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Bruce, What if You Are Wrong?

what if you are wrong

Every Evangelical-turned-atheist has had a Christian zealot pose to them the question, what if you are wrong? Over the past thirteen years, I’ve been asked this question numerous times. Devoted followers of Jesus genuinely fear for my soul and don’t want me to be tortured by their God in Hell for eternity, so they hope by asking this question they can get me to reconsider my decision to divorce Jesus.

This question is often followed by some form of Pascal’s Wager. Of course, those asking the question don’t realize the hypocrisy of their query. As practicing Christians, shouldn’t they be joining the Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, and every other religion that says there is some sort of life after death? Shouldn’t they make sure all their bases are covered?  Christians want to hold me to a different standard from the one to which they hold themselves. They are certain the Christian God is the one and only true God, so they see no reason to ask of themselves, what if I am wrong? Even among Christians, there are countless Christianities, with widely differing beliefs and practices. Which Christianity is True Christianity®? The Baptists think their version of Christianity is True Christianity®, and the Church of Christ, Roman Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy do too. Two thousand years in the making and Christians can’t even agree on basic beliefs such as salvation, baptism, and communion. Yet, rarely does any of them contemplate that they could be w-r-o-n-g.

pascals wager

Could I be wrong about God, Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, and the plethora of other gods humans have created since they were able to walk upright and reason? Sure, and I could say the same about many of the things I consider factual or true.  As one who values science and the scientific method, my belief in God or lack thereof is based on evidence and probabilities. While I self-identify as an atheist, I am agnostic on the God question. It is possible that a God of some sort could reveal itself to one or more humans at some future point in history. Possible, but not likely. As things now stand, I see no evidence that would lead me to conclude that a God of some sort exists. While science has not answered the first-cause question and may never do so, it has built an intellectually satisfying explanation of the world we live in. While this explanation frequently changes thanks to new evidence, I see no reason to retreat into the pages of an outdated, contradictory book written by unknown authors thousands of years ago. Just because science doesn’t have the answer to every question doesn’t mean that God is the answer. Scientists are willing to say, I don’t know, and then they go about trying to find out what they don’t know. When is the last time a Christian theologian, Catholic Pope, Muslim cleric, or Evangelical preacher has done the same? Certainty breeds arrogance and ignorance, both of which lead to people accepting as fact the most outlandish of ideas (i.e. virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, Hell in the center of the earth, Heaven in the sky, creationism, miracles, perfect religious texts).

When it comes to the Christian God, the Muslim God, the Jewish God, or any of the other extant Gods humans currently worship, I am quite confident that these gods are no gods at all. Is it possible that these gods exist? I suppose there is a minuscule chance, but the odds are so infinitesimal that it would be a waste of my time to even consider it. Life is too short to spend one moment of time considering the existence of Odin, Zeus, Lugh, Dagda, Haniyasu-hiko, Jesus, Kane, Pundjel, El Elyon, Shamayim, Guamansuri, Wakan-Tanka, Bochica, Lao-Tien-Yeh, Altjira, Loki, Atlas, Coyote, or any of the thousands of other gods humans have at one time or another conjured up (see God Checker: Your Guide to the Gods).

I live without fear of Hell or fear of being judged by a God. (I do, however, at times, fear God’s followers.) The hell and judgment that I see on this earth come from the hands of humans, not a deity. If there is a God, he is definitely AWOL. Someday, I will die and I think that will be the end of it for me. What if I am wrong? What if there is a God waiting to settle the score with me after I draw my last breath?  I guess I will say, oops, my bad, and I hope she will look at my life and judge me accordingly. I hope she will judge me not by the things that I did or did not believe, but by how I lived my life.

Many Christians, especially those of the Evangelical persuasion, believe that salvation is secured by believing the right things. While they love to talk about love and grace, the true foundation of their faith is a commitment to certain beliefs and propositions derived from their understanding of the “infallible” Bible. Believe the wrong things and Hell will be your eternal resting place. Virtually every Evangelical who stops by my blog to spar with me tries to get me to believe the “right” beliefs. Rarely does any one of them say anything about how I live my life. BELIEVE THIS AND THOU SHALT LIVE, is their gospel.

If not believing Jesus is the virgin born, second person in the Trinity, who came to earth, lived a perfect life, worked miracles, died on the cross and resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to heaven, ends with my rendition to the Lake of Fire to be tortured day and night by the God who created me, so be it. I have no interest in such a religion, and I have no interest in such a God who is only interested in what I believed and not how I lived.

If, somewhere beyond my next breath, I keel over and die and I find myself in the presence of the Big Man of Upstairs, I hope he will judge my life by how I lived, and if he does, I am confident that everything will be just fine. If not, if what I believed is what really mattered, then I guess I will burn in Hell with a lot of other good people. Coming soon to a corner of Hell near you, The Hitch and Bruce Almighty Podcast.

Two of my favorite cartoons:

calvin eternal consequences

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
    — Marcus Aurelius

    If we die and an unjust deity judges us, then we’re screwed, but, so it goes. I still think Ol’ Marc’s advice is good.

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    Very well said.

    I said my final goodbye to Christianity on coming home from a dear friend’s funeral, on a plane somewhere between Toronto and Vancouver. We had argued about God, all in good fun, over the years. He was ahead of me on this one. But during that flight, a belief I always had, that your loved ones in heaven look down on you, suddenly struck me as incredibly absurd (I’d been contemplating whether he was in heaven or hell, another ridiculous concept, but I wasn’t quite there yet). The last shreds of my belief came crashing down. Even thought they were fragments, the noise was deafening. Why had I never thought how incredibly creepy this concept is? It makes me shudder.

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    I have always liked this prayer. Conan prayed this before a battle. He hedged his bet, but was ready to do what needed to be done if no help came.

    Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!
    -Conan (Conan the Barbarian, the good one)

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    For me, this post goes to the heart of where Christians get it all muddled. Incidentally I’d query how agnostic you really are, Bruce. I know we are people of reason and so have to keep in reserve the thought that if evidence emerges of some god then we may change our views, but we both know that isn’t going to happen (probably!). So I regard myself as a ‘positive’ atheist; the evidence for there being no god is very compelling.

    As for ‘what if you’re wrong?’, there’s a rather nice South Park clip that depicts Richard Dawkins dealing wonderfully well with the point (the words are from a real debate in which a member of the audience asked the question).

    ‘What if you’re wrong?’ seems to me to to be one of those trite, meaningless phrases that Christians of lower reasoning ability have been ‘fed’ as a way of diverting argument, of perhaps even help justify their beliefs. As their core arguments have been progressively demolished so they have to revert to these key phrases, all of which are easy to rebut. Other phrases include:

    ‘You can’t prove there’s no god’. Hmm..depends what you mean by the word ‘prove’. Anyhow perhaps I can’t prove he doesn’t exist but I can prove he doesn’t make sense.

    ‘I believe in micro evolution but not macro evolution’. Actually macro is just a lot of micros so, actually, you do believe in evolution.

    ‘Without the Ten Commandments we’d have no moral base’. Yes well that bit about ‘no gods but me’ is really improving my life, though I have to be fair and say I haven’t made any graven images. And that bit about not killing! Well silly me, if you hadn’t pointed that out I’d be a raging psychopath! Oh…I give in….

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    “Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”

    There’s this wonderful movie about an Anglican priest who becomes friends with a businesswoman, called “Oscar and Lucinda.” She’s very practical and he’s a bit of a dreamer. It’s a story about faith, friendship and gender roles, but also about gambling. Oscar has been very careful not to sin his entire life, but he becomes addicted to gambling. Really addicted: no matter what he does, he can’t stop. In order to still feel good about himself, he needs some sort of rationalization for his constant sinning, so he finally figures that Christians are gamblers by nature and he exclaims: “We bet there is a God,” thereby granting himself permission to continue gambling.

    I’ve felt a bit guilty about the few times that I gambled as Christian and I could definitely relate to his struggle. Gambling can give a bit of a rush, like a rollercoaster ride does, and so it can make you long for more. There’s this thrill in not knowing the outcome, right before the cards are played or the roulette ball stops. You can still win… you have to wait a litte while before you know what will happen…. In a way, it does relate to death and a potential afterlife: we bet there is a God, or there isn’t, we bet there is a heaven or a hell, or nothing at all. Life is a gamble.

    The certainty of preachers can therefore be very offputting. At least, Pascal acknowledges it is a gamble, as does Paul in his explanation about the significance of the resurrection. Many, if not most, Evangelical preachers don’t. They are absolutely certain about absolutely everthing… It does help in debunking things though 😉 When I first began to realize I had believed things that were not true, like some of the conspiracy propaganda stuff, things that you can actuall check and verify, it helped in becoming more skeptical about claims of certainty in general.

    I do wonder how much uncertainty and doubt is hiding underneath this facade of absolute certainty… When I look at my own experiences that was definitely the case. Trying to appear sure about something in order to mask the unsurity and lingering doubts.

  6. Avatar
    Benny S

    My fundamentalist brother pulled this on me once. He said: “What if you’re wrong?”

    My response: “What if we’re BOTH wrong?”

    He has never brought it up again in further conversations. Which, for me, I hope it means he will forever continue to ruminate on my question to him.

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    What if God has been a trickster and only atheists go to heaven? What if there’s an even more powerful God out there than the Christian God, who wouldn’t then know about the other. What if there’s a whole hierarchy of gods?

    ‘What if’ is a good game for children, and that’s the level it should stay at.

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    The Romans acknowledged everyone’s God’s, you know, just in case. Star Trek episodes with different worlds getting all butthurt about whether their gods are revered really put things into perspective. We can’t possibly account to every possible creature’s gods throughout the universe…. A mathematician such as Pascal should have factored in all the possibilities.

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    pascal’s wager is one of the dumbest damn things. It requires a god that has no problem with people just believing “in case”. Really takes the wind out of the sails of how important “faith” supposedly is.

    There’s always a loss when it comes to the wager: time and resources.

    • Avatar

      Such a good point. People who subscribe to Pascal’s wager must think their god is really stupid. This omniscient being can be fooled by people who claim to believe just in case- no sincerity necessary.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I always wonder about all this stuff. One reason I haven’t taken the plunge into atheism yet. For me one thing is certain- and that’s the fact that I’ll never go near a church again, and I’m on the periphery of Christianity,
    that’s as far as I’m willing to go now, as beliefs go. I can tolerate being a Christian if I’m no longer among the Fundy nutcases. So far, and no farther.

  11. Avatar
    Burr Deming

    I am a Christian, and I’ll go with Bruce Gerencser on this.

    It seems to me the best argument for the stand Bruce is taking is that we have some self-evident moral responsibilities as thinking, feeling creatures. One is a fidelity to what we can see as the Truth.

    The Pascal calculation strikes me as a bit dishonest.

    From Upton Sinclair:
    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    Substitute “immortal soul” for “salary”, and you have the core of my objection.

    It is hard for me to imagine that God favors anyone for forcing themselves into a belief in the hope of eventual great reward.

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Bruce Gerencser