The End Is Nigh

So someone started a rumor that the Rapture is coming this weekend. For those unfamiliar with the details of Rapture, this event, imagined up by some christians a few hundred years ago, involves god picking some of us humans (144,000, I think) for an express trip to heaven. The rest are left behind, and eventually wind up in hell. Ever since the first prediction, prideful individuals have set dates for the Rapture which have come and gone. This whole idea has to be one of the loopiest to come from “people of faith,” and that is saying something.

Anyway, I’ve been looking for a way to mark this occasion when I came across a particularly funny take on the topic: FAQ for my Students: The Rapture. There are six items on the list, and it’s hard to pick a favorite to sample here so I’ll just quote the first Q/A:

Q: With the rapture coming, should I bother working on my final paper?
A: Yes. The odds are you will not be judged worthy of ascent to heaven, in which case your grades will still be a basis of judgment for rewards in this earthly sphere.

Although I rarely do, I spent time reading through the comments, and one in particular jumped out at me. As it happened, I was not alone: almost all of the rest of the comments focused on the same entry, and all of my thoughts came out somewhere there. The comment begins:

Look, I don’t claim to know when the rapture will occur, nor do I pretend to. I do, however, have a problem with people who have a problem with my beliefs. If I feel a need to go out to a street corner and preach the Word of God every day until the end of time, that’s my business. I would like to know why there is now a growing trend towards the brutal teasing of Christians.

So, it’s “First Amendment for me, but not for thee” time. I can go out and preach my beliefs, but woe to those who disagree. It continues:

Personally, I think the people who laugh and joke about Christian “superstitions” are the same people who feel a certain amount of curiosity about our beliefs.

Hard to argue with that logic considering that the biggest gay-bashers end up being caught with their pants down in the men’s restroom at the airport. It gets better:

You don’t understand us, and you may even feel threatened by us.

Well, yes, and yes. I do not myself understand the need to subjugate my own reason and will to that of others. And have you payed attention to the history of Western Civilization? Religions, including the christian varieties, have been the source of much violence, hate and repression. Just as a for instance, Dr. George Tiller, a physician in Wichita Kansas, had a real reason to be afraid of christians. Although he survived a gun shot earlier in his life, he was killed two years ago this month by a right-wing christian who disagreed with his professional work. So yes, there is reason to fear religious adherents.

The comment continues by playing the victim card and calling the non-believers who brutally tease people of faith bullies. Then came a line that made my History of Math course completely worthwhile:

Push me around all you want, enough so that you can convince yourself that Christians are wrong. Believe what you want, but what if you’re wrong?

“But what if you’re wrong” is nothing more than Pascal’s Wager, a proposition by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)which states  that assuming the existence of god has great upside and little downside (depending on whether you are right or wrong, respectively). Similarly, assuming the non-existence of god has great downside and little upside (depending on whether you are wrong or right, respectively). So, in the end, it is better to bet on the existence of god. This, of course, is complete moral cowardice. If you believe, do so openly and do not rely on any form of logic because logic and faith are mutually exclusive. (Note: the very next comment in the list pointed out that this was Pascal’s Wager, but I did think of it on my own.)

A little digression here: Among the vile byproducts of religion noted above (violence, etc.) add the promotion of ignorance. Here in particular I point to Pascal himself. From The History of Mathmatics, An Introduction, Sixth Edition (Burton, 2007, p. 446):

As a mathematician, Pascal has been described as the greatest might-have-been in history. His mathematical reputation rests more on what he might have done than on what he actually accomplished. During much of his life, his researches were impeded by poor health [. . . ] and religious concerns.

The book later notes (p, 450):

On November 23, 1654, [. . .] he resolved to abandon the study of mathematics to devote himself single-mindedly to religious activity.”

He proceeded to write a series of pamphlets taking a side in an intra-Catholic dogmatic dispute. He did so anonymously because in France at the time “Catholicism was the state religion and ridiculing sacred things was a political crime.” Indeed.

Back to the “comment,” it ends:

I can’t show you Heaven or let you interview Christ, but I can assure you that I feel something very real when I pray. I have had many doubts myself, but I’m always reassured that God is real and that Jesus died to save my life. It’s a beautiful story, really. I can’t ignore it or turn away from it. I’m His forever, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I highly recommend it.

Much the same might be said of taking LSD, but I’m leery of highly recommending it.

The post is found on, and I was tipped off to it by a DKos Roundup. I spent most of this entry on a comment, but the post itself is worth reading. I don’t know the author(s), but I spent quite a bit of time reading through the archives. Definitely a site to visit. And do it soon, while you still can.

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