As soon as I posted my answer to the question, “What do you believe happens to you when you die?” in my last blog post, I received a follow-up question: “What if you’re wrong?”
It’s a fair question, and it deserves a thorough answer. After all, the implications are huge. It’s a question about which I have read, contemplated, and asked other people.
What If You’re Wrong?
First, allow me to pose the same question to you. What if you are wrong? How do you know which god is the right one? There are so many gods, religions, and holy books, how can you be sure that your chosen faith is the right one? What if you die only to find out that Allah or Zeus is the one true god and you’ve spent your life serving a false prophet?
Your question asserts Pascal’s Wager, which is a philosophy that says one should believe in god because the threat of eternal punishment outweighs any advantage to not believing. But the problem with this reasoning is that it is drenched in fear, not love, which is incompatible with a benevolent, compassionate god.
The god of Christianity is often attributed with two noteworthy qualities: ultimate benevolence (love, compassion, and kindness) and omnipotence (knowing everything possible from every point of view and in every context). So if this god exists, he utterly loves me and completely knows me.
This god would perfectly understand the events that built my psyche, personality, and paradigm. He would appreciate everything that challenged me, changed me, or forced me to think differently, including the moment that I doubted his existence.
He would intimately understand my morals and ethics and appreciate why I resolved to approach religious claims critically and cautiously, not accept them readily on faith.
He would be aware of the countless times I read, studied and memorized scripture, and the verses that I found horrifying, illogical, or irreconcilable with the claim that a just and loving god concerned with our salvation inspired them.
This being would know that I valued the truth, took it seriously, and sought it earnestly. I didn’t believe something just because I wanted it to be true or doubt something simply because I wanted it to be false.
He would know that I didn’t reject his existence out of rebellion, bitterness, or hate. I would have much preferred that a loving god exist and would have happily obeyed his commands, but there were too many contradictions and claims requiring special pleading, circular reasoning, and ad hoc speculation.
He would understand that I could not simply pick what I believed to be true, and perfectly comprehend that my disbelief was an involuntary reaction to a deficit of evidence for a god’s existence.
He would appreciate that I found it unacceptable and dishonorable to pretend to believe in a god because I feared punishment or sought reward.
I asked a friend of mine who considers himself an atheist “for the most part” 🙂 “What if you’re wrong?” He replied:
“In the eyes of religion, if I am wrong then I’ll be going to hell. Regardless of the fact I’m a moral man, because I did not accept a savior or accept a god into my life, I’d be screwed either way. So instead of blindly following a religion based around the Quran, or Bible, or any other work of religion, I choose to accept that the things around are living evidence. Science and logic have multitudes of theoretical answers about what happens after we die. I’d rather trust a theory that’s based upon scientific and mathematical fact, than a book that has been rewritten and warped over thousands of years. So ultimately if I am wrong, then I will have to answer to whomever is waiting for me after death, but I’d rather truly believe in a false logic, than blindly follow an illogical faith.“
Here is another atheist’s response to “What if you’re wrong?” that is funny and to the point:
“I’d say that if God exists then the most likely situation is that “He” created the universe via the Big Bang and then let everything play out from there.
So if I got to heaven, then I guess my fate would be determined by the kind of person God wants in there. Does he want kind and loving people, or perhaps observant and intellectual people?
If it turns out that God only wants people who hold onto one specific religion out of hundreds of denominations based on its specific anecdotal evidence while rejecting all other anecdotal evidence then yeah, I’m pretty much screwed in that case.”
For another excellent response, watch this.
One of my favorite quotes is by Galileo, who said
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”
If there is a god, I would think he would be pleased with the way I employed the intelligence and moral sense he gave me, even if it turned out that I was wrong.
Good thing I’m not. 😉