(image from http://www.freeimages.co.uk/)
I was just playing on Twitter, retweeting the occasional thing I found interesting, typing in bad French with no accents on my letters in response to some, the usual. I found a Tweet that caught my interest and followed the link through to a blog.
It was called “Bad Conscience“, and linked on the sidebar to “Bad Science”, the Ben Goldacre site that picks apart the media’s lazy approach to science reporting. So that’s good. Presumably inspired the name.
It’s the 201st most read political blog in the UK, apparently.
The first article looked like it might be worth reading, so I was about to add it to my RSS feed to read every so often at my leisure.
Then I spotted the strapline.
Straplines are important. I know mine’s not perfect yet: “Politics, Europe, Parenting, Faith, Life… because the most interesting things need deep thought and high heels“… I’m working on it still – after all I’ve only had this site a month.
So what’s the big deal? Well, the Bad Conscience website strapline was that old punk slogan “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine“. That’s fairly definite. Can’t get clearer rejection of the Christian faith than that.
For me, there’s a key point in history on which everything rests.
If Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead then that is the most important thing that has ever, ever happened. If he was who he said he was, did what I think – based on all the available evidence – that he did, then it matters.
Everything else – exactly which creation myth you believe in, what your priorities need to be in life, all that sort of thing suddenly becomes clear, and you are free.
If you’re unsure that Jesus was who Christians think he is, then fine.
You could always try an Alpha course if you don’t know enough to make a decision, but if courses are not your thing, I’d urge you to do some reading. Particularly if you are someone that thrives on intellectual persuasion. Try Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” as a much better starting point than the perhaps over-simplistic Alpha course.
If you think Christians have got it wrong because you if you think Jesus was just a historical figure, or a myth that never existed, that’s ok, it’s your choice… well, that’s ok if you’ve bothered to look at the evidence and you’ve found nothing to convince you that he was more than he was just another rabbinical teacher.
I personally find it hard to come to that conclusion based on what the gospels say that he said (as CS Lewis put it “either he was mad or he was God”) but if you approached the history with an open mind, knew that there were some non-gospel sources too (not just Jospehus whose work may have been amended later) recognising the limitations of first and second century historical records and the purposes of writings at that time and the way that rabbinical teaching worked, then there’s little more that I can say.
If you think he was the prophet that Islam identifies, or the not-quite-what-a-Messiah-should-be-error of Judaism, then I guess you’ve done the kind of thinking that I’ve done and come to a different conclusion.
But to put a line up in public that says in effect that you know that Jesus died for someone’s sins, but that you reject the idea that it was for you? Why would you do that?
i) you’ve reviewed the evidence that’s available and you’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus was real and believed that he was dying for people’s sins, but of course he didn’t rise from the dead;
ii) you don’t really know much about any of this and just think it’s a witty thing to write;
iii) you don’t like the idea that God holds people to account and would rather be held responsible for the consequences of your sins than have anyone pay that debt for you, or for those who sin against you;
iv) you really don’t care whether Jesus was real, a myth, what he said or didn’t say. It’s all a long time ago and we’re very sophisticated now and have digital watches and the internet. Pretty good for fish that grew legs, huh?
v) You really do think that Jesus died for someone’s sins, but this simply doesn’t and won’t apply to you…
But how sure are you?
Probably the most sensible comment that can be made- if you can even conceive that once, in the whole of history, a man died and came back to life having said he would do so and why- was by Blaise Pascal.
|“||Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on; by a simple and natural process this will make you believe, and will dull you—will quiet your proudly critical intellect…Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognize that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.||”|
Essentially, if you’re not sure, you’ve less to lose by choosing to believe (Mother theresa is clear in her letters that that’s a choice she made when she could no longer feel God talking to her so I don’t feel that’s living a lie or in any way to be sneered at).
But Pascal explains it much better and you can read the key paragraphs on Wikipedia.
(NB every so often people try to come up with a “knock down” argument against Pascal’s wager. sometimes they misunderstand: he’s not trying to “prove” God. Dawkins argument is overcome by Pascal himself and Richard Carrier’s argument assumes it’s the doing good and seeking out truth elements that would bring pleasure to the god he mentions – which is not the justification by faith salvation that Christians believe in and so I wouldn’t be making his wager!)
According to Wikipedia:
“Historically, Pascal’s Wager was groundbreaking as it had charted new territory in probability theory, was one of the first attempts to make use of the concept of infinity, marked the first formal use of decision theory, and anticipated the future philosophies of pragmatism and voluntarism”
but if you are finding all that a bit heavy going, Terry Pratchett does a brilliant comic version in his book “Hogfather” (ISBN 0-552-14542-4 please do buy it!)…
“This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, “We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…”
The key point is that, as Pascal points out, there is no “I’m not playing” option. In deciding our position on faith, and on Jesus, we are all in effect placing a wager on who he was and what he did.
If God demands perfection, is the source of all that it good and pleasurable and sin separates us from him, and if Jesus was God paying the price of that sin for us then it’s the most important decision you’ll ever make.
And it’s not just a case of betting your life.
Choosing that separation will never make you happy and filfilled.
I don’t think that having a faith automatically makes you a credulous fool. Sometimes, if you’ve reviewed the evidence, thought freely and come to the conclusion that the evidence shows X to be fact as far as it is possible to accertain, then to disbelieve would be the position that was not that of a freethinker.
So if Jesus died for someone’s sins, why not yours?
If you’re aware now that there is a wager that is part of this life, how sure are you?