“And What If I’m Wrong”

Got this video from a friend. I thought it would be a nice piece to bounce off of on the points he makes. First an outline of the points. I’ll put my initial comments and place holders in brackets. Even though what is below is pretty much a rough transcript, reading it gives a better sense of the message and the argument.

Video Outline

  1. What if I die and find myself before the Christian god? What if I’m wrong?
  2. two characteristics attributed to this god: omnibenevolence and omniscience [agreed]
  3. If this being exists it knows me and knows me optimally, completely aware of me and my history [agreed again, only such a being could be a fair and just judge]
  4. This being would understand that I am nothing more, and nothing less, than the product of that which I’ve experienced. [Here’s a fairly large presupposition on the part of the speaker, one that I’m not sure he’s consistent upon throughout. Do we really have no choice? Is choice irrelevant? This will be important when we get down to point 24]
  5. Every interaction that changed me or forced me to think differently [again he is the product of his environment]
  6. Everything which cause me to care about religion and philosophy
  7. This god would understand my reasoning and my thought process and how I arrived at the conclusions I did. [back to the just judge]
  8. Even if Christians don’t he would understand my views of morality and why I think it more virtuous to approach religions claims critically than to accept them at face value on faith
  9. He would understand why I think I’ve lived a good life, why I think that I’ve made good choices, even if Christians don’t. [here we see the speaker’s conclusion regarding his own life.]
  10. He’d be aware of all of the actions and characteristics attributed to him by Christians as well as Scripture and why those actions and characteristics seem undeniably incompatible to me not only with one another but also with the observable world
  11. He would know about the time in my life when I actually picked up a Bible and made a point to read the whole thing and know the hundreds of verses I came upon and found horrifying or absurd or completely incompatible with the notion that this was inspired by a just and loving being concerned with insuring our salvation even if Christians don’t.
  12. If I found myself standing before this being my immediate reaction would be of one of complete shock…
  13. The first thought in my mind would be “what was wrong with my reason?” I would plead to know what the flaw was in my thinking, where along the way were the mistakes I made to lead me to the wrong conclusion. I would give anything to know that, to know the answers. [the shock that there might actually be another take on my life than the one I have of myself]
  14. I took truth very seriously in my life. I never believed anything simply because I wanted it to be true or beneficial in some way to assume it was true and likewise I never doubted any claim simply because I preferred it not to be true. [more self-evaluation, he has justified himself]
  15. But I would take comfort in knowing that the being responsible for judging me, for evaluating me and deciding my fate knows me so perfectly that I don’t have to make any excuses for myself. The omniscience of this being would allow me to feel perfectly represented.
  16. I never doubted God’s existence out of rebellion, spite or a disregard for authority. [his own purity again]
  17. I just found too man problems inherent in the concept. too many contradictions, holes, etc.
  18. I didn’t observe anything about reality that couldn’t have been the result of cumulative, natural processes.
  19. It would be known My cognitive faculties didn’t allow me to chose what I am and am not convinced about reality and my disbelief is a reaction to what I believe is a deficit of evidence for god’s existence.
  20. It would be known that I thought it insufficient and even immoral to pretend to believe in this being simply because I feared punishment or sought reward
  21. And when I take into consideration what follows naturally from the knowledge attributed to this being and combine that with what follows naturally from the compassion attributed to this being it’s difficult for me to conceive that this being wouldn’t be in some sense proud of me and pleased with the way I’ve employed the moral sense and intellect with which he would have endowed me even if it turned out that I was wrong. [again, his self-regard]
  22. I have a hard time imagining that this god would be offended by me and my thought process, offended enough to allow me to endure unbearable torment for all of eternity and not as a form or disciple or correction or redemption because it never ends. There’s nothing constructive about hell. You don’t come out of hell a better person. You don’t come out at all. The only reason for the existence of such a thing would be vengeance.
  23. According to the Bible and according to most Christians hell is exactly where I’m headed no matter the life I lead or the choices I make or the intentions I have if I don’t at least think that a God exists, sucks for me.
  24. In the mean time extreme rapists, murders and child molesters are welcomed into heaven with open arms so long as they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior before their demise.
  25. And if it turns out that this is the case, then that’s OK too because I don’t know how I would be able to handle spending eternity along side a being whose idea of compassion and fairness makes me sick to my stomach.
  26. A being whose empathy would be so easily trumped by his vanity.
  27. So that’s my answer.

Self-Righteousness

This is an amazing video. I’m hard pressed to imagine a clearer illustration of self-righteousness and it’s amazing to find such a fine specimen among the non-religious. This speaker no doubt clearly sees the self-righteousness of religion and religious people. For the best classical Christian treatment of Christian self-righteousness check out Tim Keller’s sermon on the Prodigal Son. The best book treatment of this would be CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”.

In most of the points the speaker notes with comfort that this god would see him as “he really is.” The blind spot in the piece is quite obviously the assumption that this divine judge would regard the speaker as he regards himself. The missed assumption of the speaker is that he really IS as he sees himself.

The final point is the most telling. If this divine judge failed to regard the speaker as he regards himself then obviously it is the fault of the divine judge and the speaker would want to have nothing to do with him, no matter the cost.

A Bit of Mercy for the Young

I can’t help but watch this video and think about the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler except this young man doesn’t have a sense that he lacks anything, at least not from this piece. I wonder how this young man will view this video 20 years from now, after a series of failed relationships, having children, discovering that the world isn’t lining up to bask in his glorious purity? Will he have more or better self-knowledge? Points 14 and 15 really stand out. These things get beaten out of us pretty well if we can listen to others.

The Assumption of Common Religion

This is also a terrific illustration of the assumption of what I call common religion. I don’t blame him for getting this message. Many Christians confuse Christianity for common religion. In common religion the assumption is that the world is a cosmic soul sorting station engineered to evaluate human beings on the basis of their performance.

There is an aspect of truth in this and you can easily come to this assumption in reading various stories in the Bible and you can find lots of religious people espousing this view. You can find elements of it in many religions and it is the basic assumption about Christianity and other religions in American today. For more on our particular cultural take on this read Christian Smith’s two books “Soul Searching” and “Souls in Transition“.

The narrative basically follows the narrative of the speaker in the video. God calls everyone up and weighs them on the basis of their moral performance. In the video the speaker obviously regards himself as worthy unlike “extreme rapists” (apparently casual, subtle or lower level rapists get a pass), murders, child molestors, etc. He seems to have an inkling that Christians tinker with common religion and he finds any break from this system as offensive, sufficient to prompt the speaker to exercise choice (see his point 4) and on principle nobly suffer eternal torment at the divine judge’s deficient morality.

In all fairness, I assume by seeing the titles of the other videos on Youtube that his speaker doesn’t buy into the notion of common religion either, probably professing a belief in materialism in which there is not divine judge and the grave is the end of it all.

Formulating a Christian response to the defects of common religion is pretty standard fare in many churches so I’ll spare the reader that treatment now.

The Problem of the Self

What is more interesting to me is the problem of the self and how that works its way through life, Christianity and conversations about morality and hell.

When I read David Schnarch’s observation (not new with him of course) that our first self is a reflected self, all kinds of lights went on for me.  As human beings we can’t see our “self” and we don’t know our “self”. We use people and things as mirrors of sorts to see our “self”.

Our first view of our self comes from our parents, which is why they impact us so deeply, for better or for worse (often both) but we don’t stop there. We attempt to discover our “self” or find our “self” in romantic interests, in hobbies, in philosophies, in performance in sports, in the arts, in school, in relationships. What vision of our self are we looking for in these things? One that is powerful, pleasing, secure, beautiful, enduring, significant, etc.

When we come across religion, one of the most powerful mirrors through which we hope to obtain a glorious vision of our self is the god or the gods. We wish to be approved, vindicated, validated, loved, affirmed, glorified, etc. In this youtube monologue the speaker repeatedly finds great comfort in the clarity of the view of this supposed god and any perfect god would of course reflect back to him his glorious self-regard.

The Problem of Other Selves

Very quickly in our journey of “self” we discover one of the greatest hazards of owning a self, that there are other selves and they have other agendas and opinions apart from the quest for the glorious vision of our own self.

The glory hungry self learns quickly that impersonal stuff can be useful in constructing a self. Toddlers learn possessiveness. Control of toys, food, and other goods can secure for ourselves a self that is pleasing, according to our wills.

As we grow and become more sophisticated we learn that not only simple stuff can do this for us (think Sauron’s Ring in LOTR) but also philosophical, religious, economic and political systems can do this. We can invest our “self” in these systems (and the communities around them) and through these one could construct a glorious vision of their self, one that is pleasing, important, affirming. Soon careers, hobbies, and other activities get involved. We see ourselves as others affirm us.

Once other selves come into the picture, however, things get considerably more complicated. Soon we learn that if we can subjugate or manipulate other selves to our own will we can employ them as mirrors in order to see a more pleasant view of our self. Because of the will and the challenge other wills are to our “selves” we find the mirroring of a desirable vision from them to be most glorious, advantageous and rewarding.

There are few areas of life where this is so powerfully displayed than in the area of romance. (Schnarch is a secular sex therapist.) What happens in the first stages of romance is that the other reflects back to us who we want to be and this is crack for our egos. The two selves embrace and enmesh and differentiation is lost in feelings of romantic love. In time, however, the individual selves begin to emerge and the favorable mirroring diminishes. This will provoke a crisis as the two try to regain the initial mirroring, but it won’t come to pass because much of it was an illusion. They weren’t really practicing love, they had a convenient relationship of mutual admiration. True love requires an ability to see the other as they really are (full of flaws, shortcomings, self-righteousness, selfishness, etc.) and chose to love them, serve them, wish well of them still.

The Age of Narcissism 

There have been a number of articles that have described our current culture as the age of narcissism. The reference comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus. It is a story of a young man trapped by his own self-regard. He no longer sees the rest of the world, or bothers with it because all he is interested in his himself. This is a handy way into the problem of hell.

The quest to find your self, or construct your self, or see your self can and will consume you and in our age of unprecedented power, leisure and affluence we are particularly susceptible. Without the control, predictability, and longevity that we have achieved as a society people were repeatedly forced to confront other selves and the unfavorable, but truer vision of their own self as seen by them. There were too many reminders that I am not as loving, gracious, interesting, glorious, fascinating, and wonderful as I imagine myself to be and the world is not quite so captivated by me as I would like it to be. Maybe I’ll audition for a reality show…

In time, however, reality asserts itself, and while none of us see each other perfectly clearly (because our vision of each other is also distorted by the self-adoration project of our selves, in other words bias) we tend to see each other better than we ourselves. Given enough personal relationships (something our Facebook, Internet tools continually manipulate and assist us in manipulating favorably for our own self-deception) we will be forced to confront the selfish, self-possessed, self-righteous rebels that we truly are. This is called hope.

The Problem of the Personal God

If other human selves are a problem, a divine self (or three) is a calamity. I believe one of the reason people in our culture are more open to an impersonal pantheistic god or gods is that they have no will to threaten our selves.

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve nicely illustrates the problem of self. Adam and Eve’s first impulse after the infraction at the tree with the serpent is to hide them selves. One way to see the fall is a crisis of self.

A personal god presents for us an existential crisis. As we employ all of creation at our disposal in service of the adoration of our selves, the maker of creation is the ultimate obstacle. His will, his self (or selves) cannot be bent to mirror our own.

Again notice in this video how often the speaker draws comfort that the imagined divine judge will see clearly exactly who he is. That comfort can only be sustained with the notion that the divine judge will regard him as he regards himself. If that judge has a will, things may come apart quickly, as they have in all likelihood, with other selves this person has had to share this planet with. Given the fact that I know not his name of the maker of this youtube video, I’d assume he’s like the rest of us and not somehow a being of infinite beauty, power, wisdom, knowledge and light and that all who see him regard him as he regards himself.

The Crushing Mirror

In the video the young man imagines coming face to face with this god. In his reading through the Bible he quite likely noted that in the Old Testament a rather great deal is made of the fact that you can’t meet this god face to face. Even Moses, who supposedly had close business dealings with him on Sinai only was able to experience him back to back in the cleft of a rock.

Why? This is something that escapes a lot of people, and offends even more. Popular in contemporary spirituality is the notion of a beautiful, benevolent divine creator who is all beauty, love, light and peace, not unlike the Christian god, but that we can approach and enjoy this being directly, as we are today.

The reason we can’t see God’s face is because experiencing God directly would crush our fragile selves. Why? Because of our mirroring addiction.

Imagine a kid in his local school who is a celebrated pianist. Everyone in his town knows him, adores him, loves him, comes out to hear him play. He gets accepted to the finest music school in the country and everyone in the town expects that they too will think of him (and reflect back to him) as they have done. To his horror, he gets there to discover that he is regarded as “average” in that class. This may present an existential crisis for the lad. If the lad is addicted to the “self” he received in his home town, he should quit school and return. This may seem like a good strategy but all of us know he would be celebrated for a bit, but eventually forgotten. He cannot live of the reflected self provided by the town. If he loves music more than himself, he should stay at the school to begin to actually learn music, and enjoy the music of others. This young musicians self-regard is the determining factor in whether the new national music school will be experienced as heaven (a place where music is celebrated and experienced) or hell (a place where no one is interested in reflecting back to him the self he wishes to be).

The problem with facing God is now God’s problem, it is our own.

Ugly Little Centers of the Universe

This video displays all of the classic elements of addictive self-regard and the potential for its consequences. Addicted to self we become judges of he universe. Our moral system condemns all others. Our perspectives must trump all competitors. Our honor demands that we hold to our selves, regardless of cost.

A bit of philosophy might be instrumental. First we assume that god is omnibenevolent and omniscient and draw comfort from this knowledge. If such a god recognizes us for who we are, then that god is employed as a mirror for our self. Ironically in this exchange, the chairs are transposed, that god becomes our worshiper and we become god. This is what the game has always been about, right back to the garden in the Genesis story.

Let’s look at the question of Satan. Imagine a being of immense power, beauty, intelligence and light, the likes of which none of us have ever met. One that would make the most handsome model or movie star of either gender look like rubbish. This being comes before the face of God and has a choice. Will they worship and submit, or will they demand to be worshiped and mirrored?

We can’t even measure up to that creature, but we persist with the game.

Why do the men in the book of Revelation ask the mountains to fall on them so that they can avoid facing this being of absolute beauty, power and light? Because the experience of facing that being is absolute torture for addicts of the self.

I don’t think that any of us would like to vote in the maker of this YouTube video to be the center of the universe, much less the president of our country. We know that about him, but we continue to harbor ambitions for ourselves.

Our selves long to imagine (like Job) a judgment day when we could put God in the dock. We want our day in court so that we can argue, reason, perform, display the moral qualities we have nicely cultivated and have, often in frustration, attempted to display to our neighbors. We expect to be glorified and vindicated. We expect that the world will finally see and adore us, as we secretly and deeply know we deserve to be. This is a vision of hell.

Whose vanity has really been on display in this video?

Heaven and Hell as Favorable Circumstance

Deep within the assumptions of this piece (and shared many Christians) is that heaven and hell are ultimate favorable circumstances. This stems from our assumptions about joy and happiness that we creatures are so shallow and dim that joy can be had by having favorable circumstance and misery is the result of unfavorable circumstance. I remember a Barbara Walter’s special on heaven where most of the religious spokespersons went on to offer a variety of pleasures (food, virgins, mansions, etc.) to describe a blessed hereafter.

What I want us to see is that we are far more complex than this. Our addiction to self runs deeper than even favorable circumstance can address.

Consider American celebrities. What don’t they have? Beauty, money, power, fame, adoration. They have millions or billions of people acting like mirrors back to them telling them they are beautiful, kind, good, lovely, etc. Is it enough? Look at Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and others. No. it isn’t enough.

There is a hunger deep within us that this world can not satisfy even at the extremes of favorable circumstance, pleasure, adoration, power, wealth, etc. Heaven and hell are not fundamentally about circumstance, they are about our selves. We long for something larger, greater, more beautiful.

Good News for Under-performers

The morality of the Christian god is judged for enjoying the demise of hapless sinners. Pay attention to the moral universe asserted by this author. People are [pt 4] nothing more and nothing less than the product of their experiences. Yet quite obviously [pt 24] extreme rapists, murderers and child molesters ought not be given mercy.

Do we have choice or don’t we?

Here’s the problem. The Christian god has also taken hits for being too demanding. Is this god any less demanding than our selves or even each other? Who among us is happy with all of the choices we’ve made?

I know something about conflict. When two people are in conflict what you they long for? Someone to vindicate them. Someone to hear their case, to justify them, to vindicate them, to pardon their errors and to love them. Watch a couple or a family fight. They are looking for someone to take their side, someone to agree with their point of view, someone to come in and stand with them and denounce the other.

Now you may imagine that the maker of this video is perfect. If he is, you should quit your job, buy the house or apartment next to him and become his best friend or lover. I doubt any of you would do this. I even doubt that this person would suggest that he himself is perfect (although he comes close to it in the video). Can even he change the past?

The past is the problem with performance.

Does the Christian god offer mercy and hope for extreme rapists, murders and child molesters? Yes, and everyone else too. All you need to do is to stop constructing your own universe based on your self and you can be a part of His.

Who can live with God? Anyone who can stand Him. The choice is yours if you want it.

pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, philosophical reflection, Quotations, theological and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “And What If I’m Wrong”

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