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Atheism, Christianity

Reassurance and Strength of Belief

Imagine a high level meeting in the Oval Office, with the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military officials, and experts in foreign affairs. President Obama stands in front of the anxious crowd and begins to address them with a look of determination.

“Gentlemen and Ladies, I have gathered you here today to discuss something very important — something we all need to remember as we go through our day. This is something so important, I am issuing an executive order instructing each of us to go back to our respective departments, and from now on, send out weekly reminders to all your staff. We need to make sure that we reassure our people of one very, very important fact:  Canada is our ally.  They are not going to invade the United States.

Seems absurd, right?  Doesn’t it seem like a complete waste of time?  Of course Canada is not going to invade the United States! It’s patently obvious, right?  What could we possibly hope to accomplish by going around telling everybody that Canada is not going to invade?

I’ve given you this silly little example to illustrate a very important principle:  We don’t need reassurance for things that we genuinely, deeply believe. We simply go about our life without even thinking of things like this.  Do any of stand on street corners reassuring passers-by that the sun will still be around tomorrow?  No!  Because we all firmly believe it to be true — so much so that it seems crazy to even mention it.

On the other hand, things we’re not sure of make us uneasy.  We seek reassurance.  President Obama does get up in front of the nation from time to time to reassure us that the economy is on its way to recovery, and that we’ll eventually get real health care for everybody.

For an example that’s closer to home, think about the romantic relationships that you’ve had.  If you’re like most people, you’ve been with someone who didn’t love you as much as you loved them.  In those relationships, did you seek out reassurance more than in the ones where you just knew, deep in your heart, that your partner was madly in love with you?

This is normal behavior for humans.  We seek reassurance when we’re unsure.  When we feel very confident, reassurance seems much less important,  and can even be an annoyance.  “Yes, Clyde, I know Canada is not going to invade the U.S.  This is the tenth time you’ve said it today.  Enough already!”

So… the Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question:

Why all the daily Bible Devotionals?  The weekly prayer meetings?  Two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday night?

When I was a Christian, I went through churches like Elizabeth Taylor goes through husbands.  I’ve been to Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Holiness, Church of Christ, and probably several others I am forgetting.  Granted, some talk about heaven and hell more than others, but in damn near every one, we were expected to recite some creed or affirmation of faith including the reassurance that when we died, we’d go to heaven.  Every service.

Now, before you protest by saying that these creeds are for unbelievers…  No.  They’re not.  We didn’t go out on street corners and recite them for passers by.  We recited them when we were together — as believers.

If you’ve got a few extra minutes, I’d like you to go to my post on hell.   The whole thing is worth the read.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the part that’s pertinent to this discussion:

Similarly, the threat of hell has no particular weight upon those who do not believe that it exists.  Since it is supposedly designed specifically as punishment for the crime of not believing that it exists, we must admit we’re faced with a circular argument.  The threat of hell is not sufficient evidence to pursuade someone to believe in it if they don’t believe in it.  The threat of hell only has relevance to those who believe that Jesus exists, but since they believe that Jesus exists, they are presumably in no danger of hell!   In effect, if hell exists, it is only a danger to those who do not find the threat of hell to be a deterrent to nonbelief!

Let me make sure that this point is completely clear.  The threat of hell only bears any weight for those who believe the threat to be credible.  It is not designed to convert the unbelievers.  After all, unbelievers don’t believe, so the threat is empty to them.  It is designed to scare believers into obedience.

The reassurance of heaven works the same way, folks.  For those of us who don’t believe in heaven, what possible good is there in reassuring us that we’re going to go there when we die?  Reassurances of eternal life are for people who believe in eternal life!

What does all this mean?  Well, from one angle, not much.  The degree of certainty we feel about something doesn’t dictate the objective truth value of our belief.  Just because believers are secretly worried about their eternal destination, it doesn’t prove they aren’t going to heaven.  Similarly, my complete lack of concern over my state after death doesn’t prove I won’t be conscious after death.

However, from another point of view, we can take some comfort… reassurance, if you wish… from a couple of observations.  All those books about atheism?  The God DelusionThe End of FaithWhy I Am Not A ChristianWhy I Became an Atheist?  These are not written to reassure atheists.  They are written to convince theists.  I don’t know of a single group of atheists who get together three times a week to reassure each other that there’s no God.  This is indicative of the fact that most atheists feel very comfortable about their views of God, life and death.  They’re not worried.

Think about all the hard sells you’ve heard for Christianity.  How many of them included the promise that you could feel comfort about your eternal destination, and that you wouldn’t have to worry about death anymore?  Most of them, right?  So why is it that the only people reassuring anybody are the ones who claim to be the most at peace?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you example number fifty-seven of theist projection.  They accuse us of their own faults.  Christians are the ones who are worried, and they are the ones who constantly need to reassure themselves of their beliefs. There simply aren’t any atheist social groups to compare them with.

That’s because most of us are ok with death already.  The atheist view of death isn’t bad at all.  It’s the Christian view that causes stress.

And it’s not just about life and death.  Christians are constantly reassuring each other on all manner of doctrine.  By comparison, I don’t know of a single biologist who goes to a biology convention to be reassured of the truth of evolution.  They are often given new information adding to the existing knowledge of evolution, but there is simply no reason to spend time reassuring themselves that evolution occurs.  They all know it.  It would be a waste of time.

This is one of the most glaring inadequacies inherent in Christianity as a hypothesis.  Compared to other hypotheses about the nature of reality — evolution, gravity, space/time, cognitive behavioral theory, etc — the “Christian Hypothesis” needs constant reinforcement.  Even those who claim to believe it firmly spend half their time reassuring each other that they’re on the right path.  I suggest that this is strong evidence that many believers are not sure at all.  In fact, I hear them say it all the time.  “It’s Harder to Believe Than Not To.”

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a fool who buys something from a salesman who doesn’t believe in his own product.

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Discussion

8 thoughts on “Reassurance and Strength of Belief

  1. “Christians are constantly reassuring each other of things.”

    Here is an alternative explanation for this phenomenon. Memes are endlessly rehearsed because that’s what the memes want. The memes are in control.

    People say a thing like “Heaven is real” not because they believe it, nor because they doubt it, but because that’s what you’re supposed to say. That’s how you fit in: by saying the words that everyone says. Otherwise you don’t fit in – and that’s risky.

    The church is a machine set up by memes to facilitate their own propagation.

    Religious tenets don’t mean anything. That’s why they’re such versatile tools for behavioral control.

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 3, 2010, 4:17 am
  2. YASHWATA, I fixed it for you…

    YASHWATA, on September 3, 2010 at 4:17 am Said:

    “Atheists are constantly reassuring each other of things.”

    Here is an alternative explanation for this phenomenon. Memes are endlessly rehearsed because that’s what the memes want. The memes are in control.

    Atheists say thing like “Multiverses is real” not because they believe it, nor because they doubt it, but because that’s what you’re supposed to say. That’s how you fit in: by saying the words that everyone says. Otherwise you don’t fit in – and that’s risky.

    The First Church of Atheim (BTW,A real Atheist Church) is a machine set up by memes to facilitate their own propagation.

    Religious tenets don’t mean anything. That’s why Atheists such versatile tools for behavioral control…..

    Posted by PG | September 3, 2010, 2:06 pm
  3. Hamby said,

    “The atheist view of death isn’t bad at all. It’s the Christian view that causes stress.”

    Heh! I’m not too comfortable with the atheistic view of death. I’d prefer to live “forever” in a universe ripe with new experiences, and some old ones too 🙂

    I agree that some Christian’s view of the afterlife aren’t that appealing. However, i think most are. Most probably imagine that the afterlife will be much like this one, except that they can’t die, they’ll be with their loved ones again, and can do whatever they want. I don’t think this is consistent with some interpretations of the Bible, but since when has that concerned most Christians?

    Posted by mkandefer | September 3, 2010, 2:26 pm
  4. “I don’t think this is consistent with some interpretations of the Bible, but since when has that concerned most Christians?”

    The funny thing is, if it’s not consistent with the Bible, then it’s not a Christian belief. It’s a personal belief. And everyone has their own unique personal version of it. So it’s not beliefs that hold the whole thing together.

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 3, 2010, 2:46 pm
  5. Wow, MK. Living forever sounds… tedious… to me. But I hear what you’re saying.

    I agree with you that Christians feel like once they get to heaven, it’ll be nice, but judging both from my own experience and what I read and hear from lots of Christians, I believe a lot of theists are far from certain that they’ll be going to heaven. There are at least as many nuances in the doctrine of heaven as there are denominations, and smart people notice that. Regardless of how much any believer is reassured that theirs is the correct denomination, there’s still that nagging inconsistency if you they look around and see that others are equally reassured, yet have different beliefs.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 3, 2010, 3:07 pm
  6. I think it’s tedious cause you’re old and grumpy 😛

    Posted by MKandefer | September 3, 2010, 3:42 pm
  7. I meant to say, “I think you think…”

    Posted by MKandefer | September 3, 2010, 3:44 pm
  8. Age has a way of demystifying death.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 3, 2010, 3:50 pm

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