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I May Burn in Hell Someday, But Until That Day Comes . . .

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I am often contacted by Evangelical zealots who purportedly are concerned over my lack of belief and my indifference towards their threats of judgment and Hell. Bruce, aren’t you worried that you might be wrong? Evangelicals ask. And right after they ask this question, they follow it up with an appeal to Pascal’s Wager (the number one apologetical argument used by defenders of Christianity). Evangelicals use Pascal’s Wager to attack the agnostic aspect of atheism. Since no one can be absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist, it is better to be safe than sorry. Of course, GOD in this equation is the Christian God, their peculiar version of God. Evangelicals have deemed all other Gods false, even though they themselves can’t be certain these Gods do not exist. If Evangelicals were honest with themselves, they would do what they ask of atheists: embrace ALL other Gods just in case one of them might be the one true God. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

As an agnostic atheist, I can’t be certain a deity of some sort doesn’t exist. Of course, I can’t be certain that life on planet earth isn’t some sort of alien experiment or game. Perhaps, life on planet earth is more Westworld-like than we think. How would we know otherwise? Assuming that we are not AIs in a multilevel game, how, then, should rational beings deal with the God question? All any of us can do is look at the extant evidence and decide accordingly. I am confident that the Christian God of the Bible is no God at all. I don’t worry one bit over being wrong. Now, there’s a .000000000000000000001 percent chance that I might be wrong, but do I really want to spend my life chasing after a deity that is infinitesimally unlikely to be real? I think not. Now, if I am asked whether I think a deistic God of some sort exists, that’s a different question. Not one, by the way, that changes how I live my life. The deistic God is the divine creator, a being who set everything into motion and said, there ya go, do with it what you will. This deity wants nothing from us, and is quite indifferent to the plight of the human race. Whether this God exists really doesn’t matter. She is little more than a thought exercise, an attempt to answer the “first cause” question.

Is it possible that I am wrong about the God question, and that after I die I am going to land in Hell? Life is all about probabilities, so yes anything is possible. However, when governing one’s life, our focus should be on what is likely, not on what might be possible. And what is likely is that there is no God, and it is up to us to make the world a better place to live. Evangelicals look to the Eastern Sky, hoping that Jesus soon returns to earth — thus validating their beliefs. This other-worldliness makes Evangelicals indifferent towards things such as suffering, war, and global climate change. Jesus is Coming Soon, Evangelicals say. Fuck everything else! As an atheist, I live in the present, doing what I can to make a better tomorrow. I dare not ignore war and global warming because the future of my children and grandchildren is at stake. I want them to have a better tomorrow, knowing that all of us have only one shot at what we call “life.” It is irresponsible to spend time pining for a mythical God to come and rescue you. First-century Christians believed Jesus was returning to earth in their lifetime. They all died believing that the second coming of Jesus was nigh. And for two thousand years, the followers of Jesus Christ have continued to believe that their Savior will come in their lifetimes to rescue them from pain, suffering, and death. Listen up, Christians. Jesus is dead, and he ain’t coming back.

I may land in Hell someday, but until I do I plan to enjoy life. I plan to love those that matter to me and do what I can make this world a better place to live. I have no time for mythical religions and judgmental deities. I am sure some readers are wondering how I can live this way without knowing for certain that nothing lies beyond the grave. None of us knows everything. Those who say they are certain about this or that or know the absolute “truth” are arrogant fools. What any of us actually “knows” is quite small when compared to the vast expanse of inquiry and knowledge that lies before us. I know more today than I did yesterday, but that only means I learned that McDonald’s has added new menu items and the Cincinnati Bengals are really good this year. Life is winding down for me, so my focus is on family and friends. One day, death will come for us, one and all, and what we will find out on that day is that most of what we thought mattered, didn’t. Perhaps, we should ponder this truth while we are among the living, allowing us to then focus on the few things that really matter. For me personally, God and the afterlife don’t make the list.

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
    Grammar Gramma

    I don’t believe in Santa Claus, or fairies, or leprechauns. If you do, that’s great, and if you want to try to convince me that they are real, go ahead and try. But if you aren’t bringing concrete evidence to the table, you aren’t going to get very far. I can pretend to believe in these myths if it helps you along your narrative, but I’m just pretending. I can’t believe in what I can’t believe in. And so it is with gods.
    And that’s where I struggle with Pascal’s wager. I can pretend to believe in your god, but I can’t believe in her any more than I can believe in Santa Claus, or fairies, or leprechauns. So, if some god is real, and I stand before her on some mythical judgment day, won’t she know that I was just pretending? And isn’t that even worse, judgment-wise, than just not believing at all? That I am trying to pull the wool over some god’s eyes? That I’m faking it? How does that keep me out of her mythical hell?

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      That for me is the point that is central to the whole issue of Christianity. You hit the nail bang in the middle of the head. If I don’t believe something then no amount of semantics or mind tricks can alter that underlying lack of belief, though I am sincere in my lack of belief.

      My version, therefore, of Pascal’s Wager, is that I am betting that if I’m wrong about there being no god, and one day I stand in front of him and have to give account, that I can plead sincerity, and that he, being all powerful, understands and accepts that. If he doesn’t, then he (or she) isn’t worthy of me.

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    If we were living in Iran, we would probably be having the same conversation but naming Allah instead of the evangelical Christian God. Heck, I can have this conversation with my father-in-law who is talking about his hybrid Catholic-evangelical god.

    My father-in-law used Pascal’s wager on us a few months ago, and my husband cut him off with the statement that he refuses to live his life in fear of a deity whose probability of existence is very low.

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    It is all very well to speak of Pascal’s Wager and our assessment of it as adults who have seen that the big guy is wearing no clothes but what of this so-called reasonable plea to us when it is taken and then actively applied in our lives and visited on family, on children. Then what we see more clearly is that the soldiers of Jesus are merciless bullies who are so convinced of their own filth and redemption from it that they harm others with glee to do God’s bidding…. they love their neighbors as themselves (meaning that the low opinion of themselves, their fallen-ness and their utter filth and worthlessness without Christ is actively applied to the child next door, to all outside the club.)
    Well, it’s not for me. When a Christian tells you Jesus loves you the most appropriate answer might well be, Fuck right off!
    Smarmy, loving God-peddlars will say, Oh isn’t Brian angry and bitter but that is only because they cannot see the harm they do, the innocence they crush. That is because they have given up some genuine humanity to their drug pusher, to American Jesus.

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    “I may land in hell someday, but until I do I plan to enjoy life.”

    And I’ll gladly go with you. You seem like a great guy to hang out with. 🙂

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    I must admit Joe Burrow’s performance is strong evidence for the existence of a sympathetic deity.

    I’m presently in your neck of the woods for work, Bruce; you have not over-advertised the density of churches/conservatives in NW Ohio, for sure. I did find a nice little brewery in Defiance, though!

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    Neil Rickert

    Back when I was a Christian, I used to think that Pascal’s Wager was a powerful argument.

    When I deconverted, I did think of Pascal’s Wager. But somehow it had no persuasive force at all.

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    Homosexuality is not the person’s original sin. God has given them over to their reprobate mind over something else. Homosexuality is the outward sign that person has rejected God somewhere. That is what makes dealing with such person difficult. If they go to Hell it won’t be for the sexual sin alone.

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      David, homosexuality is not a sin, it’s a natural trait that is present in a substantial proportion of every population and demographic (estimates vary but is probably around the 10% mark). It’s also present in most species of animal. You need to grow up on this issue.

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    When I see Pascal’s wager, it is a sure sign of a closet non-believer. It is the ultimate hedge, but if you have to hedge you are insincere, and if you’re insincere you don’t believe. Pascal himself shows the downside of his wager. An accomplished scientist and mathematician, but once he went off the deep end with Christianity he offered nothing more to humanity but mantras and halo polish. And that is where the fool who falls into the Pascal wager trap loses the wager. You could have contributed something to the humanity, yet you spent your time attempting to count the angels on the head of a pin.

    The other side of Pascal’s wager? It is limited by whatever the prevailing cultural religion is at the time. I can conceive of a god that would reward a skeptic, perhaps I would grant eternal life to those who didn’t believe? Perhaps when the bus crashes from hitting the baby deer, those who thought for themselves awaken to the sound of angels. Hey we’re just making stuff up here anyway, it could be anything. I probably left a comment like this before, but it bears repeating.

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    I thought Pascal was a decent mathematician until I recognized the inherent faults in his wager. Maybe he was on the fence about believing nonsense.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Obstacle–Isaac Newton was an alchemist. Pascal’s Wager proves, to me, that someone can be supremely logical in one area of life but not another.

    Or, perhaps, it shows–as Troy points out–that he was a “closet non-believer.” Actually admitting to non-belief in his milieu could have been very costly.

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Bruce Gerencser