I missed the memo about hedging your bets.
There’s a tiny but very vocal group of people who are going around saying that the world is going to end this Saturday. Since the beginning of the world, people have been predicting the end, and since none of them have been right, I was pretty content to ignore this latest proclamation. But then I heard this story, in which the true believers said that it’s somehow an affront to God to have any doubt about when Judgment Day will occur. According to Harold Camping and his ilk, the end of the world is apparently all spelled out in a mathematical code in the Bible, thus questioning the validity or meaning of this calculation is tantamount to questioning the word of God. This kind of thinking makes my head hurt really, really bad.
Thinking that you somehow know the unknowable is one thing, but further pronouncing that doubts are not allowed is quite another. As a high school kid, I got quite a few memos from reading Paradise Lost and one of the biggies is that God so loved human beings that he did not want to enslave them, but rather gave them free will. Free to eat the apple. Free to mess things up. Free to have doubts and questions. I think God gets really annoyed when people tell other people not to think.
I am not what you would call a deeply religious person, but I do believe in God. On my own trippy path toward my current state of spiritual (mis)understanding, I had to find a way to make room for questions. In college I got the memo about Pascal’s Wager and I remember feeling a lot of comfort when I thought about it. For the uninitiated, here’s a visual over-simplification:
Some might find the idea of betting for or against the existence of God a flippant sort of attitude to take about the fate of one’s immortal soul. But for me, the comfort came in the idea that I didn’t have to have it all figured out, I didn’t need to know for sure. I wanted to believe, and Pascal’s reasoning helped to buttress my belief with a bit of rationality. I dug that. So I’ll go about my life trying to be the kind of person who’s in God’s good graces, at least most of the time. And if that gets me into heaven, all the better. If not, then maybe I did some good on Earth and that’s OK, too. Either way, I like my odds.
There’s stuff we can know, and there’s stuff we can’t possibly know. Being certain and having faith are not the same thing. These Rapture folks seem awfully certain, and that’s what I just don’t get. The idea that they’re quitting jobs, divesting themselves of all possessions, basically doing a total life flush….this just doesn’t compute. I don’t know if one can ever truly be ready to be sublimated into the sky, so I don’t understand how trashing your career and giving away all your stuff could make you better prepared for such an extraordinary occurrence. If you believe, fine, you believe. But keep some money in the bank and if you run out of milk and bread today, what the heck, go ahead and buy some more. Hedge your bets, folks, hedge your bets. Memo received.