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These Are Not Paths To Truth
by Cliff Walker

Several years ago, an anonymous writer told me that I'd be better off believing in the Christian religion if for no other reason than that, if it turns out to be true, I'd at least be able to go to Heaven (or escape Hell, as this writer emphasized). This led to that monumental exchange of futility called, "To All You Intellectually Dishonest 'Thinkers,'" plus an editorial column of the same name. That was lots of fun but very unproductive, considering that neither of us appears to have learned a thing from it.

In that dialogue, I laughed at the notion of a deity even caring whether I thought he existed -- much less wanting to punish me for disloyalty. Thomas Paine, a Deist, called this idea a slander against his god. Agnostic occultist Robert Anton Wilson described this picture as of "an Oriental despot, only bigger, and invisible." I chose to portray this godhead as a spoiled brat.

Recently, someone wrote to comment on the exchange, suggesting that the two of us might end up in a nursing home, and would still be arguing. Yeah, I can see that!

He then began to repeat the ridiculous notion of "wagering" on the chance that there might be a literal Hell, that on this basis I ought to believe that the claims of the Christian religion are truthful. I told him gambling is a poor way to discern truth.

This gamble (known as "Pascal's Wager") assumes even odds against the Christian god existing versus the Christian god not existing. But this is not the discussion at all. We want to know whether the claims of the Christian religion are worthy of assent. Terrifying us into saying that the claims are true is not how we discover if they are, in fact, true. At best, it makes us hypocrites, because we would be saying something is true with no basis for knowing if we're right.

I find it offensive that someone would think I'd fall for something like this.

Even if there was something to their gamble, they forget to take into consideration all the other gods that humankind has endorsed. It's not Christianity versus atheism, but Christianity versus the other god claims -- with atheism requiring all of them to provide us with valid reasons to believe these admittedly indefensible god claims.

Secondly, I told him, hedonism is no way to distinguish truth from fiction. I would never pronounce a story as true simply because I want to enjoy pleasure or avoid pain, and that, if true, the story would have me avoiding pain. This fallacy is called the Pipe Dream, named after the opium pipe, an age-old way to escape reality as well as to relieve pain. And why did Karl Marx call religion "the opium of the people"?

An ogre-god who'd commit His disloyal subjects to an eternity in flames is not a god that I'd honor at all. If -- after all I've been through (not to mention my family) -- if it turned out that there actually was a god -- and if He held me accountable for concluding that there cannot possibly be any such thing as a loving god -- and if it ended up that His busiest messengers were meddlers who had as little respect for truth as has been described here -- and if that god rewards liars such as have written to me, trying to convert me, and condemns people like me who have honest doubts -- if a god like that existed, I'd spit in his eye.

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    • Notes:

    • Based on Finding Truth Through Gambling And Hedonism dialogue
    • See also To All You Intellectually Dishonest 'Thinkers' column by Cliff Walker
    • See also To All You Intellectually Dishonest 'Thinkers' dialogue

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Copyright ©2000 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon