Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why I'm going to hell.

I recently bought a new-to-me motorcycle. Since Gina and I share motorcycles, we did some research and together decided on the model of motorcycle to buy. It ended up being a 2009 Honda CBR600RR.

When we were trying to figure out what to buy, Gina kept asking me if I was going to be happy with the Honda because it could be perceived as "a girl's bike." For someone who is into sport bikes, Honda would be considered the most "well behaved", as oppose to something like Yamaha's R6 which would be much more suitable for the track (and therefore much less suitable for the street). I'm not going to pretend that I never think about how manly something may make me appear to be. I am a guy, after all. But at a slight and fair-skinned 5-foot-7, I rarely get mistaken for a lumberjack or professional wrestler, so I've long gotten over worries about fitting other people's ideas of "macho" at the expense of my own comfort.

"Ooooooh, yeah!"

It calls to mind the beggar in "The Life of Brian" who had been healed of his leprosy by Jesus, resulting in the loss of his previously substantial panhandling income. Although Brian gives the (now perfectly healthy) man some money, the man objects that the amount is too little. The exasperated Brian exclaims, "There's no pleasing some people," to which the beggar smartly responds "That's just what Jesus said, sir!"

And if I was buying a motorcycle to please others, then I would be waging a futile war. I could actually buy the Yamaha, but then someone would mock the bike for having a small 600cc engine. If I bought 1000cc bike, someone would tell me it's not physically B-I-G enough, that's it's not expensive enough, or that it's not American (as if a Canadian should care!). If I got a Harley-Davidson to take care of those objectors, then it wouldn't be fast enough. It seems there is always someone willing to move the target somewhere other than where you've already fired your arrow.

Who could object to this?

But this isn't really about motorcycles. How important are they, really? How about (queue thunderclaps) your eternal soul!

Thanks, Blake! That makes me feel better.

I hope that was dramatic enough. But I need to point out that laughing at my girly motorcycle is on a bit of a different plane from telling me I'm going to Hell. When you criticize my motorcycle, it's well understood that you're expressing an opinion, and opinions differ from one bloke to the next. But when it comes to the avoidance of Hell, opinions must be irrelevant - I'm not being told what any one person thinks about me, but what God's plans are for me. Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion, but I have to think that is a bigger deal.

Let's consider Pascal's Wager. Blaise Pascal was a brilliant philosopher, scientist and mathematician who lived and wrote in the 17th century. He was also deeply religious, and he seems to be the first who studied the problem of how man should consider the existence of God from a probability standpoint. His wager (crudely paraphrased) is this: if a man may choose to believe in God or not believe in God: When the man dies, and if God does in fact exist, the believer will be united with God while the unbeliever will burn in Hell for all of eternity. On the other hand, if there really is no God then the fate is the same for both believer and unbeliever: annihilation. By this logic, a reasonable man must believe in God, since he takes a great risk by not believing thus.

For the visual learners.

On the surface this appears to be a convincing argument. However there is one major problem: how does one settle on "belief in God" as the determining factor, and what does this mean? It is a very Christian notion that faith alone is the means of salvation, yet the Bible (and yes I mean the New Testament) contains many passages that are very clear followers must live a certain way. In the Synoptic Gospels, it seems that repentance is what Jesus had in mind for his followers. Heaven knows, I've heard enough sermons about "the root" versus "the fruit" (i.e. if someone really believes, they will repent which will result in observable Christian behaviours on their part). And then again, a large number of Christians (like Catholics) are simply honest about the fact that they believe God requires observance of additional dogmas. This additional standard varies from believer to believer (and conveniently also match their beliefs). How many Christians, when they say "believe in God," assume that includes belief that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus rose from the dead, that believers must make a public statement of their faith, or any other number of doctrines? None of these can be assumed, since I see as many interpretations of the Bible as I believe there have been copies printed.

So within Christian circles, there's essentially always someone who would think my faith, like my motorcycle, isn't "manly" enough.

And what if the Christians aren't even the correct faith? For some reason I never hear Christians say that "1.6 billion Muslims can't be wrong." There is a whole variety of belief systems with different schemes of reward and punishment in this life and the afterlife. Why would I choose Christianity just because I was raised in a Christian part of the world? If it helps, here's a handy graphic showing all the results if you play Pascal's Wager with a number of different religions.

Kinda hard to argue against Universalism once you put it like this.

So it seems pretty obvious that I'm literally damned if I do, damned if I don't. For almost all the practical routes I could choose, an overwhelming majority of the world is convinced that I'm on a one-way ride to the pit of Hell. Of course, it's not the Christians (or the Muslims) that I am trying to impress. Maybe they would be willing to leave that between me and God, and I can try to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. That still doesn't give me any insight into what I need to do - nothing tangible that I can punch into Pascal's calculator.

So what to do then? I believe Pascal's Wager falls over on its premise in much the same way that a guy in a leather-fringed jacket can't really tell me what kind of motorcycle I should ride. Here's my wager: I will be kind to others and true to myself. If whoever is in charge is not happy with that, then I guess I can go to Hell. I'll keep my shorts packed for the occasion.

I'd like to add, if you took the time to read this you might be interested in the following documentary. I think it's on Netflix.