Wager

As I wander through social media engagements around religion and atheism, I am stunned how often communication fails over semantics. We become so defensive of word usage, that we often miss the opportunity to impart vital information in the answers we post. This occurs almost daily with two frequent questions posed to atheists. The first is, “Why don’t atheists offer proof that God doesn’t exist?”

What follows this question, naturally, is an argument regarding burden of proof. We can’t go about “disproving” something for which there was no evidence in the first place.  While true, this sub-argument fails to offer any of the plethora of scientific information that does, in fact, challenge and disprove religious myths. It doesn’t direct the readers to any number of nonreligious scientists, philosophers, and commentators who are hardly shy about presenting rock-solid evidence against the supernatural. We are so quick to present the burden of proof argument that we miss a golden opportunity to present reason to those who need it most… the quiet, undecided readers who are following the thread.

I tackled another frequent flyer on Quora today, and I’ve decided to share it with you here. I’m sure you’ll recognize the age-old Pascal’s Wager in this one. The question was, “What is the atheist response to the religious claim, “You have nothing to lose if you believe?”

In the fine tradition of religious reasoning, this question blows logical fallacies out both ends. For starters, we don’t “choose” our beliefs. Our beliefs may change throughout our lives, but at any given time we either believe something, or we don’t. And it would be just plain silly to believe something only because we have “nothing to lose” by believing it. I could apply that line of reasoning to justify a limitless number of absurd ideologies. Heck, I might as well “choose” to believe in the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater, rather than risk unpreparedness for a mauling by it.

Once again, though, we get tied up in elucidating the illogical nature of the question, and we miss an opportunity to share truth. Sadly, however appropriate our argument may be, the asker (and the readers of the thread) are surely left thinking that we are dodging the question. When engaging with believers, I have decided to give them what they want, an answer that makes sense to them. I am careful to use my words in the way they would define them, and I very much enjoy backing up my statements with Bible references.

Here was my short list of things you can lose by “choosing” to believe in God.

***

Speaking for Christianity, you lose:

Reason. Noah’s Ark, a talking snake and donkey, warriors flying through the sky on horses, virgins giving birth, dead people coming back to life are all true stories now, not myths that span cultures, (or pretty cool sci-fi.)

Compassion. We believe that cruelty towards others is justifiable if it is “God’s will.” Throughout history, this has manifested in the massacre of native peoples and pagans, the African American slave trade, the horrible practices and animal abuse in factory farming, the emotional and-or physical abuse of children in some Christian homes and-or churches, and discrimination and abuse inflicted on individuals of the LGBTQ demographic.

Joy. As it does in any cult, following strict rules that are often inconsequential diminishes one’s sense of freedom and joy to experience life. Behaving and making choices out of fear of punishment reduces one’s sense of self-worth. There are many songs, philosophies, relationships, theatrical performances, dances, conversations, and scientific discoveries that Christians will never experience, because they believe them “offensive” to God.

Self-respect. The belief that we are born sinners, deserving of death, as well as the constant reminders of how “broken,” “sinful,” and “ugly” we are begins to eat away at our sense of value. We strive to subdue our own personalities and choices and allow Jesus to take over, because we are “bad” and God is good.

Initiative. We could take action to support scientific and medical discoveries, or push for human rights, or help protect the Earth, but we believe all of this is temporary and in God’s hands. We focus on the “hereafter” instead of valuing our ever so precious “here.”

Money. Lastly, we lose the free will to control our own finances. We are expected to contribute so often to the collective “good” of the church, that we take money away from things that could be life-enhancing to ourselves, our children, our home, extended family members or the charities we feel strongly about.

On top of all of this, what if Pascal’s Wager were reversed? What if we lost all of this, only to realize that this was the only life we had? The only time we could have spent loving others, extending compassion to the marginalized, enjoying art, appreciating our intrinsic value and worth, learning about amazing scientific discoveries, and using our hard-earned money for the things that bring us peace and comfort? We can’t get this time back, which is why I won’t “wager” my life on religion or myth.

***

As you can see, I didn’t waste any of my valuable time fighting the futile war of reason and semantics. I gave the asker the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really wanted to know what they could lose, if they chose religion. Sure, it’s more likely that they just wanted to razz atheists, but at least I left the page with my integrity intact.

By the way, I’m on Quora almost daily, providing snappy (and sometimes not-so-snappy) answers to silly religious questions. I’d absolutely love it if you visited me over there, and perhaps became my follower. Not in a creepy spiritual way, of course (wink, wink.)

23 thoughts on “Wager

  1. Religious want what they believe to be true. Atheist will follow the truth wherever it may take them. I had the religious mindset and tried to prove what I believed. When I realized I didn’t know anything, and I wanted fact, I was able to open my mind to possibilities.

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  2. Quora is a very entertaining social media site where you can ask or answer questions. Your answers are viewed by thousands of people and upvoted or downvoted. It’s a great forum for writers, philosophers, truth seekers of every walk. The topics discussed are practically limitless. I find it can be a bit addictive, as I really enjoy reading about the lives and perspectives of others. You can check it out at Quora.com

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    1. I’ve seen a bunch of “is the world round?”, “is the world a globe?” type questions lately. lol. Don’t get me wrong, I think on some topics, you can find a great deal of informative information.

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      1. It sure is strange, isn’t it, David? There seems to be a resurgence of flat Earthers lately, haha! Just goes to show you, no matter how much science is out there, there will always be some who just believe what they believe. 🙂

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  3. Just an aside, if you change “Joy” to “Happiness” and “Money” to “Treasure,” you can create the acronym CHRIST to explain what people lose when they follow Christianity. It’ll help people remember your points, and it’s witty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the BEST, Sirius! I literally shuffled the letters around last night looking for an acronym. It’s like you read my mind. 🙂 I will be absolutely using that from now on. Was that a Sirius original? I think it deserves a nice presentation on Instagram as well, if you wouldn’t mind.

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  4. Hm…I believe life is all about choice. Choices, well thought-through, are good for you at the moment you make them and if you don’t like the choice you made the next moment, well..make a new choice. Which means I do believe you also chose to belief or not, what you do or don’t believe. More important, I feel, is choosing wisely and not just ‘follow’. Educate yourself, go for what instinctively feels right for you (which might not be good for someone else) and stick with that choice for a period of time, give that choice a chance. Adjust or make a new choice when needed. I don’t believe in (a) God, but I do believe we are all connected by the same energy. Is there a ‘higher power’ behind that energy? Who knows for sure, I think Mother Nature has a lot to do with it…but hey, we are part of that nature, which gives us the responsibility to, again, choose wisely.

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  5. I just found your blog and I have a lot of respect for what you are doing here. You deserve more than 35 followers. As a Christian, I can say quite definitively that any Christian congregation who teaches you things that cause you to lose your compassion, self-respect, and joy is not preaching the gospel effectively and may be liable to excommunication. Jesus came to give us life, not rules and punishments.

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    1. Thank you, Angloaristotelian. I appreciate your open-mindedness and willingness to address challenging issues from a religious perspective. I wouldn’t claim that any church I’ve attended has directly taught the things I mentioned in the blog post. From my perspective, however, the Christian religion does indirectly promote all of them. During my time as a Christian, I was unhappy because I fundamentally dissagreed with many of the teachings. However, I recognize that many Christians and Christ follwers keep kindness and love at the forefront of their choices. I welcome you to my blog! You will definitely find an unwavering perspective of nonbelief here, and I write primarily to support others who are on a path of atheism, agnosticism or Humanism. However, I have many Christian friends and readers from all spiritual walks. With the understanding that neither I nor my readers wish to be converted, I am always open to respectful insights from the religious community. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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      1. You are welcome; I invite you to stop by my blog as well. I am open to respectful insights from the irreligious community. Also, without the intention to convert anyone, I am quite curious as to what particular teachings you found disagreeable when you were a Christian.

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      2. In response to that, I would direct you to my book, “Love Over Religion, why I left Christianity.” The purpose of the entire 140-page book was to provide an answer to that very question, particularly for Christians who asked me it. It’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited, or $3.64 to buy outright, and there’s a link on my blog. I wish I could answer your question here, but there are simply too many reasons and too many teachings to post in a reply. My blog posts touch on my reasons as well. And yes, I have stopped by your blog already. Thank you for the invitation. 🙂 Hope your Christmas was lovely, and have a great day!

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  6. I totally agree, and believe that we should choose love over religion., and as a person of faith appreciate the open and friendly tone of your blog.

    It is certainly a fact that many terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. However, we could also point to atrocities committed under totally atheistic regimes such as in communist China or the former Soviet Union under Stalin.

    I also think there are different ways that Christian believers take a hold of and interpret Christian faith.

    For me, following Jesus would absolutely compel me to resist genocide and oppression. Jesus is the lens, in a sense, in how I would view and interpret the Scripture…Love your neighbor as yourself, and even care for an enemy.

    I also agree that people should not adopt a belief system based in fear, but instead based in love and in a honest search for truth.

    In many ways, we are on the same page.

    I don’t see, however, how reason and science alone, as many non theists that I’ve studied or read across the blogs appear to strongly believe, will necessarily bring people to openness, kindness and compassion toward the other.

    There are atheists today who are leaders in the alt right, and also may be misygonists or Islamaphobic. Others have fallen into nihilism.

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    1. Hi, Rebecca! Thanks for commenting. I believe it is so important that Christ followers be open to engaging with those of different beliefs. So I truly appreciate that you’re open to reading my blog and conversing about it! I agree with you that it is not necessarily theism or atheism that indicates integrity in a person. As you rightly noted, I’m sure there are plenty of atheists who are absolutely awful. That’s because humans are humans, and labels don’t work.

      The problem with religion is that it allows groups of people to justify cruelty towards others. At their core, each religion harbors discrimination against those who are not part of it. Unless you are an incredibly open Christian, you can probably test this by asking yourself if God is going to permit Muslims, Hindus, atheists, homosexuals, Jews into heaven. If your answer is no to any of these, you can clearly see that your version of God discriminates against that group of people. And if he does, why shouldn’t you? If your answer was yes, they will all be in heaven, then I congratulate you for being a wonderful human being, but regret to inform you that you don’t believe the Bible. I don’t believe it, which is why I left religion. It didn’t make sense to me to be in a club that I didn’t fundamentally agree with.

      Religion, Christianity specifically, has been used to justify slavery and genocide in the past, as you mentioned. I think it’s safe to say that most Christians would not be okay with slavery or genocide. But in subtle ways, religion continues to “justify” cruelty. Ask any gay couple that have cried themselves to sleep because the religious right is fighting so hard to keep them from having access to dignity and respect. Ask the teenager who has received beatings and emotional abuse because her parents won’t accept her nonbelief. Ask the Muslim that has been spit on, or the child at school that has been ridiculed for being part of the only non-Christian family in a small town. I know someone in her 90s who had to live her entire life in secret, apart from her family and those who claimed to love her, because her Christian family wouldn’t accept the truth of who she was. While over in the Middle East, people are dying daily, mothers, children, young fathers, over this thing called “religion.” I believe that until we can free ourselves from this ancient system of beliefs in gods and myths, a system that wreaks havoc on our natural inclination towards love and acceptance for one another, this misery and tragedy will continue. That doesn’t mean necesarily that belief in science promotes goodwill. However, there is no underlying clause in science or reason that divides us into groups. There is no suggestion in science that a supernatural entity will give this group everlasting life, and throw all the rest into the fire.

      Thank you, again, for sharing your honest thoughts here. While much of my readership comprises nonbelievers, I do have several readers (as well as friends) who are devoted Christians. You are always welcome here! I wish you, in advance, a very happy New Year!

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  7. Danica, I think you’ve hit on something here which needs to be more widely discussed in and out of the church. Does following Jesus require that people adopt a certain view of Scripture? What does it even mean to “believe the Bible?”

    I personally think that the Scripture should be taken seriously as it contains and reflects God’s word, but I also think it contains the words of fallible humans trying to get it all right. God’s revelation and our apprehension of this appears to me to be progressive over time. I could give many examples of this, and many Christian thinkers and theologians would agree.

    There were times when even Jesus reinterpreted the meaning of Scripture to His hearers.

    I also think that not all of Scripture is even given for us to be interpreted in a literal, let alone modern day scientific sense. Some of the Scripture actually contains myth which also reflects deep spiritual truth .

    To put this in another way, if I accept the apostolic witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His lordship in our lives, am I less a Christian or not a true Christian because I don’t agree with a more fundamentalist view and interpretation of the Bible?

    I certainly don’t feel that all the Muslims, and my gay brothers and sisters are heading to Hell in a handbasket.

    It seems that you feel that Christians who accept universal reconciliation must be incredibly open, but in truth this is an ancient view that was adopted by even some of the early church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa.

    I think to make a blanket statement that “religion poisons everything” as many of the new atheists believe is too reductionist to be true. Are all expressions of faith the same?

    I could just as well say that since non theists feel that all morality is simply culturally determined that right and wrong have become totally subjective and relative. On what firm basis can we even absolutely advocate for the intrinsic value of human life apart from personal opinion which then might change depending on the time or the cultural?

    Are all people going to be naturally inclined toward love and acceptance of the other, apart from religion. Or, might they actually fear the other, and try to preemptively kill rather than to love their enemies as Jesus teaches.

    Perhaps our problems as a species run much deeper than issues with religion?

    Anyway, Danica, this is certainly a good and thoughtful discussion to have. Again, I appreciate your openness to receive and consider diverse views and input.

    Happy New Year to you as well. Thoughts and prayers for joy and peace to fill the earth.

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    1. Thank you for these thoughts. I have indeed considered many of them and will continue to do so. We certainly do have a tendency to divide ourselves into political, social, and economic groups, just to name a few.

      I think the particular issue that I take with religion is that it is particularly acute in its ability to ravage hearts and families. Maybe I haven’t read enough articles about sons who have committed suicide because they were Republican and their parents were Democrats. Perhaps I haven’t heard about the old lady that hid herself from her family because she was an artist and they were accountants. I believe religion’s particularly strong hold on believers exists because they are convinced that their beliefs and those of everyone around them determine their eternal life.

      Eternity is huge. When we focus on an imagined eternity (I only say imagined because none of us truly know what happens in eternity, so it is by definition “imagined”) that focus outweighs the importance of the real, present time we have with others. After all, this life is but a blip, compared to eternity, so I imagine believers would care more about what happens after death than what happens while we are alive. I simply choose to bet all my chips on this life, rather than wager anything on what I imagine may happen after I die. That’s one of the distinguishing factors of Humanism, as compared to theism. This focus on the present life on Earth also instructs many of my habits in my home, toward the Earth, with my child, and with my diverse human family. Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on it!

      It was wonderful, by the way, that you mentioned the possibility of being Christian without believing in the Bible, word for word. That loose interpretation of scripture was not my experience in my 10 years of Christianity, so it makes me happy to know that there are other denominations that aren’t as Bible-based, and are a little more giving when it comes to “deciding who gets into heaven.” Thanks again for your comments! I truly hope you’ll stop by again and share wisdom from your life journey with me. 🙂

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