The other day I was having a discussion about "beliefs" and such with a long time friend and co-worker. He has always listened to me ramble on about what I believe and has never, until now, said anything in response. He said that he had a challenge for me. I was shocked because he never really "participated" in any of my "ramblings" so I was curious as to what it might be. This man has been my friend for over 15 years and is someone who taught me a thing or two about electrical work ( I am an electrician). He has children and is a Christian. His challenge was this: You're in Afghanistan, you're being overrun by the enemy and you know this is the end. You know you will never see your wife or family ever again. If you have no faith, what will you cling to in that moment? Will I be able to remain an atheist, or will I revert back to what I was before? A christian. I had to stop for a moment and think about this. Humans will do and say crazy and things when faced with injury or death. I remember shortly after my "conversion" to atheism, this same friend was in a serious electrical accident that burned his face and hands. After he was taken to the hospital, myself and another electrician had to restore the power to the building. During this time, as I was "suiting up" in my arc flash gear, I remember thinking, "Please let him be okay and please don't let me or anyone else get hurt when we re-energize the power". After things calmed down, I thought to myself, "Who were you talking to?". Was I praying? I think I was! I was upset with myself because I never want to be hypocritical with what I believe. I have thought long and hard about who I am. I did not become an atheist overnight. It took many years. From Christian to agnosticism to atheism. I told myself that some habits are hard to break. I used to "pray" all the time. This is something I needed to work through.
So, my answer to the challenge? I truly hope that I will remain true to myself if ever faced with another situation like that or the situation he described. Hopefully I'll never have to find out the answer! Let me know what you think.
Go back and challenge your friend. Give him this scenario. You're going into battle, you're choosing your gear, you've got your rifle, your water, everything except... do you take body armor? Its a perfect outline of the paradox of believing in God. You know that God has a plan and when its your time to go meet him, he'll take you no matter what. And yet, you still wear body armor. As if God couldn't stop all those bullets on his own.
is this petty, probably, does it prove their isn't a god, no, but it does entertain me. That, after all, is the spice of life.
Indeed, since God has a plan for everyone, why bother picking up your rifle? Go have a beer and let don't interfere with the plan. In fact, aren't you risking Hell if you get in His Way?
Let's see - a bullet in the brain now, vs the remote possibility of a hell later - well now, I'll have to think on that a spell and get back to you --
A favorite quote of mine by Marcus Aurelius admonishes us to live good, noble lives, because if there are Gods, and they are just, then they won't care who you worshiped, only that you were a good and honorable person. If they care more about who you worshiped than how you lived, they're not just, but petty and cruel; therefore, why would you bother worshiping them? I resolved a long time ago to live as good a life as I could, and not give a rat's ass about what comes after death. It may be the arrogance of youth talking, but I have firmly resolved to die, fully expecting it to be the End. Final, Finis. However if it turns out that I'm wrong, and heaven and hell are real, and the God in charge is a petty dick, then at least I'll be going to hell honestly.
Wouldn't you just be clinging on to your life?
Answer with this line from 'The African Queen', an old 1951 movie about the military/evangelical efforts of a priest's sister in East Africa during WWI:
"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."
I came across this line, and thus the movie, in a book by Stephen Pinker in which he argues (as part of a larger point) that the fact that we are predisposed towards certain actions, beliefs, tendencies, conditions etc. does not mean we are fated to those things, or that those things are in any sense correct, or that we don't have a responsibility to choose otherwise.
It may be true (in fact, it certainly seems to be true) that people have a natural inclination towards religiosity. My favored explanation for this fact is that humans have evolved their explanatory style in a fundamentally social setting, with tendencies to explain things couched in concepts of intentional agents. This explains a wide variety of religious phenomena, from animist cults to judeo-christian monotheisms, as well things like seeing Jesus' face on a piece of fabric, toast etc., or the natural assumption that 'someone' is directing the misfortunes that seem to be intended just for you. The fact that this is man's natural way of thinking about the world does not lend any credence either to the factuality of the supernatural or to the idea that such thinking is the 'proper' manner of explanatory style for humans (this equation of natural with proper is known as the naturallistic fallacy). Such thinking precludes the kind of rigorous scientific exploration of the world that gave us the heliocentric theory of the solar system, the germ theory of disease, and the evolutionary theory of life. The movement of planets, the occurence of disease, and the existance of life was all 'explained' to the satisfaction of many people before the modern theories I mention came around; they simply relied on our natural tendency to assume an intentional agent behind any event. In sum: the fact that there may be no atheists in foxholes says nothing about the accuracy of the beliefs we invent to comfort ourselves.
There is certainly nothing reprehensible, from an atheist's point of view, about giving into the natural mode of thinking about the world, for a brief moment, in your own mind. What makes this acceptable is that you have not crossed the line drawn by Pascal, i.e. you have not cynically accepted your subservience to such impulses at the expense of your reason, just on the chance that there may be a god who's watching and judging you. As long as you keep 'renewing your faith' in atheism (by which I mean examining your own beliefs and prejudices from an unbiased viewpoint and jettisoning those that have no foundation), there is nothing that can be said against your comittment atheism as a worldview.
Eventually, the word prayer will be replaced with "hope". You were hoping everyone would be ok! Yeah, we all get caught talking to ourselves sometimes. Actually, if you could get into your own head you'd see that we're talking to ourselves all the time, even while dreaming! Reply: But, we're always within our own head!
"we're always within our own head!" - but sometimes out of our mind --
Recently I was waiting at a bus stop during an off and on downpour and thunderstorm. Though the rain had stopped, the thunder and lightning were picking up, the flashes getting brighter, the thunder louder, and the two closer together each time. All the sane people had either shown up just in time to catch their bus or had taken shelter at one of the fast food joints down the block... I was very much alone. I was already quite nervous owing to the above mentioned factors and the fact that their was no viable shelter or protection from lightning within a walking distance I was willing to brave... or the fact that the ground had a thick layer of water and the rain had soaked me well... a perfect target for electric discharge.
A blinding glare and deafening roar from directly overhead came immediately together, causing me to reflexively recoil and tightly close my eyes. I recalled that the time between a flash and the sound of thunder was an indication of how close the lightning struck from a person's viewing point and worried at just how close the last strike had been.
The thought entered my head that I might be killed... perhaps I would die rather miserably in a hospital, in plain sight of worried family members. The random noise from the surrounding intersections and highway became eerily quite; the light of the environment looked very surreal; everything seemed to slow down. Past suggestive thoughts from my religious days nagged at my brain and the creeping thoughts entered my head: Wouldn't you like to believe that God is waiting for you? Wouldn't your fear be eased... wouldn't you be comforted if you prayed to him?
I spent a moment pondering my thoughts, then concluded in my head that believing that a god was hearing my prayers and would protect me or accept me into heaven wouldn't make it more or less true. It would not make me any less apt to die... my family any less apt to mourn. I could be struck dead without even realizing it. I accepted the fact that death would take me at some time or another and there would be nothing left of me, and though it was not the first time doing so, it was certainly better practice than usual. I thought about how certain family might react to my passing; I hoped in my heart that they would be okay if something did happen to me.
In summary, I think on our death throes our thought priorities should be the things that matter most: our friends, family, good people still among the living, etc., and our memories thereof. I think your friend is mistaken to suggest or imply that we need something to "cling" to at that time... particularly places or beings which none of us has ever seen... these would be a poor use of our precious last moment. To be clear though, I certainly wouldn't blame you for doing so... years of belief and practice don't easily brush off.
That's dark, man. Dark.
Once posted, it should have been obvious there was a problem - using the 15-minute delay in editing time, if Dave had clicked on the HTML button in the tool bar overhead, gone into the message and deleted the bracketed piece of code <yada, yada, yada> that contained the word, "color." followed by a number "# ______" the post would have reverted to its default color, white.
He can still copy it to a text program, which should remove the HTML coding, then re-copy it and paste it back here, which should solve the problem - if the code stays with it, which I don't think it will, but it would depend on the text program, he can always go back to plan A and change the code.