LEFT: Ticket to "Hell" from a fundagelical site- aimed at "non-believers". They really ought to appreciate that from the standpoint of two great world religions (Catholicism and Islam- which long preceded evangelicalism) THEY're also destined to receive such a ticket! Moral: Be careful to whom who you issue such tickets!)
In more than 35 years of debates with Christian fundamentalists it never ceases to amaze and confound me how they're unable to extricate their minds from the swamp of arrogance, one-upmanship and believing they have all the answers merely because they read and memorize a particular version of the bible. Not even the best version, but one which has been seriously corrupted beginning with its translation from a defective 12 th century ms.
One of their more recurring canards and deliberate misconceptions resides in who is going to "Hell", or who is "taking chances" by ignoring the pleas to salvation or some such rot. In the AARP 'Life after Death' forum ca. 2007-2008 I regularly had it out with a fundie who went by the handle 'reo4him'. One of his broken record questions is why any atheist in his right mind would take a chance on not being saved and ending up in Hell.
After reaming him out on the basis of logic, showing why and how a "Hell" is impossible - if his deity is assumed to be "infinite" - I then proceeded to deconstruct his other inane assumptions.
First, like all evangelicals, he totally ignored or skated over the fact that most other major world religions (e.g. Roman Catholic, Islam) consign them to Hell! So, in this regard, it is the evangelicals who are "taking a chance" of screwing up their salvation" as much as any "non-believer".
They don't see it that way simply because they are so myopic that they put all other belief systems, and "Hells" down - and argue that they don't apply because the evangelicals have discovered the one foolproof path to secure an afterlife insurance policy.
"Believe on the Lord JC as personal Savior" and all is well!
Trouble is, there was no divine or supernatural "Savior" entity. There may well have been a historical rabbi we call Yeshua, but he was no God, he never performed any miracles, there was no resurrection, and he never "ascended" anyplace. These are historical FACTS which are supported by the research of history, as I showed in previous blogs, eg.
In particular, the Yale video course and lectures therein by Prof. Dale B. Martin.
In all likelihood, as many renowned biblical scholars have pointed out (e.g. J. Dominic Crossan, Geza Vermes, Bart D. Ehrman) the myth of Jesus was simply constructed (from earlier pagan tracts - such as for Mithras) as a propaganda ploy to entice unbelievers into the fold. No one wants to talk about the truth, i.e. that the early followers grew more and more weary of no parousia and the God-man myth was a convenient way to sustain interest.
So, when all the chips are added up, it is fundies who are gambling as much with their afterlife security as anyone else. The problem is no one will ever settle it this side of death (which as I noted, is a wholly NATURAL event, not "supernatural"). The fundies can only paste up horror images cranked out by photo-shop of how they imagine Hell appears - from their febrile minds, but they've never ever interviewed anyone who's actually in there or been there. They're all words, no action, no proof. Oh, they will cite their KJV until the proverbial cows come home, but since it's long been discredited, they only appear like ignorant, uneducated bumpkins for doing so. A blathering, barking, teetering guy tugging a bottle of Ripple on Bourbon St. has more creds.
Let us get back to the more generic basis for this whole shtick about "afterlife bets". Who is betting what and why or how it originated. In fact, it was Pascal - in his Pascal's Wager- who first formulated it. He queried his readers (who he assumed were non-commital on the issue of belief but he himself was a Catholic, so his warning applies as much to evangelica. fundies as to atheists):
"Would you not rather eschew your unbelief and attain salvation, rather than keep it and lose salvation? After all, if you give up your unbelief all you lose is your pride- and you gain eternity. But if you cling to your unbelief and are wrong, you lose it all!"
But as many authors have pointed out, Pascal's wager is rigged at its heart. George Smith ('The Case Against God', pp. 182-84) observes, for example:
"First, Pascal's claim that reason can defend neither theism or atheism is plainly false. The onus of proof, as we have seen, is solely on the theist. If he fails to make his case, reason resides with atheism. Pascal was correct in his assertion that the existence of God cannot be rationally demonstrated, but he was mistaken in his belief that he existence of God is therefore an open question.
Second Pascal's Wager is not an argument in any intellectual sense, it is an attempt at psychological intimidation. He is arguing, in effect, that we ought to believe in God because we may be rewarded for it- which implies, of course, that if we fail to believe in God, we will suffer the consequences. The threat of eternal torment for disbelievers is not specifically stated in Pascal's Wager but it is clearly implied.
Third, Pascal constructs a fallacious and hideous dichotomy between knowledge and happiness. We must wager one or the other, he argues, so which will we choose? Such a choice may exist in the mind of a Christian but reality decrees no such thing. Quite the contrary, it is only through the integration of knowledge and decision that happiness can be achieved.
Fourth, Pascal's comment to the effect that one has noting to lose through a commitment to theism, even if it remains undemonstrated, is absolutely incredible. But Pascal demands even more; since he is referring specifically to the doctrines of Catholicism."
What have we got to lose? Intellectual integrity, self-esteem, and a passionate, rewarding life for starters. Not to mention honesty with self and about self - which defines the core of one's authenticity. In short, everything that makes life worth living. Far from being a safe bet, Pascal's Wager requires the wager of one's life, authenticity and happiness
As I pointed out to 'reo4him' and other evangelicals - when they cite Pascal, they need to read between the lines since he's doing THEM no favors! For while Pascal positively states that reason cannot prove the truth of Christian theism, he regards Catholicism and total disbelief as the only two alternatives. In other words, Pascal regarded ANY form of Protestantism as equivalent to UNBELIEF!
In Pascal's mind, his wager applied equally to any Prot (including would be evangelicals - though they were in short supply back then) or atheist. Both, in his view, would end up in hellfire unless they converted to Catholicism. (It is also worth knowing that, in the Middle Ages and during the time of the Inquisition, the term "unbeliever" applied to anyone not Catholic).
Antony Flew (author of 'Thinking About Thinking') has appropriately tagged Pascal's wager as "an appeal to prudence in the rat race to salvation." It is also a terrible argument, if it can be called an `argument' at all. Few Christians use it today except as a last resort, where it tends to be an embarrassment to them. (Like clueless, under-educated fundamentalists who never process that they are ALSO "unbelievers" in respect to the wager!)
One would have thought by now they'd cease invoking this silliness. Apart from the above, there is another alternative to the `Wager' which neither Pascal or most theists who use it consider. That is, what if -in the end- there is a deity but this one damns anyone that `bets' on its existence merely for reasons of safety? For example, this truly enlightened deity may regard such a `bet' as an insult. (Which in a way it is, since the commitment is not done out of love for said deity, but out of base fear for demise in an afterlife! I.e. to save one's eternal heinie).
I mean look at its face value! We have a deity who would REWARD COWARDS! People who have no genuine belief or committment to the credo, no love for the officious deity, but accept the formula because...well, ...they don't want to burn! COWARDS!
Michael Martin (`Atheism - A Philosophical Justification') critiques Pascal's wager(pp. 234-35) thusly:
"First, as far as the validity of the argument is concerned, whom it was originally addressed to and for what purposes are irrelevant. The question is whether it can now be addressed to other people and adapted to other purposes, Nothing shows it cannot be.
Second, people have in fact, adopted concepts of god at variance with their own cultural traditions. For example, within the past two decades, people in Western cultures have taken up the teachings of eastern religions."In any case, for our critique to work it is not necessary that people adopt different concepts of god in the sense of believing that these different gods exist. All they need to is acknowledge that it is logically possible that certain supernatural beings can exist.
Third, if people are prepared to `set the probability of strange gods at zero', they had better have good reason for doing so, otherwise their action can only be interpreted as arbitrary and irrational. What would be the basis for example, for supposing the probability of the perverse master is zero? The only rational basis would seem to be that the concept of the perverse master is inconsistent. However, in order to suppose that the concept of the perverse master is inconsistent, one has to have grounds for supposing that the perverse master has inconsistent properties. Only if the properties of the perverse master are inconsistent could one assume a priori that the probability of its existing is zero..
However, I know of no reason to think that the perverse master or indeed any of the other strange supernatural beings considered above have inconsistent properties. "
As Martin shows, there are many alternatives to consider, including (if the deity who damns those who bet on him for reasons of personal safety is accepted) one that offers salvation exclusively to atheists because this deity detests being surrounded in eternity by obsequious `yes men' . Thus, it could be independence and skepticism which is prized and favored in the eternal marathon. Indeed, for a truly intelligent deity - as opposed to a ridiculous cartoon god or caricature, this is what a serious person would expect.
The bottom line is there are no good reasons for accepting Pascal's Wager as typically presented and many solid reasons for rejecting it.
As for "taking chances on Hell" - I will happily take my "chances" along with the Fundies, who (from Pascal's original wager) are at just as much risk as I am - probably more. (Becuse their message of hateful thoughts and intolerance opposes what Yeshua actually taught - to "love your enemies as yourself". Love, btw, means it is essentially impossible to conceive of ANY harm to another, whether in life OR afterlife!