Saturday, July 14, 2012

Heaven: assumed

We've all come home to find religious materials stuffed in our front door or tucked next to the mailbox. Typically it's the usual Watchtower magazine or flyer. Well, now a semi-local evangelical Baptist church has gotten in on the act. Usually I just toss them in the pile of things to put in the recycling bin, but this one caught my eye. It wasn't the quality on the tract. Unlike the Watchtower books that are professionally printed, this one was a cheap photocopy on colored paper. It was much less wordy than the Watchtower books, so I actually did bother to read it in it's brief entirety. I did take notice of it's claim that it was making with loud certainty... and more importantly the address listed right on the back. So I decided to partake in the likely pointless activity of writing the pastor a letter in response. The following is that letter...

Pastor Jeff,

I returned home from a long day of work Thursday to find one of your churches small blue fliers stuck in my door. I really wish your congregation didn’t blanket the area with these pamphlets, as the vast majority likely wind up in the rubbish bin. I can only hope that some were put in with the recycling collection like mine. But that isn’t the reason for this note. You see, the distributed paper included the wording “HOW TO KNOW 100% FOR SURE, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THAT YOU WOULD GO TO HEAVEN.” (Emphasis, yours.) However, there’s a problem with this claim. You claim that people can know “100% for sure”, yet is this really true? This claim is actually based on a few base assumptions, so you actually can’t be “100% sure”. Allow me to elaborate…

Assumption 1) First you must assume that there is some sort of heaven or afterlife to even go to. Granted, only those who already believe in an afterlife will be interested in the information within your distributed pamphlet. Yet you must still assume that there is a heaven, as one has not been proven to exist, nor is there even evidence to exist that it does.

Assumption 2) Next you must assume that some sort of god exists. Just as with the assumption of heaven, you are forced to assume that there is a deity in control of this place and it’s rules for entry. Again, as with the afterlife, this has yet to be proven as true.

Assumption 3) After you assume that some sort of deity exists, you are left assuming that the god that you believe in is the correct god. Remember, there have been thousands of gods through the centuries. Deistic, monotheistic, polytheistic? Statistically, it is much more likely that you have chosen the wrong god (should one exist), since none have had their existence verified and proven.

Assumption 4) Now that you have your god picked out, you need to assume that the holly text attributed to him/her is an accurate representation of his/her true nature and requirements for entry into heaven. If the holly book is not an accurate representation, then quoting verses is of no use. Especially if the verses are inaccurate in their claimed desires of said god.

Assumption 5) Assuming that the text is accurate, you must assume that your interpretation is the correct interpretation as well. Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical, and many, many more. Even if we focus on Christianity, there are several different sects that differ enough in their interpretation of the Bible that they deem it necessary to separate themselves from the others.

So as you see, you can’t truly claim that people can know “100% for sure” if they will go to heaven. In order for this claim to be true, you must assume that there is a heaven, that there is a god, that you’ve selected the correct one, that his holly text is an accurate representation of his will, and that you’ve interpreted the text correctly. Far too many assumptions for anyone to claim 100% certainty.

-A friendly neighborhood atheist

Now, I understand that writing this church a letter and pointing out the obvious was likely a waste of time that will result in nothing. But it did allow me to vent a little after a frustrating day, as well as letting the pastor know that his flyers aren't welcome and that not all blindly accept what he's selling. Some may respond to say that science doesn't provide 100% certainty either, and admittedly they would be correct. However there is a wide gulf between what science can tell us and what religion tells us. Whereas religious faith just makes a baseless claim and asserts it as unquestionable fact, scientific knowledge is based on tests and evidence. Science may not be able to say that a thing is 100% the truth, but it can say that all the evidence and tests run point toward the conclusion that the conclusion in question is the truth. It never says that something is 100% unquestionably true, but leaves even the strongest conclusion open to revision should new evidence arise. It's all about the expansion of knowledge and deeply caring that what we believe, or hold to be true is as accurate a portrayal of reality as the facts at hand can tell us. That is a wonderful thing that no assumed paradise can overcome.


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