What If It’s True?

March 7, 2006

“What if it’s true?” That’s the question I’m asked driving Eastbound on I-94 every morning on my way to work these days. This ambiguous question is plastered on a billboard and accompanied by a URL: “tickettohope dot com.” You just know I had to go there. People can believe whatever they want to, but I’m starting to get annoyed. Between this new billboard and the nearby business that greets all commuters with unsolicited religious messages every morning, I’m ready to strike back.

I’m not providing a link to the billboard folks because I don’t want to elevate their search engine rankings, but if you type in the address manually you’ll find a slick web site designed to guide visitors toward their particular brand of Christianity. We see pictures of people like ourselves asking “church is relevant?” and “God is interested in me?” Digging further I am drawn to the link which purports to examine the evidence for God’s existence. Finding their “evidence” somewhat unsatisfying, I followed another link to a place where I could discuss my questions. That’s where things get interesting.

There wasn’t a single comment in the discussion area. So I made one. I opined that the so-called evidence for God laid out on the web site seemed pretty thin. Another visitor subsequently agreed with me. That’s when the administrator chimed in.

In a valiant effort to save my eternal soul, he tried a couple of standard gambits on me, but I was prepared. (Infinite regression of causation, anyone?) Finally, he retreated into Pascal’s wager. if you’re not familiar with it, it sort of goes like this.

If you adopt the tenets of the Christian faith and God turns out to exist, you’ve gained paradise for eternity. if, on the other hand, you adopt the Tenets of the Christian faith and it turns out God doesn’t exist, you haven’t lost that much. So you should become a Christian.

Now me and Pascal never saw eye-to-eye on this, and the discussion board admin wasn’t going to get a pass from me, either. I responded:

What if I told you that wearing a teacup on top of your head on the first day of every month will result in you having eternal bliss after you are dead and that not doing so will result in your eternal torment? You can’t prove it isn’t so. Ludicrous? Maybe. But if I’m wrong, you haven’t really done any harm by balancing a teacup on your head. Ah, but if I’m right… what a payoff! Therefore, you should bust out the teacups. Good reasoning? Believe me, I’m not just limited to teacups. I got a zillion of these proposals, each one more idiotic than the last. And by your reasoning, I expect you to adopt each and every one of them.

No word so far on the administrator’s intention to balance china atop his head. This is the admin of the site, mind you. The ringer. The guy who’s supposed to be able to answer our questions and take on all comers, brought up short by Logic 101. But I shouldn’t be so hard on him. It’s not his debate skills that are lacking, it’s that he doesn’t have very many good arguments to draw on in defense of his position.

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  1. Excellent post Scott. I’m getting VERY tired of this advertising campaign that purports that “everyone” can find “something” just by going to church. Now, I’m about as common as they come: a white male, 25-35, living in WI, married with a child, but do all of these “Christian” churches welcome people that don’t look like me? Do they welcome people that have a different orientation than I do? NO, they don’t. I guess I found out what the church is supposed to be teaching, intolerance.

  2. Good point. At the same time I have to admit that there are plenty of things I myself don’t tolerate. The difference being that I try to have a real, fact-based, reasonable rationale for it. One that adheres to the basic tenets of logic and which relies on empirical evidence to back it up. It could be that I’m wrong about some of this stuff, but if so anyone’s welcome to present better or different evidence and I’ll change my mind. Churches, on the other hand, do not rely on such things when deciding what they will tolerate (or what is moral). Having been arrived at thus, they are then also impervious to change by new factual information. The whole things is scary to me. Like brainwashing.

    Anyway, I’ve been worried since I wrote this post that I’m coming across like a smug know-it-all who simply delights in crushing the cherished beliefs of nice people everywhere. But I’m just mad at these people. I think their ideas are not only wrong but that they actually hurt people. I also think this web site misrepresents them. It gives the impression that they believe what they believe based on logical and evidentiary proofs of some sort; and that they can share them with you and that you’ll then be convinced to believe as they do. The truth is, they have none of these things. They believe what they believe without (in spite of!) evidence and insist that we do, too. I wish they would admit it. It would be refreshing.

  3. Oh, Scott..and how about this one..
    Riding down I-94 eastbound just past the American exit and I see a sign off to the right that says something like “Eternity–Smoking or non-smoking?” I know what you mean. Religious choices are private and should not be superimposed on the populous/shoved down the throats of those who don’t subscribe to a particular belief. I don’t take a charismatic/lead the sheep approach to my faith, much to the chagrin of my fellow parishoners. I respect that educated adults can formulate their own opinions as to what they hold true to based off of the evidence they examine. Then there are blind followers and those who put up billboards.

  4. Yeah, smoking or non-smoking! Cute. NOT. 🙂

    I have my own strongly-held opinions about such things, other people have theirs. I would never say, however, that this fellow shouldn’t be allowed to have his billboard; it’s a free country. All I’m saying is that I find his speech distasteful and I am against it and therefore I will speak my own contrary position in response.

  5. Scott, I’m not sure how I feel about churches putting up billboards to fill the pews, but I know that all of my arguments against the lottery and gambling mirror yours. Yet, nobody’s throwing a fit about the slick backed dice guy or B13. I know you said you aren’t advocating the removal of these signs, but then Seinfeld also noted, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    I’m glad this discussion is happening. Have you driven through the Bible belt states? Of the Dakotas?

    I think these are just symptoms of the times. We are a market society and these are the means.

    Just thoughts…

  6. The teacup argument is witty and has a point, but here’s an additional consideration. Is feigning religious faith simply on some kind of wager really going to get anyone into heaven? I mean can true faith really come about because you decided it is in your benefit to play along whether it is true or not. Seems to contradict the meaning of the word “faith”.

    A billboard? At least you aren’t in part of the country where you have to listen to cheesy commercials on TV about how much Jesus loves you.

  7. True. The teacup thing is meant to show a problem with the logic. An entirely separate problem is, even if one buys Pascal’s Wager, one cannot really feign belief based on it. I don’t really “choose” to believe something; I just do or don’t.

  8. I will pray for your immortal soul. heh.

  9. An answer to Pascal’s wager is, what if I follow Christianity died and when I get to heaven I discover that Judaism was the right choice and after following all of those rules all of my life it didn’t pay off and instead made me go to a worse part of hell than if I was just a non-beliver.

  10. You mean they send you to live in Kenosha? Ouch. 🙂

  11. No, not Kenosha…Lynchburg, VA :-/

  12. Good point Dan. Terrorists beleiving in a radical bastardization of the Muslim faith would be a good example.

    Of course, if they get to blow people up whom they don’t like and get 42 virgins, I am going to be so bummed when I die.

  13. I don’t know that I’d characterize the religion of Islamic jihadists as a bastardization. Certainly they are radical, but I think they simply follow the tenets of their faith carefully and passionately, while more moderate Muslims have learned to ignore the barbaric and distasteful aspects of their canon – as most Christians have done.

    42 women, regardless of the status of their chastity, is 41 too many for me, thanks. Hell, some days it’s 42 too many.

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