Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Does Anyone Actually Believe in God?

I believe in the Inland Revenue.

I hate the very idea of involuntary taxation. I think that collaboration with it is a form of partial slavery.

I am very deeply sceptical about the uses to which my ex-money is put. There are certain things which need to be done by the state. There are certain things the state does well. But most of the money the state takes from me without my consent seems to be pissed up the wall on rubbish.

Fully fifty percent of everything that is done in England is done because the state compels it.

As a child, I was a communist. I would have thought, then, that putting half the population of England into slavery 'for their own good' was taking things a bit far.

I am not a communist any more, and yet I pay my taxes. I have not ever committed the slightest tiny tax fraud, not even claiming lunch on expenses, even though I would feel morally justified. In fact I would feel that I was striking a tiny blow for freedom.

But I believe in the Inland Revenue. If you do that sort of thing and get caught then they will make your life hellish for many years. It is not even slightly worth it, even though the chances of getting caught are tiny.

And heaven help you if you're caught in a big fraud. You can hear the rubber gloves being pulled on now.

I salute the heroes who have suffered incarceration, which is torture, in the cause of freedom.

And yet I will not be joining them.

Because I believe in the Inland Revenue.

If I believed in God, as I remember from school, there would be at least two things that I should do.

I should turn the other cheek if attacked. (What a disgusting doctrine.)

I should give all my money to the poor. Even if I were poor myself. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

If I believed in God, I would believe in a power that was aware of my every action, and which would set fire to me for all eternity if I failed to live up to His standards.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The bit in the bright red italics seems important.

I would find God a lot more scary than I find the Inland Revenue. I would probably go mad with terror. Certainly I would examine every tiny cryptic hint that God had ever given as to what I was supposed to do with my life, and I would do it diligently. If I believed in God the same way that I believe in the Inland Revenue.

I never heard that the Bible said that it was important to go to Church, which Christians do a lot. But it's probably not forbidden either. Probably they like the singing and the company. I would love to have some friends to sing with on a Sunday morning.

But the central messages of Christianity are non-violence, and compassion for the poor.

There are people starving. There are children dying, who could be saved with money that people who say they believe in God spend on television licences.

I do nothing about this. That is because, although I think that God might exist, I think that the chances of that are somewhere below the chances of me accidentally catching fire for all eternity. And I will not multiply an infinitesimal chance by an infinite amount of pain and act on that basis, because that doesn't work if there's more than one unlikely painful thing.

If I thought there was a 1% chance of God existing, I would become a missionary. And I would swear a vow of poverty, and I would devote my life to helping the poor, and I would never hurt anyone even if they were attacking my mother.

Because nothing anyone could do to me or my mother would remotely compare with eternal torture. In my mind or hers.

So it seems to me that the fact that I do not do these things is an irrefutable proof that I do not believe in even the tiniest chance of the existence of God.

Oooh, I have just written a sermon. I wonder if I am doing the Lord's work in spite of myself?


  1. Would your assessment of the probability of a god's existence change if you were to reframe its nature? What if it were just like the Inland Revenue? Not all-knowing, liable to error and inconsistent with its penalties? What if this god was like an overworked manager, struggling to keep a handle on everything, constantly 'satisficing', making do and prone to being distracted by the World Cup or X-factor?

  2. I'd still think it vanishingly unlikely. Why would you call such a thing God? It would just be another power in the world, and probably not very adept at concealing its existence. If such a thing existed I'd expect there to be strong evidence of its existence if it had any interest in us or effect on us at all.

    I mean, one doesn't need to have faith in earthquakes or dragons. They either exist or they don't, and their consequences are obvious.

    One does need faith to believe in the Loch Ness Monster or freak waves at sea, or Chthulhu, but then they would have very little effect on our lives whether they existed or not.

    Of course, once Chthulhu awoke, it would be a different matter. Faith would not be required.

    My point above was not that I don't believe in God. It's that some people I know think I that I do, and the same standard that convinces me that I don't also convinces me that nobody else does either. Whatever they say.

  3. So no-one believes in god(s) because your logic is universal, and those that think they do are either deceiving themselves or lying when they claim they do? It's fair enough to consider inadequate a case for gods that others are willing to accept (generally called 'faith') but your position goes beyond that. You are a Fundamental Aetheist.

  4. Well, if there's a hole in my logic, what is it? If I believed in God, I'd do what he told me to do. Why would that not apply to believers?

    So yes, I think that people who claim to be believers are probably deceiving themselves. They believe in the Revenue, and so they do what it says because it is scary. They believe in a scary God, but they do not do what he says.

    Have I made some glaring mistake here?

  5. I think you have made a different point here. People who claim to believe in god behave badly and therefore they cannot really be convinced they will pay the price. Fair enough, unless your god is tolerant and forgiving.

    My issue is your absolutism. There is only one logic (yours) for testing the existence of gods. I like you, demand a higher level of proof. Others are satisfied with less.

    By judging them by your logic, and asserting that really they know your logic is correct, the only conclusion you can arrive at is that they are liars or deluded. This is why your position is fundamentalist.

    If instead, you accept they simply have a different paradigm, you are no longer obliged to form such harsh views of them. Their motives are sound, even if their paradigm sucks.

    Cthulu drinks in the Green Dragon.

  6. I think the idea of turning one's cheek refers to an inner turning, not an outer one. The idea is not to hate anybody and not to resist evil.

    Resisting evil only makes it stronger. It's all there in *The Fifth Element*:

    (Also, forgiving one's enemies is the only way to forget them.)

  7. To clarify a bit more:

    Resisting evil is not the same thing as, say, blocking a punch. One can block the punch, without hating the puncher. Indeed, one can even *admire* his skill/courage/incisiveness.

  8. Hey man I agree with your sentiments. I don't think anyone TRULY believes in God, yes perhaps socially they do and they've basically convinced themselves that he does exist but ultimately they probably don't believe if they walk around not doing his works..risking eternal damnation. I think I'm a testimony to this paradigm considering I claimed to be a Christian just a few months ago and yet when I sat down and tried to improve my faith I ended up debunking it once I tried rationalizing it. Of course, many Christians believe that faith is all that is necessary so of course religion works for them because it is the ultimate cop out..whatever they do they can feel fine and dandy when going to sleep, because they're still "saved". Don't get me wrong, I don't think religion is all in all a bad thing, I think for many people it's a great thing but I don't think the same is true for me. I've never had that great of a Church life and when I did I felt absolutely horrible about myself as a person.

    However what ultimately caused to me to stop believing was me trying to rationalize free will. It seems very narcissistic of us to think that because we were born into a family with x beliefs we're going to heaven but people across the ocean born into a different family with y beliefs aren't going to heaven because they think something differently. How was it a choice for me to be a Christian? I was brought up that way, seems like an unfair advantage to me. Regardless it doesn't matter because psychology teaches that our behavior is caused by two things, personality and environment. So I'm born with my personality and studies have shown that these characteristics are very stable throughout one's life...and I don't choose my environment I'm brought up in, or even the daily interactions that really how much say do I have in anything? Just the same as a mouse going through a maze trying to find the cheese, it may seem like I have a choice but then I hit a wall and realize, nope, pretty much limited to one path in a cosmic sense.