Friday, July 31, 2009

Pascal’s Insurance Policy

Pascal’s Insurance Policy

You know Pascal’s Wager, right? Either god exists, or he does not. Either you believe in god, or you do not. If god does not exist, nothing happens to either the believer or the non-believer. If god does exist, the believer goes to heaven and the non-believer goes to hell. The believer stands to lose nothing, while the non-believer stands to win nothing. Therefore, believe.

Well, that’s fine, but we never defined “god”. Which god? You can as easily use Pascal’s wager to argue belief for Zeus, Thor, or Odin. Shall we believe in every god ever conceived by man? That’s a lot of gods, and many will not play nice together, especially that christian/jewish/muslim god.

The believer stands to lose nothing? Really. What of all the time spent at church, or at home, worshiping or praying to an imaginary god? What of any and all money donated to churches? You believers ARE donating the first 10% of your gross income every year, aren’t you? It takes a mere decade, and you’ve lost a year’s wages.

The believer stands to gain nothing? Really. What of the freedom and independence from a tyrannical deity? What of the responsibility of finding and making our own path in life? What of the possibility of recognizing reality?

But I had rejected Pascal’s Wager before I had stopped believing in god. Back when I was a believer, before I knew this argument had a name, I realized it fails miserably. No real believer believes BECAUSE of Pascal’s Wager. Believers have faith, not insurance.

That’s how I see Pascal’s Wager: spiritual insurance. But like real insurance, the premiums are sky-high. And just try to get a claim paid with prayer. Go ahead. Try. You’ve nothing to lose, right? I know I’ll get a giggle watching.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Example of the Harm Belief Can Cause

The Alanar Case

Vaughn Reeves, a former pastor in Sullivan County, Indiana, along with his sons, Chip, Chris, and Joshua Reeves have court dates set in a Ponzi scheme that scammed millions of dollars away from unsuspecting Christians. According to the Indiana Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, and the Sullivan County Prosecutor, Robert E. Hunley II, the Reeves were charged with 10 counts of Securities fraud each. For each count of fraud, they face up to 8 years in prison.

The Reeves have been doing this for quite some time. My wife had even heard of Alanar, the umbrella company the Reeves used to cover their illegal endeavors. They sold bonds to churches, promising church construction and expansion projects which never happened. In total, the Reeves were able to sell over $120 million in fake bonds, and stole more than $6 million. In a story covered by my local paper, the Tribune Star, a couple reported they had given the Reeves more than $300,000. They described as everything they had; it was their lives’ savings.

I was talking about the story at work. One of my co-workers remarked that she didn’t understand why anyone would give $300,000 to a complete stranger, no matter how good the sales pitch was. I explained how the Reeves were able to pull this off.

According to the documents available at and, the Reeves made sure a complete stranger was not the person selling the bonds. Vaughn Reeves was a former pastor in Sullivan County. He had friends and connections within the churches nearby. He didn’t go to each church and sell his fake bonds; he went to the pastor and duped him. They would tell the pastor to sell more bonds to his congregation, and to set a good example, he should buy the most bonds. So the pastor would go out to his congregation thinking he had found a new way to fund his church and keep the lights on. The congregation would follow the pastor, often to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

The Reeves didn’t just dupe the pastor; they trained him on how to dupe his congregation. Sales calls would begin with a prayer. Bible quotes would be dropped in the middle of a call. They would tell people, “Never sell the facts. Sell warm stewardship and the Lord.” They integrated religion with the sales pitch.

My co-worker was right; no one would give a complete stranger thousands of dollars. But they might give that kind of money to the pastor they had known and trusted for years. A simple sales pitch could never convince anyone to do this. But religion defies logic and reason so much, that it can spill over to how we view our finances and our futures. You can view a list of deposits made by the Reeves. Almost all of them come from churches. Many are for huge amounts.

I hear believers say atheism is responsible for the greatest atrocities in history. Most atheists reply that none of these atrocities happened because people were being too skeptical or too rational. Believers ask what harm can come from belief. An unscrupulous person can easily take advantage of your belief. While I cannot understand why an all-powerful deity would value faith over all other virtues, it is easy for me to see why power-hungry men would.

The Alanar scam would never have worked on an atheist. Indeed the prosecutor states that the Reeves expertly played upon the religious beliefs of their victims. If you are wondering what harm can come to you by believing in religion, the Alanar scam is a perfect example. Belief in the supernatural predisposes you to being scammed. Especially by clergy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Meaningless Life without God

A Meaningless Life without God

I hear this alot; that without God life is meaningless. I remember holding such a position before I discovered its flaws. I often see others confused by this statement. Allow me to explain my previous position.

You may have to read more about me to understand how involved with religion my childhood was. Suffice to say, I was inundated with religion. As I began to move away, this point struck major chords with me. If there is no God, how can my life have meaning? If God does not exist, what is my purpose in life? I felt baffled by these questions. I felt terrified that there seemed to be no answer to them. Looking back, I had every reason to be frightened.

Since I could remember, people would tell me things like this, “You are here to serve and love God.” “Your purpose is to fulfill God’s plan for you.” When you are little, say 5 or 6 or so, these seem like solid, intelligent answers, and why shouldn’t they? These answers come from some of the most trustworthy sources I had at my disposal. Combine these simple answers with the routine of Catholic prayer, and it is easy to think you have defined your life, when you have not. And thus, the fear.

I was moving away from religious answers. But how would my life retain meaning? How can I make meaning for my life without God? It seemed impossible. Imagine you are bird, living in a cage. You’ve lived in a cage forever. Now you want out of the cage, but where do you go? How will you eat? Do you really want to leave the only life you know behind for a chance at freedom that comes with great peril? Some birds would choose to stay. I did not.

There I was, left with a meaningless life. I had almost resigned myself to stop looking when it dawned on me. THIS IS THE CHALLENGE! The problem with religion is that it gives you answers that you are supposed to work to get. The meaning in your life is what you make it. It is not what God makes it; it is not what your religion makes it; it is what YOU make it. Each of us has to find our own way through life. Religion offers what seems to be a good roadmap, but it’s more like a tour. Imagine you are a new immigrant to a foreign land. You came to this country looking to begin anew and leave the past in the past. Would you first go on a commercial tour of the country to discover its opportunities? Wouldn’t you rather begin to make connections with people and discover the opportunities that they presented? I see religion as a tour. Only look here, here and here. Don’t look there and please don’t look over there. This is where our great monument to the past is located. Isn’t it pretty?

Religion is seductive. It offers quick, easy answers to life’s hard questions. It seems to be the solution, but it’s not. Even if you but into it, even if you give your life to God or Jesus, even if you do this with all your ability, you fond yourself further from the answers, not closer. Now you must pray, go to church, sing and worship. These things seem designed to distract you from ever realizing the answers you think you have are all lies.

After dropping God, I had to find a way to re-ask the questions I thought I had answered in childhood. More than that, I needed new answers. Without the benefit of religion, I had to turn inward to find these. I started a journal. I kept a record of my thoughts and reflections. I wrote in the journal for five days, read them on the sixth, and reflected on the seventh. This pattern made me feel like I still connected with my old self. Regardless, I found it extremely helpful. As I begin down my newly discovered atheist identity, I fond myself doing the same again. This time I have the internet and myspace, and while I may not be able to write five days a week, I find myself with more then ever to record.

More than ever, I find purpose in life. Now that I am forced to determine my own meaning, I find greater responsibility to DO what inspires me. Without God to spoon-feed me answers and comfort, I must find my own. This means I have to do my best to get it right the first time; I may not have another. Instead of finding life meaningless without God, I find it has more meaning.

Yes, life without God can have meaning, but only if you put it there. Really, isn’t that what would have happened if your prayers to God had been answered? Is God necessary to find inspiration? No, he’s not. I’m glad I found my motivation and inspiration. I’m thrilled I didn’t need to look into superstition to do so. Perhaps now I can be an inspiration to those close to me. That seems to be a fine purpose: to be an inspiration, because God isn’t here, we are.