In the closing moments of Ravi’s talk, he mentions that without God, there is no recovery (or as I understood it, no redemption or salvation). He then follows with the famous Pascal’s Wager: “If you rejected him, and you turned out to be wrong, that was a huge gamble you took in life.”
He then mimics Pascal talking to an audience of atheists: “Look, boys, if I’ve been wrong, what is your test for meaning? Happiness. But I’ve been happy. So if I die, I die. But if you boys are wrong in rejecting him, you’ve got a king-sized headache coming at the end of it, for having rejected the one who made you and framed you.”
I have already debunked Pascal’s wager in one of my earlier articles, False Dichotomies, but the gist of it is that Pascal assumed that one only had to choose between Christianity or nothing. The reality is much more complicated — one can choose to be a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Sikh, a universalist, a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, “spiritual but not religious,” and so on and so forth. What if one of those others are right instead of Christianity? Some researchers have estimated that there are around 4,000 religions all over the world today. So it’s not a 50-50 chance as Pascal would like you to believe, but only around 0.025 percent. Even if you only consider the 5 major world religions, that still just a 20% chance that you’re correct. The odds are still against you and you have also taken a huge gamble, my friend.
This talk of “rejection” is also inaccurate and misleading. A study by Tom W. Smith of the University of Chicago finds that 67% of people stay with the religion they were born with (in a paper entitled Counting Flocks and Lost Sheep: Trends in Religious Preference Since World War II). So for most people, it is not even a question of rejection but simply of staying faithful to what one was raised to believe — a sensible reaction given the harsh cultural and social ramifications of turning one’s back on one’s religion in many societies. In many middle-eastern countries, for example, the punishment for rejecting Islam is death.
Even some “Christian” groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses have a practice called “shunning” to those members who reject their faith. A friend of mine, Gamahiel Tutor, a former JW elder, related to me his personal experience of this when he questioned the church officials too much. When he finally couldn’t take it anymore and turned away, he was “shunned” which meant that his former friends and relatives regarded him as dead to them. They wouldn’t talk to him nor have any sort of relationship with him.
Can one really be accused of “rejecting” God when it just so happened that one was born into the “wrong” religion and the price of conversion was too high, or one never got a chance to hear about Jesus, or one heard about it from an unconvincing source?
Besides, I find it absurd and unjust that a decision you make in this life affects your afterlife for all eternity. And that decision is made in circumstances that can hardly be called fair. One is supposed to trust secondhand sources (not God himself) for this monumental decision — and sometimes these sources are not credible enough. One is called to “have faith” instead of being presented with convincing evidence. If my single encounter with Christianity is with a bumbling Christian who cannot answer my skeptical and probing questions with nothing other than, “Just believe and pray. God will answer you in the stillness of your heart,” or some other useless advice like that, can I be faulted for rejecting the message due to the poor delivery of the messenger or his refusal to engage in a more critical discussion?
Look at it this way. If I were to send a message to my son through a friend saying, “Please buy 5 apples and 2 oranges,” but my friend wrongly relays the message and my son shows up with 2 apples and 5 oranges, do I put the blame on my son or on my friend? In fact, the blame might even be on me because I might not have double-checked to make sure my friend got the message right in the first place. I would never punish my son for getting it wrong because of the messenger’s faulty delivery.
That being said, I find the entire idea of there being no more chance at redemption after death absurd if God were indeed loving and just (and if the soul does indeed exist). Why would he make it so if he were loving and just? Apologists, of course, have crafted several replies to this but so far none of them have satisfied me and I remain unconvinced. If that is enough to warrant me an eternity in hell, then so be it. I probably couldn’t stand to be in such a “heaven” with a megalomaniacal deity and his minions anyway.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.