Pascal’s Wager And The Immorality of Christianity

With my eyes still not being what they should be, I have been spending more time than usual cruising YouTube and in particular episodes of the Atheist Experience, a public access TV show out of Austin, Texas.  One of the interesting things about the show is that the self described atheist hosts of the show take calls from, if not all comers, certainly a wide variety.

One question that comes up again and again is basically, “Aren’t you guys afraid of what will happen if you are wrong?”  Usually at that point, the hosts sigh and say, “Pascal’s Wager.”

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And it is not just every day Christians on a call in show, Christian apologist Peter Kreeft offers the following story on his webpage about Pascal’s Wager:

An atheist visited the great rabbi and philosopher Martin Buber and demanded that Buber prove the existence of God to him. Buber refused, and the atheist got up to leave in anger. As he left, Buber called after him, “But can you be sure there is no God?” That atheist wrote, forty years later, “I am still an atheist. But Buber’s question has haunted me every day of my life.” The Wager has just that haunting power.

Haunting power?  This just points up to me how immoral the “Christian” view of the world really is.

If god really is an all benevolent creature, it seems to me that the response of Christians to us atheists should not be, “Are you afraid of being wrong,” But rather, “You’ll be overjoyed when you find out you are wrong!”

I was a believer back in high school and have kept in contact with a very close friend from that period.  She is a very devout theist and we have discussed our positions many times.  I have often said that she has the advantage in our “argument.

If I am ultimately right, death ends our consciousness and neither of us experiences anything, I get no “I told you so!”  On the other hand if there is an afterlife, she gets the ultimate “I told you so!”  But to her credit, I am sure that deep in her heart she is not looking forward to that day so I get my comeuppance by a trip to Hell — and not back.

Without dealing with the philosophical weaknesses of the wager, I find it morally repugnant, on several levels.  First of all, I am supposed to predicate my belief in god on the results that will accrue to me — the cosmic carrot and stick.

Even worse the wager is about a thought crime.  The wager doesn’t say, “You should be a good person” to get the reward, but rather you have to believe in something.  And Christians, for the most part, are OK with this.

It never ceases to amaze me that people pretty consistently throw this at the folks at the Athiest Experience.  Seems to me that they are probably no worse, sin-wise than most Christians, they seem like very nice folks, but because of their thought crime, they are going to suffer the consequences.  This is morally repugnant to me.

The idea of a hell, for someone like Hitler, perhaps certainly has some emotional appeal, although the idea of infinite punishment for finite crimes is still a bit problematic.  But at least there is some idea of justice.  But Pascal’s Wager makes god out, pretty literally to be some kind of mafia boss.

If you kiss my ring and don’t speak ill of me, God seems to say in the wager, I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.    Not only is the god of the wager immoral, but he is also petty.  You mean to tell me that the infinite creator of a universe with contains 100 billion galaxies is going to mete out infinite punishment to me because of what I didn’t do Sunday morning?  That I wasn’t a member of his little club?  Really?  And you are OK worshipping that kind of god?

Now, there are lots of logical problems with Pascal’s Wager, not the least of which that it seems to present a false dilemma, or, as Homer Simpson famously put it, “What if we are worshipping the wrong god and every time we go to church we are making him madder and madder?”

But logical problems aside, theists and especially Christians should stop using the wager as it makes god into an immoral monster.

And personally, I am not “haunted” by the thought that I might be wrong.  If god is as he is depicted by the wager, I wouldn’t worship him or even give him the time of day and would be happy to go to hell to get away from him.

The Faith Based Campaign of Trump

As a non-Republican, I have to love the delicious irony of this year’s Presidential primaries on that side, it really is a wonder to behold.  On the one hand, it really is not as crazy as it seems.  The mainstream media is just loving the Trump “phenomenon” so they keep reporting his “big wins” uncritically.  But, as usual, it is only the splitting of the more “mainstream” vote between Cruz and Rubio (Cruzio) that is keeping the Trumpster front and center.  If you look at Cruzio, they are actually winning the nomination.

In terms of delegates, Trump seems to be leading with 319, but Cruzio is actually ahead with 336.  If we adjust the Super Tuesday results to reflect Trump vs Cruzio, it looks like this:

Ala.

AK

Ark.

Ga.

Mass.

MN

OK

Tenn.

TX

VT

VA

Trump

43%

34%

33%

39%

49%

21%

28%

39%

27%

33%

35%

Cruzio

40%

51%

56%

48%

28%

66%

60%

46%

62%

29%

49%

Kasich

4%

4%

4%

6%

18%

6%

4%

5%

4%

30%

9%

Carson

10%

11%

6%

6%

3%

7%

6%

8%

4%

4%

6%

Suddenly our electoral standings look very different.  Instead of “sweeping” Super Tuesday, Trump would be scurrying back home with his tail between his legs.  Yes, he would have squeaked out a win in Alabama, and also won the irrelevant (for Republicans in the general election) states of Vermont and Massachusetts.   Not very impressive.  Now, it is not completely clear that Cruz and Rubio voters would automatically go to the other or would go over to Trump, but that is a fair assumption.

It really looks like the Trump “phenomenon” is really just the remaining rump of the Tea Party looking for one last pillage.  I mean, seriously, how far would a Trump/Christie ticket get in the general election?  It would be a wipe out.

What I find most interesting about Trump is his faith based campaign.  Trump is pretty clearly the least religious of any of the candidates.  And yet the way he talks is totally like a preacher, and his followers seem to eat it up.

Just watch any speech by the Trumpster and make a drinking game of it.  Take a shot every time he says “believe me” or “honestly.”  You’ll be in a coma if you manage to make it through the whole speech.  Most people will be on the floor in five minutes.  If you want to add to the pain, just add in the phrase, “I love you people.”

And this is where it all sounds faith based to me.  All you have to do is believe and good things will come your way.  The guy at the top “really loves you.”  This kind of rhetoric could only be effective among those who are used to leaving their critical thinking at the door and just believing what they hear.  That is the mark of Trumps campaign even more than the racism and xenophobia.  Believe me!  I am your savior!  Who needs evidence when you have faith!

Now, to some extent all political campaigns are faith based.  We want to believe politicians are really out to help us, which turns out rarely to be true.  Followers of Bernie Sanders are also imbued with belief.   But at least he has a long consistent career to base those beliefs on.

For example of a faith based  statement, here is the first political endorsement Trump received, from New York Congressman Chris Collins: “Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he has both the guts and the fortitude to return our nation’s jobs stolen by China, take on our enemies like ISIS, Iran, North Korea and Russia, and most importantly, reestablish the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to attain the American Dream.”

Really?  Trumps builds hotels and golf courses:  how does that “clearly demonstrate” that he is ready to take on ISIS?  Would you really trust some guy in your community to fix the roads and balance the school budget just because he puts out a good buffet at his restaurant?  Collins clearly believes in something, but it is not the real Donald Trump.

In reality, Trump is just another mediocre business man who lets his ego run rampant.  Yes, he has apparently piled up some money, but so could you if you started with $300 million like he did.  Other than filing bankruptcy, Trump is best known for being a reality TV star where he played a parody of a real business person.

Wikipedia has this to say about the “success” of the show:  “Although the series was one of the most-watched programs on NBC in the advertiser-friendly 18–49 age demographic, the franchise’s total audience gradually dissolved, starting in late 2004, when it aired its second season that culminated in, what most Apprentice fans deem, an “overextended”[19] 3-hour season finale on December 16, 2004.”

I am not sure how growling “You’re fired” to people who were deemed lacking in setting up a celebrity car wash gave Trump the “guts and fortitude” to do anything really.  Somehow Collins and others shape the Trump smokescreen into something solid and real.

It certainly takes a lot of faith to do that.

Update March 8:

Over the last seven days, Cruzio has picked up momentum, they have picked up 110 delegates to Trump’s 54.  Cruzio now has 451 delegates to Trump’s 384.  Now, I don’t know how many of the remaining primaries are winner take all, but the only way Trump gets the nomination is to get 1189 delegates in the primaries.  If he falls short of that number Cruz and Rubio make a deal and we probably get a Cruz/Rubio ticket, which maybe the Tea Party types would not fully support and maybe Trump makes good on his threat to run third party.  Either way, good for the Democrats.

Will Support for Christianity Collapse?

There was a post on Twitter relating to this article which said that maybe the evangelical voting bloc might not be so monolithic as we think, which almost goes without saying, voting blocs are rarely monolithic.   But the article goes onto a very interesting, though somewhat unstated conclusion.

The article is talking about why “evangelicals” are voting for Trump, rather than say, Ted Cruz as Trump is “not an evangelical Christian, and neither his personal background nor his policy proposals seem like a very good fit for religious conservatives.”  Which I, like many others have noticed and wondered about.  But that is not the fishy part.

First,  the author puts out what I would call the “standard math.”

The term “evangelical” is an excellent case in point. In the very broadest sense, this refers to anyone with a personal relationship to Jesus. The Pew Research Center says 30 percent of Americans identify as evangelicals or as born again, which is about 96 million people. (For comparison, 127 million people voted in the last presidential election.)

 

Now, I do have some quibbles with those numbers, the 30 percent is pretty high compared to the latest Pew survey and extrapolates the numbers to the entire US population rather than the adult population, overestimating (at first) the number of “Evangelicals.”

But then he does cite a Barna survey which asks about specific beliefs which finds that only about 10% of the population qualifies as “true” Evangelicals.  He himself apparently interviewed a large number of people who identified as Bible Believing Christians who “believe the Bible to be literally true, and virtually none of them ever read it.”  Which is something any atheist can already tell you about most “Christians.”

He then goes on to say (basically) that it is those “fake” Christians who are now flocking to Trump.  Which is, of course the root of the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy.  I actually plan to deal with this in a later post.  But I draw another conclusion from all of this.

I actually agree with the author (not about who votes for Trump) but rather the depth of support for Christianity.

For example, Gallup asks people what they think of the bible and there are three responses: Literally the word of god;  the word of god, but not every word true; and a bunch of fables.  Currently about half of the respondents go the middle route, with about 30% going the literalist route.

Here is what I think is happening and will happen.  Right now the “word of god” response is the “right answer.”  The bible is the “greatest book ever written” and all that.  But just about nobody actually reads it.  As time goes on the felt social stigma for not believing will decrease, it is already.  It will get easier and easier for people to say (to pollsters), “The bible, meh, not so much.”  And I think this will happen pretty fast so that we go from “Three in Four in U.S. Still See the Bible as Word of God” to something like “Sixty percent no longer see bible as relevant.”

Mostly because they will just be saying what they really believe, they just aren’t ready to say it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backward Headlines

My political punditry might be a little off the mark, but I continue to be amazed at the coverage surrounding the candidacy of Donald Trump.  Here is some fairly typical rhetoric from CNN (not exactly a rightwing outlet):

Donald Trump did more than win his second easy victory in consecutive presidential primaries in South Carolina on Saturday.

He advanced his takeover of the Republican Party. He proved that he can dominate a race in the Deep South. He vanquished the dynasty that ruled the GOP establishment for decades as Jeb Bush dropped his White House bid.

And in the process, Trump left no doubt that he is the GOP’s national front-runner and has the most credible path to capture the party’s nomination.

Wow, Trump is taking over the Republican party!  Just one problem, it seems to me, the numbers just don’t add up.  So far, in three contests, Trump has not cracked more than one third of the Republican vote.  And while an earlier CNN headline touted Trump’s “momentum,” the numbers don’t show that either.

In Iowa, Trump got 24% of the vote, he improved to almost 36% of the vote in New Hampshire, then fell back to 32% in South Carolina.  Not what I would call progress.

In South Carolina the combined Rubio/Cruz vote (Cruzio) was 10 points more than Trump.  And it seems that they are splitting pretty similar voters.  It is very unclear who voters will move to as candidates drop out, but I think it is pretty clear that those who voted for Jeb Bush will not be voting for Trump any time soon.  The feeling over at the 538 blog is that if the primaries continue with 3 or more candidates, Trump cruises to the nomination.

Which would be great for Democrats.  Imagine a nominee that only appeals to one third of Republicans.  NPR says that Trump is the one bringing record turnout to the primaries.  If so, he must be bringing out as many people to vote against him as to vote for him.  Logic would tell you that if he were bringing significant numbers of new Republican voters that he would break or at least come close to the 50% mark.  He has not even been close.

Personally, I will not be at all impressed with Trump’s electoral strength until he breaks 50%.  And I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Our New Electoral Map?

The thing about Supreme Court rulings is that they do not have to follow public opinion, in fact sometime they can lead public opinion.  And this is exactly as the Founding Fathers intended.  The Founders were actually a bit afraid of unfettered democracy, understanding as they did the appeal of demogogues (read, Donald Trump).  They understand that (for example) no matter how many people might vote for it, torture is never right.  And that is one of the roles of the Supreme Court.

There is a lot of noise from the Right about the Obergfell case, but it is a battle they are destined to lose, and frankly the longer they go on about it, the more they are going to lose.  There was a poll released today that says that 53% of Americans have no problem with the legality of same sex marriage, and this has been fairly stable since the ruling, with other pollsters finding similar results.  No before you say, “That is kind of a slim majority,” consider this bit of history.

In 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional (Loving v Virginia).  Makers of those laws used many of the same arguments against interracial marriage that we now hear against same sex marriage (it’s unnatural and against God’s will/plan.)  Here is a quote from the trial judge in the case that eventually went to the Supreme Court:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The legal issues were so similar that Loving wasabpajpuzgu6pafbqeowhyq cited many times in the Obergfell decision.  But here is the thing, public opinion was definitely against the Loving decision, much more so than against same sex marriage.  Support for interracial marriage did not reach the majority level until 1994, almost 30 years later!  Majority support was already in place for same sex marriage when the decision was issued and remains.

So, Republicans who would like to overturn Obergfell are fighting two trends, Supreme Court precedent and public opinion.  They are actually heading down a very dangerous road.  Below is a map that shows the support for same sex marriage by state.

prri-ava-same-sex-marriage-heat-map

The first thing that jumps out at you is that support for same sex marriage is highest in the “Blue” states that tend to vote Democratic in Presidential elections.  No surprise there.  But let’s look at a few other states.  The Republican stronghold of Indiana — 52%, a majority.  Arizona — 56%(!).  Alaska — 60%!   Colorado is actually higher than California!

If the states on this map with majority support for same sex marriage were to be reliably Democratic, we are going to have a string of Democratic presidents.  Now, look at the states where support is on the cusp of a majority, at 49% we have Virginia, Nebraska(!), Idaho and Montana.  At 48%,  Wyoming and Missouri are almost there as well.  Within shouting distance are Texas, Utah, Georgia and West Virginia.

If Texas ever again votes for a Democratic presidential candidate, the chances of the Republican party are over for a long time, at least for the White House.  This map also shows why the Republicans are the party of low turn out and why they want to restrict voting rights, they simply disagree with a real majority of the American people on many issues.

I presume that Republicans won’t be so stupid as to keep beating a dead horse when public opinion has turned against them, but then again looking at their primaries so far, who knows where they are going.

The Republicans have been looking back at the past, but it seems that maybe the bus is about to leave without them.

 

 

 

The Revolution is On! Or Not so Much…

So, the news out of New Hampshire shot my political punditry right out of the water (another theory slain by ugly facts), but here I am at it again.  The narrative in the mainstream media after the New Hampshire primary is that with Sanders and Trump winning, the revolution in both parties is on.  Politics as usual is over in this election cycle.  Which makes a great story, but let’s slow down just a bit.

First Bernie Sanders.  There is a bit of genuine revolution here.  A senator who has, in fact fought against politics as usual, first by calling himself an independent, then a socialist, he is a non-religious Jew swimming upstream against the millennialist Christian types currently running amok in the Republican party.  His message has, in fact, resonated among progressive voters.

But after a near win in Iowa, where they they like to embrace underdogs (like Barack Obama in 2008) and a clear win in New Hampshire, which is his backyard, I don’t think we can declare the revolution on yet.  South Carolina and Super Tuesday loom large and are much more in Hilary’s wheelhouse.  If Bernie can get some victories there, I will start to believe.

Ironically, the non-religious Republican front-runner is running what amounts to a revival campaign where he doesn’t so much appeal to Jesus as appearing to be channeling the Republican Jesus directly.  In his victory speech his meme seemed to be: “Believe in me, I love you!”

I will say that Trump has laid bare the “religious” roots of the Tea Party movement, that is to say, there are none.  Trump is the naked nativism, violence and racism of the movement shorn of any fig leaf of biblical “values.”  But is it a revolution?

Maybe not.  Although Trump may have had a 20 percentage point lead over his nearest rival, he still only got a third of the Republican vote.  Kasich, Rubio/Cruz/Bush combined got 49% of the vote.  Some of the Cruz voters might be crazy enough to support Trump, but most of the voters for the others would never vote for Trump in a primary.  If the Republicans could put forth decent candidate, he would beat Trump easily.

But none of the candidates who have stepped forward have anything going for them.  Christie isn’t even liked in New Jersey any more, Cruz is too busy running for pastor-in-chief, Rubio is just a naked opportunist, and Jeb!, well, even though Bushes served three terms as president, nobody likes them.  Kasich is the one they should get behind, at least maybe he could deliver Ohio and they would have a chance.  Unfortunately, Kasich is blandly competent, which no longer sells in the Republican party, ask Mitt Romney.

The ragged remnants of the Tea Party would rather see Trump go down in glorious flames in the general election rather than have a chance with a “compromiser” like Kasich.

And that could well be what happens.

 

WTH is the Point of Hell?

Even if you were not raised in a fire and brimstone household, you are surely acquainted with the final resting place of those who are evil incarnate, the pit of eternal fire, hell.  And I don’t mean Hell, Michigan.  The current Catholic catechism defines hell like this:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Which is quite mild compared some of the more lurid descriptions of hell which seemed to revel in the sadistic punishments that await the likes of someone like me.  But what is the actual purpose of hell?

One purpose that is sometimes given is to contain evil, but if so, it has failed miserably at its purpose.  Evil is alive and well in the world and most Christians will assure you that the devil is running around tempting people and causing mischief every hour of the day.  In human society one function of prisons is to keep bad people separated from society so they can’t harm innocent people.  Hell, in the afterlife serves no such purpose.  So, as a container of evil, this is a total fail.

It’s next purpose is as an all purpose threat, the cosmic stick to counter balance the golden carrot of heaven.  Even the Catholic catechism propounds this view:

[T]he teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Or to put it more bluntly, “Wise up pal — or you’re going to hell.”  But if god designed hell for that purpose, he has a pathetic understanding of human psychology.

We know from behavioral psychology that the most effective forms of punishment immediately follow the behavior and this even follows for deterrent effect of preventing future behavior.   Swift and certain punishment has been found to have a much greater deterrent effect than more severe, but less certain punishments.  In this sense, hell is a total fail.  It is certainly a severe punishment, but it is quite literally so abstract as to be mythical.  Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe I’ll get sent there, maybe I won’t.  Who knows?  The Catholic Church famously says they have no idea who actually in hell.  Not even Hitler.  Or Christopher Hitchens.

It seems to me that the only people afraid of hell are those who wouldn’t actually do anything bad enough to land them there.   Martin Luther King showed that there is nothing to fear from going to jail, what most of us fear is the social stigma.  We don’t need actual prisons to convince people like me not to commit crimes, I would be mortified just to be arrested.  That is enough deterrence for me and most other people.

There is a whole other class of people for whom hell is no deterrence, and that is those who think they are on the right side of things.  Dante made fun of these self-righteous people in the “Inferno” and there might be some satisfaction of imagining that someone who is so sure he is on the right side of things facing eternal wrath, but it is of no deterrence at all.  People like Hitler think they are doing god’s work, much like psychopaths think chumps deserve to lose their money.  So, the threat of hell is not going to stop the Hitlers of history.  So, the church is wrong, the threat of hell is not really going to convert anyone.

Hell is certainly not for rehabilitation.  It is apparently irrevocable and final.  So, it is not punishment that will change your mind in any way.

Justice is a purpose that comes up often in discussing hell, but certainly by human standards, it fails.  I have no problem with people being punished, but it certainly has struck many people that meting out infinite punishments for finite sins is not just.  It seems even more unjust when you compare the sinfulness of humans versus to the essentially infinite power that god is supposed to have.  How could a human possibly hurt an all powerful god so much that they deserve infinite punishment?  To me, hell tips the cosmic scales too far — into injustice.

The only purpose I can see for hell is vengeance.  In the old testament god promised many times that he is a vengeful god.  If there is a hell, he was most certainly right. And if you want to worship a vengeful god, feel free to so do.

I’ll pass, thanks.