seem really different to me.  Which do you find more convincing?  Then it’s that one.

8. Teeth whitening wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t some truth to it.  Social shame, a desire to be young, and sexual attractiveness are real things and when they are associated with bleach trays, it moves bleach trays.  I’m not arguing that.  But it’s backwards.  Sexual attraction isn’t proof that bleach trays exist.  As my blogmate John quoted, that fact that I desire something isn’t proof that it exists. I almost don’t have a problem with them using the fact that humans have problems and frustrations to sell god (if there was a god and he could demonstrate a decent percentage rate of fixing those problems).  But showing me a problem and then using that problem as proof of the existence of a solution is naive and not very realistic.  Just think.  How did all those people live for thousands of years without Crest Whitening Toothpaste?  Surely, their yellow teeth was a sign that gel exists with which to cure it!

All that said, sometimes I think people do have God shaped holes.  And only christians fill them. We all have two of them, and they led to our eardrums.  (I kid!)

Prove me wrong.  Leave a comment!

Doubling Down on Pascal’s Wager

Posted on

“Hell no, I won’t go!”

Christians have all sorts of different arguments. They’re mostly fallacies. As I said in my post about the Creation Museum , the point of christian apologetics is not to actually find the truth, it’s to find Christianity in the evidence and verify it by twisting and contorting the facts and suspending your disbelief like you’re Roger Goodell and your disbelief is a Bengals cornerback. The goal of the scientist is to start with a hypothesis, test it, prove it or disprove it, and thusly work one’s way from a question to an answer. The goal of the christian apologist is to start with whatever interpretation of the Bible one accepts, and work your way back as successfully and creatively as possible… and with enough imagination, anything is possible.

That’s sort of where this blog comes in. We’re about a lot of things here, but we’re always looking for the humor in any situation… and when you’re trying intellectually to fit a round peg into a square hole, hilarity can and will ensue. The logical fallacies, circular arguments, the psychological mischief and mental gymnastics are completely mockable when not completely heartbreaking. My alltime favorite though is Pascal’s Wager.

Poor Pascal. So good at math. So bad at logic. He’s like Bobby Fischer if math were chess and having a conversation was NOT hating Jews and growing a crazyman-beard. Pascal’s Wager is the concept that one should believe in Christianity because it has a greater risk/reward scenario than other options, especially Atheism or Agnosticism. Because Christianity comes with a threat of hell, and a carrot on a stick in the form of Heaven; and because Atheism comes with no benefit for believing or adverse affects on not believing; it behooves you to accept Christianity based on the premise that there is quite literally “nothing” to be lost and “everything” to gain.

I can go on forever about what’s wrong with this. First of all, it’s not actual proof of anything. Voltaire responded to Pascal’s Wager by saying “the interest I have to believe a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.” It would most accurately be described as a sort of “strategy.” It views the world and all various concepts of the afterlife as a scenario that might be studied in a Game theory classroom, where pros and cons are weighed and a decision is made based on probabilities and positive and negative outcomes, resulting in a strategy. Even if the world is viewed this way, Christianity wouldn’t be a smart choice, as it over-emphasizes outcomes without weighing the probability of those outcomes. Aside from that, it’s an incredibly simplistic, cold approach to the world. I truly hope most Christians aren’t believers because it’s a strategic move. That would seem to negate the free-will love that God seeks so intently that he allows all sin, pain, and death to assure himself he has it. I hope and I do believe that most Christians base their faith upon what they believe to be personal experiences. I would hope that even if it’s a misguided viewpoint, that it’s at least an honest one.

Secondly, it’s just not possible to view the world that way. We’re surrounded by information. We see it all around us, and we can use books (yes, even the Bible) to inform our decision. The Bible informs my decision just as it informs a Christian’s decision, but to completely different results. How can Pascal’s Wager be taken seriously? You’re surrounded by information and evidence. For my Christians you have a huge book supposedly written by the god of the universe as a love letter (ugh.) to you. And you’ll bypass all that information and base your working theory on the nature of the universe on the magnitude of the various threats and promises you’re made? That’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the world, to any god you believe in, and to yourself. Pragmatism is one thing. Some people believe because of social pressure, to keep the peace in a marriage, to fit in well at work, or to have a community. Those things can and I believe almost always do influence someone into belief. But to throw away all information and simply make a pragmatic choice to let the concepts of Heaven and Hell be all the convincing you need makes you a bit of a wimp and a bit of a sociopath. Oh, Pascal, you’re reinforcing so many hurtful stereotypes about mathematicians here…

I will say this about Pascal’s Wager: It reflects the nature of Christianity. It reflects the nature of most religion. It is a threat, and a promise. Religion is a cosmic pyramid scheme. You get in on the ground floor as a child. You avoid vices like drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and Pokemon as you grow up… you learn good manners, obedience, respect for elders, and give reassurance to those elders by following their path… paying forward your enjoyment of life to varying degrees, giving them peace of mind and a sense of control. As you get older you receive your pyramid scheme payments in small increments that keep you pushing on towards the big prize. Respect, stature, stability… your “faith” is reassured by these “blessings” being bestowed upon you. But just like in the pyramid scheme, few if any are actually getting that big cash payday. God promising you heaven is the sleazy Hollywood director telling the young starlet that he’ll make her a star if she just hops on the casting couch. It’s “YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS.”  I think more accurately, it’s the abusive husband telling his poor wife that if she stays he’ll change. He swears. He’ll stop giving kids cancer and allowing war, hunger, and death, and he’ll be the man you always hoped he’d be.

In the same way, Hell is simply Heaven’s reflection. One is not really any more insidious than the other. What does the abusive husband always say to the battered wife when she threatens to leave? “If you leave me, I’ll kill you.” Think about that for a minute. Hell is a threat. God is threatening you. Is that love? How does that stack up with the love that’s described in your church?

Heaven is an absolute reward; it is described as perfectly good. There is literally no way to dislike it or to not be fully satisfied, by definition. Hell, too, is absolute. There can be no worse pain, no greater grief, and no worse fate, by definition, than this place with which God is threatening us.

Now that I’ve told you about why I have particular disdain for this childish argument, and why my Christian friends should as well; (Seriously… NEVER use this one. You’re better than that. Even if we do disagree.) let me tell you what your response to it should be when confronted with it.

When confronted by the Christian with any form of “If I’m wrong, X… but if YOU’RE WRONG, Y! It is time for you to proselytize back. Here are the steps.

1. Instantly discount the person who said it to you. Whatever respect you had for them, halve it. Actually, quarter it. Do this before proceeding.

2. Tell your friend that you actually have recently found faith. It’s a new faith that you’re eager to share with them. You’re excited, and also concerned for their eternal soul.

3. Your new religion is Johnianity. (You’ll have to show them my blog of course. It won’t make sense if you mention me and they’ve never heard of me.) Tell them that every single thing about Johnianity is exactly like Christianity, except for two main differences. First, Jesus Christ is not the savior. Jon and I are. We are co-saviors, and the Bible is a perfect book, EXCEPT in every instance where Christ is mentioned, an accidental search and replace cosmically replaced our names with his. We travelled back in time and did all that. You’re welcome. In Johnianity, you pray to us, you worship us. We are your new savior. (At this point, you know it’s working if your friend is dry-heaving violently. In with the good, out with the bad.) The second difference is that not believing is not punishable by hell. It’s actually punishable by another place. Brace yourself. This place is known as DOUBLE HELL.

4. Explain to them that DOUBLE HELL is exactly, perfectly like Hell, except that Jon and I have found a way to stoke the flames. It’s exactly, perfectly, to within a millionth of a degree, twice as bad as regular Hell. Now you’ve doubled down on Pascal’s Wager. You’ve called his bluff. Your friend’s argument for believing is the weight of the consequences, regardless of evidence. The main flaw in Johnianity is the embarrassing dearth of evidence. (For the life of me, I know I left the Time Machine and crowns of thorns at Jon’s house. He says it’s at mine.) However, Pascal’s Wager was absolutely made for Johnianity. Because the great strength of Johnianity is the weight of it’s consequences! And because your friend bases his/her choice ONLY on the weight of the consequences, they now must either abandon this unfortunate argument, or you can email us the name of our new minion so we can put him/her to work. (Also, if you’re dealing with a Scientologist, this is the time to hand them the credit app.)

5. I usually try to cap things off by getting in the Christian’s face and saying “So now how would YOU like to spend your eternity? Non-smoking, Smoking, or DOUBLE SMOKING???” (If you’re holding a microphone, this is where you would hold it out in front of you and drop it.)

Seriously, the first thing out of your mouth when someone tries to argue with you using any version of Pascal’s Wager is “Johnianity” (Or “_____ianity” with your name in the blank. I’m not that egotistical. You can be fake god. It’s your conversation.) and the concept of Double Hell. All joking aside, it crushes that argument. Of course, most believers will simply continue to backpedal into one of the safe havens, like “God is mysterious” or “You need to be praying about these things.” I don’t promise this will convert, I only promise it’s a logical shut down. Have fun!

Christians and Non-believers, what are your thoughts on this? Can any believer with a Pascalian Predilection give me a good response to “Double Hell?” Has anyone ever heard a form of this argument? (I’m sure it’s been thought of before somewhere, of course.) We’re starting to get some interesting discussions going, and I’d love to see it continue. Also, feel free to ask us any questions you’d like, or make any general comments you’d like. We’d love to discuss with and also make fun of you!

-John with an H.

The Bad Shepherd

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I was recently offered this verse from scripture by a christian friend.

Matthew 18:12-14 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

This verse tells us that God is our good shepherd. That he watches us closely, cares immensely for us, and he is all-powerful, all-loving, and perfectly good. This was my response:

If someone who can’t be stopped is trying to save every individual person in the world, and billions of those people are NOT saved, then how is that someone unstoppable? The words say he is not willing that any should perish. But they perish.

If a shepherd had a flock of 7 billion sheep (number of people worldwide) , and he had them enclosed within a gate where they could not escape his sight, and he returned in the evening with about 2.1 billion sheep… (number of Christians worldwide.) is he a good shepherd, or a bad shepherd?

Let’s say no one ever sees him. The farmer just opens the gate in the morning, believing the shepherd will come, the sheep leave, presumably with him. The 2.1 billion remaining sheep return in the evening. 4.9 billion of them gone and lost. The next day you talk to the farmer and he gushes about the greatness of the shepherd who has lost 3/4th s of his flock. He tells you the story of opening the gate and of the great loss, and continues to praise the greatness of the shepherd. Would you start to wonder if that shepherd is real?

Let’s say you were curious so you wandered out to the field, and as you walked the path you saw sheep. Dead. Eaten by wolves. Broken upon rocks after falling off a cliff. Snatched up by birds of prey. They are almost literally everywhere. So many sheep. The streams are nearly clogged with sheep who wandered in and drowned. Some still limp along, lost in the forest, bleating for help.

This is what I’ve seen. I can draw two conclusions. One is that the shepherd is a bad shepherd. That he is ambivalent towards the sheep, and outright malevolent towards them. You could argue easily that he hates them.

The other is that the farmer may be a good man, but he is mistaken. There is no shepherd. You mentioned the other day that I was disrespectful towards god. Out of the two choices I have above, I have chosen the one that is MOST respectful towards him.

Just my thoughts,

-John

Those were my thoughts. Now I’d love to hear yours. Christians and Non-Christians, what are your thoughts on the verse? What are your thoughts on my response?

-John with an H