Potentially Concerned Human
Lays Stakes on
the Very Nature of Reality

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: [unsigned]
Subject: Re: what do you have to lose
Date: March 28, 2004 3:15 PM


You claim to be concerned, but we don't buy it. For one, you didn't even sign this letter! What makes your claims (of being concerned or whatever) different from all the other mass-produced sales pitches we receive?

Really, now: the subject of your entire letter is an attempt to talk me into trading in my hard-won moral values for the cookie-cutter philosophy of an organized (and very exploitative) religion. And all along you act as if you want me to take you seriously!

Yeah, right! Sure you do. Every day, uh-huh!

Notwithstanding any of that, the content of your e-mail is so transparent that it's hard for us to address it without sounding rude or condescending. We shall make an effort, nevertheless. No guarantees, but we will try.

And you'll know the name of the person who wrote this to you by the time you get to the end.

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The problem with this little jingle they taught you is that it assumes that there's only one god-claim afloat among humans: yours! If your god-claim is not true (you seem to be saying) then everything will come out roses for me. In other words, if the tales told by Evangelical Christians are false, then there is no Sadistic Strapper standing upon the vault of the sky, wringing His hands as He shifts His weight to and fro, from one foot to the other and back again, back and forth, back and forth, eagerly anticipating the moment when the soul of some poor, deluded atheist will fall into His hands and He can just "let 'em have it" with all that He's got! The only other possibility, then (your little analogy assures us), is that atheism is true: if the Christian god-claim is false, then there are no gods, period, and we have nothing to fear from The Massively Megalithic Meanie.

Our world just doesn't work like this, however; we haven't exhausted the god-claims by dismissing the one made by that Johnny-come-lately religion, Evangelical Christianity. Many thousands of different (and mutually exclusive) god-claims have been circulated amongst our species, and many of these feature a cruel deity Whose hands are said to be drenched in the blood of humans who disagree with His earthly spokesmen.

What if we're both wrong? What if al'Lah of the Muslims is The One True Deity? Then we're BOTH in big trouble!

I can hear the Christian beam,

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"Oh, but Allah is a false god! The god I worship is The One True God and mine is The One True Faith!"

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I respond,

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"If you want me to consider your god-claim, then you must consider Islam's god-claim. That's just how it works when you set out to try to convince others that they ought to abandon a lifetime's worth of lessons and carefully considered core values for the prefabricated ideas of organized religion, when you set out to try to talk us into trading our very identity as humans for the things that your religious leaders would rather we do, think, and say.

"Had you been willing to satisfy yourself by keeping your religion personal and private, you wouldn't be obligated to consider the claims of the world's other major religions, not to mention the private ponderings of every individual upon whom you attempt to foist this little gimmick of a variation on Christian evangelism.

"That's the biggest problem, but it's not the only one: What you're doing with this particular line of reasoning is this: you're expecting me to assess the truthfulness of your god-claim by means of gambling! That's right: this little ditty is called ' Pascal's Wager'! By it you expect me to bet that what you say is true because of the rewards that would be heaped upon me if it, in fact, turns out to be true.

"Worst of all, however, is the fact that you want me to assess the truthfulness of a claim not on its merits but rather by my prospects for personal gain!

"To aggravate that situation even further, I don't have a very good chance of gaining anything in all this; rather, I am expected to discern truth on only a very remote possibility that I might come out ahead by holding the opinion that you want me to hold (or, at least tell you that I hold).

"But the icing on the cake is that my personal gain is said to be that of personal comfort. It's not something like money that I can use to help others or anything of that sort: the profit is entirely and exclusively mine, and the benefit I derive is pure enjoyment.

"Sorry, but that's just not how I do things. I have a much higher moral standard than you seem to suppose. When I asses the possible or likely truthfulness of a claim or statement, I make my decision entirely and exclusively upon by the merits of the claim in question. If I cannot use this criteria, if I do not have enough information to make such an assessment of your claim (and it is stated in the premise of 'Pascal's Wager' that we indeed do not have enough information), then my only choice left is to suspend judgement. If the claim is an existential claim (that something exists), then I rightly continue not thinking that the thing in question exists. I do not, on encountering your claim, suddenly shift to the ambivalent position that what you say might be true: if you cannot show me that what you tell me is true, then I have no business thinking that it even might be true.

"Despite the premise of 'Pascal's Wager,' I have investigated the claim you're making. Contrary to what the 'Wager'; claims, we have plenty of information to assess the Christian god-claim (although this cannot be said for the Hindu god-claim, for example). I have weighed the question and have found it to be entirely without merit. There are no reasons having to do with truth that favor my giving assent to your claim.

"At first glance (a long time ago), I thought there might be some other reasons for me to join your organization, which, I discovered, inevitably results (for me) in becoming indoctrinated and ending up a believer. Most of these reasons had to do with my social standing at the time: I wanted to meet some friends: I had none at the time (or so I thought). My experience tells me that I am not cut out to thrive in that social class (besides the claim to which I am required to grant my assent being pure, unadulterated falsehood).

"Some people don't put a high premium on the truth. I am not one of those people. Some people would set a higher value on personal comfort or personal safety. This is not how I live; this is not how I see things. I cannot even make myself think that this is a proper way to see reality! "All that I have, all that I will ever have, will be whatever I manage to leave behind for those who will survive me. Because of this, I want to be trusted as a truth-teller, I need to be trusted as a truth-teller. The only way to do this is to consistently tell only the truth, to never allow deliberate lies to pass my lips. This is no guarantee: people do slander others. But you cannot be considered a truth-teller if what you do is lie, lie, lie: we all know this. Furthermore, you cannot be seen as a truthteller if what you do is uphold ideas that you aren't sure are true.

"For these reasons, I graciously decline the challenge of your little wager."

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Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight-and-one-half years of service to
          people with no reason to believe

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