RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Heaven

Not Really the Greatest Story Ever Told: Easter Edition

Hey Jesus, I'm pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

Hey Jesus, I’m pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

The story of Easter is a fan-fiction that’s been crowd-sourced for over two thousand years.  Granted, its fanatical authorship is of a bit higher caliber than, say, the latest provocateur of paranormal teen angst and sex. In truth, they represent some of the greatest minds our planet has ever coincidentally regurgitated throughout human history as male.  Men such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth.   But, despite this accumulated brilliance, and maybe because of it, the story just can’t quite seem to coherently come together as a whole.

Today, our literary critique of the story starts at the end.  Does Easter’s conclusion with Jesus‘ resurrection make this the greatest story ever written?   Unfortunately, its fan-fiction continually undercuts the gravitas of this singular occasion.  First of all, it wasn’t singular. Lazarus is resurrected quite a few chapters prior to Jesus.   Interestingly, only one gospel mentions the zombie whom Jesus loved.  Probably because even David Blaine could tell you that your big finale shouldn’t be the same trick you did earlier in the act.  Seriously though, the synoptic gospels don’t mention this story, and it is only found in the much later written gospel of John.  In some ways, John is the first attempt at the fan-fiction of Jesus.  Here is Boston University professor Paula Fredriksen’s take on the person of Jesus in the gospel of John:

“Jesus in the Gospel of John is difficult to reconstruct as an historical person, because his character in the gospel is in full voice giving very developed theological soliloquies about himself. It’s not the sort of thing that if you try to put in a social context would appeal to a large number of followers. Because it’s so much Christian proclamation and Christian imagery, and it’s very developed. It’s a very developed Christology.”

When Jesus calls himself “the resurrection” in John and then goes about doing some resurrecting, the author is obviously making a statement about the nature of Jesus.  And while it could be a good theological point –and maybe it even really happened– it does not make for a compelling story. I mean, there is foreshadowing, and then there’s blowing up the Death Star again.

Another problem for the narrative structure of Easter occurs in the next century or so.  This fault rest firmly on Tertullian when he coins the term “Trinity”, and exacerbated later when it is codified in the Nicene Creed of 325.  The concept of a monotheistic religion have several gods is a tricky philosophical problem to work out, and many smart folks have tried to tackle it with varying levels of success.  My personal favorite quote on this topic is from Thomas Jefferson:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

Despite the obvious logical difficulties the trinity presents, most churches consider this doctrine central to their belief system. The logic puzzle here is not the concern.   The problem is that if Jesus was God, then the resurrection is simply boring.  Writing a story about how someone immortal doesn’t die is like telling the story of a puppy being cute, a fish swimming, or  I don’t know, Tom Cruise being gay.  It’s just who they are. (Also, they would all make for great Pixar movies.)  If Jesus was fully God, dying is not a big deal.  It’s not a sacrifice in any way.  He dies for like a day and a half tops, and is worshipped for an eternity in everlasting bliss.  I’m pretty sure most people would sign up for that gig.

I’ll mention one argument I can think of which could be used to introduce a bit more pathos into the story.  Jesus was sinless but died anyway.  That’s gotta tug at the old heartstrings.  Okay, yeah, but isn’t that basically the plot of Old Yeller? Jesus took on the rabies of our sin and we were forced to put him down. That’s why this is a special story!  Maybe this sacrificial lamb/scapegoat concept held more narrative power back in its day when people actually sacrificed animals to feel better about themselves and make it rain, but now it just doesn’t hold up.  (And it’s just as manipulative as that freaking Disney version…)  Also, sinless people die all the time, that’s nothing new.  Because most people don’t hold to the concept of “original sin”, all children would qualify for that distinction. Even if they did have “original sin”, what just god would hold infants and babies accountable for the actions of their ancestors.  Also, because of the trinity, his very sinless nature is called into question, because, once again, he’s playing with a rigged deck. He is all powerful.  He has access to god that other humans will never be granted.  No need for faith, or hope, because he knows for a certainty how this all plays out.  He’s the original Superman. A guy who started merely leaping a few tall buildings, and then later became so popular and powerful that he could reverse time by flying real fast.  Narratively, Jesus’ enhanced god powers kill the Easter story.

Very much like the sixth season of ABC’s Lost, the introduction of rules, theology, and mythology obfuscate whatever interesting story used to exist.  If God is the author of this great narrative thing we call life, then we got the James Patterson of gods.  The stories he wrote in the beginning weren’t even that good to begin with, and now he’s farming most of the work out to other authors.  Don’t worry though, he’ll still take all the credit.

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.