It always amuses me when some random Christian happens upon one of my entries and takes it upon themselves to email me with why I’ve got the Reverend So-And-So all wrong and how I’m in danger of going to Hell etcetera and so on. You know the drill—Ministry by Email. I especially like it when they don’t bother reading the entire entry before dashing off their missive to me. One such recent example comes from someone named “Joyce” who stumbled across a rant I wrote back in May of 2002 about a Detroit area TV news anchor and clergyman by the name of Frank Turner. Here’s her email with my reply woven in:
Date: 11/24/2006 11:18AM
To: Les Jenkins
Subject: Re: Frank Turner
I only read a few words of your rant against Frank Turner. One Question: What if he is right and you are wrong about accepting Jesus Christ being the only way to heaven? He will go to heaven and you will go to hell – to everlasting torment. He has nothing to lose if he’s wrong, but you have everything to lose. You need to think about it!
Good old Pascal’s Wager. Believe me I have thought about it and it’s a silly argument to make. The problem with that line of argument is that it’s a fallacy known as the false dichotomy. First it assumes that God rewards belief with the only possibilities being that 1) the Christian God exists and punishes or rewards as stated in Christian theology, or
It’s equally possible that a God exists that rewards skepticism and punishes blind faith, or rewards honest reasoning and punishes feigned faith, or does not punish belief or disbelief at all. Consider the following argument put forth by Richard Carrier:
- Suppose there is a god who is watching us and choosing which souls of the deceased to bring to heaven, and this god really does want only the morally good to populate heaven. He will probably select from only those who made a significant and responsible effort to discover the truth. For all others are untrustworthy, being cognitively or morally inferior, or both. They will also be less likely ever to discover and commit to true beliefs about right and wrong. That is, if they have a significant and trustworthy concern for doing right and avoiding wrong, it follows necessarily that they must have a significant and trustworthy concern for knowing right and wrong. Since this knowledge requires knowledge about many fundamental facts of the universe (such as whether there is a god), it follows necessarily that such people must have a significant and trustworthy concern for always seeking out, testing, and confirming that their beliefs about such things are probably correct. Therefore, only such people can be sufficiently moral and trustworthy to deserve a place in heaven—unless god wishes to fill heaven with the morally lazy, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.
The argument also assumes that Christianity is the only religion that makes such a claim and it’s not. It’s equally possible that a God as described by any of the thousands of other belief systems in the world is the one that exists. What if it turns out that you’re worshiping the wrong God? If you are then you could be in just as much trouble as us atheists are.
The wager also assumes that the existence of a God is possible at all—that is to say it assumes there is a non-zero probability of him existing. It is not clear what is meant when “probability” or “chance” is said in the context of something possibly existing, but probability cannot be used as defined in mathematics to justify the wager as is, since God being possible does not mean that God’s existence has positive probability.
The wager also fails to consider the costs related to belief. Most modern religions require you to devote your time (in attending services/doing outreach/etc.) and money (tithes/donations/etc.) to your church/temple. The claim that if you’re wrong you have lost nothing is patently false as you will have lost valuable time and resources you spent on your religious belief that you could have spent on doing more important or productive things. How many hours of your life have you wasted sitting in your church listening to sermons? How many thousands of dollars have you tithed to your church? If God doesn’t exist you could have made a bigger difference in the world by donating that time and money to a worthy charity and help feed the homeless or something that actually produces more results than sitting around singing hymns and praying ever would.
Then there’s the tiny problem that if the only reason I believe is because I fear I might be wrong in not believing then I’m not expressing a genuine faith, but rather a cover-my-ass faith. Surely a God of any real power would know if my belief were sincere so merely believing because I’m worried Hell might be real wouldn’t be likely to win God’s favor.
Lastly it also assumes that one can choose one’s beliefs. You believe something to be true because you feel you have good reason to believe it and it takes new evidence to convince you to change your mind. For example, most sane people don’t just wake up one day and say something like, “I think I’ll believe that 2+2=5 today!” My belief, or lack of, is a direct result of what I have experienced and know from the life I have lived. Pascal’s Wager gives me no real reason to modify that belief other than the vague warning that “You might be wrong.”
You have no hope of eternal life, but we do.
You mistakenly assume that I want eternal life. That I am bothered by the idea that I only exist for a very brief period of time and then cease to be. You are wrong. The idea that my existence is short and finite is what makes living life so worthwhile and precious and gives me my purpose.
You could, however, if you change and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Unless you’re wrong and he doesn’t exist. Then I’m just wasting my time with wishful thinking.
Remember, he is the only person in the world who rose from the death.
Prove it. Many other religious books make similar claims of their Gods.
No other religion can claim this in the people they worship.
Sure they can. You need to study other religions more. Christ’s story is remarkably like many other religious figures including some that predate him. In particular you should read up on the religion known as Mithraism, which gets its name from its God—Mithras. The parallels between Christianity and Mithraism are quite striking, especially considering Mithraism got started first, but even more interesting is how they both share so many similarities with the older Egyptian savior cult of Osiris.
You see, I was once a devout Christian and I’ve actually studied a number of different religions in my time. Christianity isn’t unique in its tenets or mythology. It brings nothing new to the table. In fact it borrowed Judaism from the Jews and then tacked on different bits from a lot of other older religions that were semi-popular at the time. The major holidays are all corruptions of much older Pagan celebrations in an attempt to subjugate their followers.
I may not agree on Frank with all of his beliefs, but this one I do. Please check this out – I’ll be praying for you.
You need to pray less and study more. You join a long line of people praying for me, numbering well into the thousands at the moment, to no effect. Either your prayers are powerless or your God doesn’t exist to answer them. Either way it’s clearly time you could be better spending doing something that would actually make a difference in the world. At the very least you could come up with a more original, and perhaps better, argument than Pascal’s Wager.
It’s bad enough you agree with Frank Turner, but a hypocrite like Billy Graham as well? Stop letting others think for you and start thinking for yourself. Haven’t you ever heard that a mind is a terrible thing to waste? Do you really think your God would give you a brain and then expect you to let everyone else do your thinking for you?
As you can see I put some time and thought into composing my reply, though not a whole lot as I’ve got a lot of this stuff memorized anymore. It took a couple of days, but “Joyce” finally sent a reply today. I’ll include it along with my reply back after the jump.
Date: 11/27/2006 10:53PM
To: Les Jenkins
Subject: Re: Frank Turner
Wow! If you have no hope for eternal life, why waste your life trying to prove there is no God? What kind of life’s purpose is that?
Who said that I’m wasting my life trying to prove there is no God? That’s your assumption, not the reality. Do you spend time trying to prove the non-existence of Invisible Pink Unicorns or do you not bother to think of them much at all until someone, like me, happens to bring it up? I’m willing to bet that you don’t spend your time trying to prove the non-existence of Invisible Pink Unicorns because you have no good reason to think they might exist and the same is true of me and God(s). I don’t spend much time thinking about it until someone like you comes along and tells me how I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t suddenly start worshiping your invisible sky-daddy. If you hadn’t brought it up we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
We try to get people to turn to God through Christ because we want them not only to be saved from eternal torment but to live better lives on earth as well. If Frank Turner can get drug addicts off the streets, his ministry will be well worth all the time he has put into it. Life doesn’t just end – you will not just “cease to be,” you will have eternal life; but where you spend it is your choice.
That’s your opinion, not a fact. You think life doesn’t just end, but you have no real way of proving it. Unless you’ve died and then come back to life you have no way of knowing and you’ve already said that only one person has supposedly pulled that trick off in over 2,000 years. Unless you can give me some good reason to accept your claim that life doesn’t just end then I’m going to assume you’re mistaken on the issue.
As for Frank Turner, there’s plenty of more effective ways to combat drug addiction than praying to a non-existent deity. You’re just replacing one crutch for another and I fail to see how that really helps.
You say you were once a devout Christian. Many people claim to be Christians who have no real relationship with Christ. They are not really “born again” as the Bible says we must be.
Now you’re going to be so arrogant as to presume to know enough about me to pass judgment on how real my relationship with Christ may have been? You know exactly jack shit about me and my past and yet you think you’re in a position to tell me how good a Christian I once was? Why is it anytime someone points out Christians behaving badly or falling away from the faith the first and only reaction from you people is to say, “Oh, but they weren’t REAL Christians!” If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that claim. You people can’t even agree on what a “real” Christian is.
I would suggest you spend more time studying the Bible that has stood the test of the ages and read “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell, a former skeptic.
Your arrogance is amazing. Had you bothered to read more of the archives on my website you’d already know that I’ve completely read the Bible front to back four times over and have spent countless hundreds of hours studying it both as a Christian and after I lost my faith. You’d also already know that I’ve read Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and found the arguments in there unpersuasive. I can, and have, rebutted those arguments on a point by point basis, but you have no way of knowing that because, like so many other “good Christians,” you decided that because I don’t buy into your delusion I must not have bothered to actually read up and studied your belief system.
Do you go around making assumptions with no basis in reality on everything in life? Why should I trust anything you say when it’s clear you don’t know what you’re talking about and are relying on what you think to be true rather than what actually is true?
For evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, see http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html or will you just spend time trying to discredit all that McDowell says as other Atheists are doing.
If that’s the best evidence you can come up with then you may as well move on to other more gullible people as I’m not impressed. I don’t have to try and discredit McDowell’s claims as their lack of veracity should be self-evident to anyone with even a modicum of education.
How can you be so disrespectful of Billy Graham, an humble man who has spent his life helping people change their lives for the better and for eternity.
He’s a hypocrite and a liar. I don’t see any particular need to respect a man who’s a hypocritical liar. See this entry I wrote for a good example of why he’s a hypocrite and liar.
Again, why waste your time????? It’s your choice!
I’m not wasting my time. I don’t know about you, but when I see people espousing lies and acting hypocritically I tend to stand up and call them on it. If you’re going to come here and tell me I’m wrong and not provide any good reasons to make that claim, indeed to demonstrate your ignorance of me and my past history in the process all the while passing judgment on me, then I’m going to take the time to set you straight.
You don’t know me. You are not qualified to tell me how “true” a Christian I once may have been or how much you think I need to study the Bible more because you are clueless as to my past. The fact that you would have the gall to presume to lecture me on my failings without actually knowing what they are is every reason for me to write you off as yet another gullible sheep who’s ability to think for herself has long since atrophied from disuse. You have demonstrated clearly that there is no reason for me to take seriously anything you say because it’s all based on your prejudices and preconceptions and not on reality.
Many prayers are with you,
Whatever floats your boat, Joyce. Though I will say this: Your emails will be useful in at least one regard—they’ll make for a good blog post that’s sure to amuse my readers. Thanks!
Never a dull moment in the SEB mailbag.