Baggini’s “Heathen’s Progress” Blog – Julian Quotes Homer

I was planning to go through Julian Baggini’s posts in chronological order, but his latest is so provocative that I can’t wait to comment. It’s called:

Struggling with the question of belief? Homer Simpson’s got the answer(

Baggini really pulled the rabbit out of the hat this time. He managed to make a credible case for saying: “The atheist bus slogan could just as easily be ‘There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’” (The actual slogan, of course, started out, “There’s probably no God.”)

Baggini maintains that knowing whether God exists is irrelevant to daily living, partly because “you only need to go into one church to find that there are almost as many Gods worshipped there as there are worshippers.”

For similar arguments, see Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics, p. 191, which criticizes: “the sort of agnosticism which only asks whether Christian theology is right about God. Such a narrow focus leads to odd logic, such as the claim that since the Christian God either does or does not exist, we can start by assuming that the chances are 50-50…. This would be like a simple card game, turning over a playing card after betting on red or black, but this is no two-card wager. Visualize instead a Las Vegas style ‘shoe’ holding six decks or more – and some of these decks contain cards we have never seen before. Instead of the King of Diamonds we may be dealt the Count of Rubies and have no idea how to play it. The theological possibilities before us are vast and unknowable.”

Baggini contends that merely knowing whether there’s a God tells us almost nothing. For God’s existence to make any practical difference, we need to know what God is like. That one word, “God,” covers myriad beliefs about deity. And there are many possible deities that we haven’t even thought of.

Julian discussed Tim Mawson’s suggestion that we pray in an open-ended fashion, e.g., “Is there anyone there?” But his reply to Mawson was uncharacteristically flippant: “From time to time, I’m happy to make such a request. There – I’ve just done it. No reply. Again.” Not a strong contender for Sincere Prayer of the Year. He maintains that “millions of people have done this millions of times and the number who have felt their prayer was answered in the affirmative is no more than you’d expect by chance….” Is there solid data supporting this claim?

The real problem with Mawson’s suggestion is that humans are so suggestible. Many people will imagine they hear some response, regardless of whether God is actually speaking to them, simply because they are imaginatively focusing upon this possibility. But one could compose a prayer, affirmation, or exploratory probe that reduces the possibility of self-deception. Here’s my candidate: “Setting aside my own desires, prejudices, and assumptions, I open myself to all that is real, wishing to know the truth, whatever it may be.” No doubt some atheists would become theists if they focused repeatedly on this meditation. And no doubt some theists would become atheists.

I mentioned this possible prayer in commenting on Baggini’s blog. Another of Baggini’s readers, who goes by the name of ChristianAtheist, liked the idea, noting that if there is a God, the way such a deity would “communicate is not necessarily the way we would expect … Isn’t it more likely that God is more nuanced and subtle than the kind of God the rationalist, scientific, hard atheists seem to think he would be?”

I agree – and also more nuanced and subtle than the God of fundamentalism.

Why, you may ask, does Baggini say in his title that “Homer Simpson’s got the answer”? Well, old Homer’s more theologically hip than we might anticipate. Simpson sees that our religious choices are far more complicated than just “Does the Christian God exist or not?” “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion?” he asks. “Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?”

Perhaps this remark by Baggini would be somewhat reassuring to Homer: “I think we can safely conclude that the probability of a liberal God fascist – one who doesn’t mind which version of him you believe in, but if you don’t believe in him at all, he’ll let you rot in hell – is negligible.” Indeed. And it also seems absurd that a being or force that created the universe would be even remotely interested in torturing its creatures because they are “bad.” Good and bad are all mixed up inside each of us, and you don’t have to be an all-knowing deity to figure that one out.


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