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Does Pat Robertson really believe?

Our old buddy Pat has just come out of heart surgery. He’s 79. It happens. He’s making a full recovery. Here’s what the doctors did to save his life.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, underwent…a new approach to dealing with atrial fibrillation, called convergence procedure. It involves cauterizing the continually beating heart muscle with heat generated by a radio frequency. It rewires a portion of the heart, in a sense, to correct the irregular beat.

…The technique is less invasive than traditional surgery and more effective long-term than drugs and their many side effects.

In a separate but related procedure, doctors also removed an abnormally enlarged left appendage on Robertson’s heart. They believe the growth contributed to Robertson’s atrial fibrillation.

And here’s who gets the credit.

“Only the prayers of thousands of believing people kept me on this earth,” Robertson said in a statement.

Yeah, I know, typical. Medical science that didn’t exist 20 years ago keeps some old superstitious codger breathing, and he only has thanks for his imaginary friend in the sky and the prayers that presumably winged their way skyward to him. Right. But that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about something else very revealing in Robertson’s statement.

At 79, Pat Robertson, perhaps the leading evangelist in all of American Christendom, is afraid to die.

I mean, think of it. If you really, truly believed in Christianity’s promise of Heaven — a perfect paradise free of woe, strife, pain, fear, sadness, queers and liberals — wouldn’t the prospect of finally getting to go there be the happiest news you could possibly receive? Really, I cannot imagine anything happier. That is, if you really, in your heart of hearts, believed in its existence and in your guarantee of a place there. Not to get into a “No True Christian” discussion here, but it seems to me that, whatever your stripe of Christianity — conservative or liberal, Baptist or Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian, Pentacostal or snake-handling wacko — if you genuinely believed in Heaven, then the prospect of death should not only not be fearful, but cause for celebration. A diagnosis of terminal illness should be occasion for a blowout “I’m Goin’ To Heaven” party, a big sendoff to your great reward! All Christian funerals should be like New Orleans funerals, with marching bands and dancing revelers, not tears.

But listen to Pat. He isn’t saying, “Dammit! Here I was, all ready to go to Heaven and be by my Lord’s side for all eternity at last…and you bozos had to go and start praying your little fingers off, and now I’m stuck here! Thanks for nothing.”

No, Pat’s grateful for the medical science prayers that kept him hanging onto this vale of tears just a little bit longer.

Why? Does he really believe in Heaven after all? Really believe, deep down inside…?

Matt Dillahunty has often argued on the show, and I agree, that most Christians, when backed against the wall, are more agnostic than they’re willing to admit. That, in all likelihood, they do not truly believe that which they profess to believe about God and Christianity’s promises. It’s not a new argument. David Hume made it. But it’s moments like these, interesting little moments when a Christian leader of Pat Robertson’s stature reveals in a public statement that death frightens him, that make the point far more effectively and eloquently than we atheists can.

I know many of you have heard of the Kübler-Ross model of the “five stages of grief”: denial, anger, negotiation, despair and acceptance. Look, none of us really wants to die. It’s part of our evolutionary hardwiring, that innate instinct for self-preservation. But when you don’t have the deceptive promises of religion hampering you, as an atheist, you find that you tend to get through these stages rather quickly when contemplating your own mortality. I have not really met any atheists wracked with existential despair over the fact that one day they too shall pass. Not to say there are none, but there are fewer than you’d think for a group of people who are skeptical of an afterlife. This fact often flummoxes Christian apologists, who are often overconfident in thinking that exploiting fear of death will make witnessing to atheists a cakewalk.

The problem with religion is that clinging to a belief in a heavenly afterlife effectively stymies the process at the “bargaining” phase. You spend your entire life in a desperate, daily attempt to please a God, in the hopes that, while he certainly won’t stave off physical death, he will keep you “spiritually” immortal.

I don’t think that the fear of death is necessarily the #1 selling point for religion. But the desire to avoid death, to believe that when you die you don’t, and that you’ll see all your departed loved ones once again on that rainbow bridge, is most assuredly something that religion puts in heavy rotation on its playlist of promises. And for some believers, I guess it can work. Until that moment that death is no longer abstract, but looming.

Comments

  1. the chaplain says

    most Christians, when backed against the wall, are more agnostic than they're willing to admitThat's how I interpret my observations too. Christians cling to life as desperately as anyone else. It's more irritating when it's a loudmouth like Robertson than when it's an ordinary Joe or Jill, though.

  2. says

    This is one of my favourite arguments.Though, I think I am one of those atheists terrified of dying. I actually think it was that fear that led me down the path of realising I didn't actually believe in this stuff. I got to a point where I was constantly freaking out b/c my mind was trying to comprehend not existing (which it obviously can't). Then I realised that I must not really think there's a heaven if I'm expecting to not exist anymore…I think I'm stuck at that despair stage! O_O

  3. says

    I have to disagree on this one. I don't see how fear of death relates to belief in an afterlife. There are numerous fears that involve positive events. If one faces a surgery that will significantly improve their life, does apprehension undermine the improvement? Prisoners generally want to get out of prison, but sometimes they are quite afraid of release.I think it would be fair to say that the fear is not of the believed eventuality, but of the transition. I, for example, don't have a problem with the idea of being dead. Ceasing to exist doesn't bother me at all. However, I don't really care for the actual dying part. All of this aside, I don't think that wanting to live necessarily indicates a fear of death. Leaving one situation for another is often bittersweet for people, and there is an understandable want to make the most of the former. If I believed in an afterlife, I'd probably still want to get as much of this one as I can. This would be particularly true if I felt that I was doing something important.

  4. C says

    I read once that the afterlife is a sophisticated version of "survival instinct". That is, every living thing in this planet is trying to survive (reproduction etc), but since humans are a more sophisticated animal, thanks to the brain, they invented the concept of afterlife, thus no matter what they would ALWAYS survive.

  5. Nathan Dickey: Journeyman Heretic says

    As always, this has been thought-provoking. In my own experience, the concept of an afterlife is the prime selling point of the brand of religion I was raised in and have since abandoned. When people are taught from a young age that there exists an afterlife of eternal punishment or reward, they are likely to believe only out of fear, and remain in living in fear the rest of their lives.The New York Times recently published an article you may find relevant and very interesting:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/health/research/18faith.html?_r=1Edward Current has a hilarious take on this phenomena as well:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_XAv3hkbpU&feature=channel_page

  6. says

    Sorry but this is a lame argument.PR will simply view it, publicly, as his being a leading light in the evangelical movement means he can do more good here on wearth saving souls and the good Lord will take him when He's good and ready – assuming prayers don't keep him here for eternity.

  7. says

    What really bothers me is that people like that has the nerv to talk about supposed deathbed conversions by atheists when it's clear that the ones that actaully lose their beliefs and their faith at the faec of death are the theists.

  8. says

    PR has already done so many blatantly transparently dickish moves that he's basically like the Scammer aliens from Futurama. I think it's clear he's riding this cash poney for all it's worth. Whether he believes it or not is irrelevant; he uses it to take advantage of people and he knows it.

  9. says

    I have to admit I am nervous by the doctors reckless decision to remove MORE of Robertson's heart. He doesn't have all that much there to begin with!

  10. says

    Yeah, well done, Pat. Don't utter a word about the doctors who saved you, just thank people for praying. What about the people praying you wouldn't NEED this procedure to begin with? I guess maybe God wanted to try his hand at intervening in the surgery performed by a trained medical professional than try to tinker with your ticker himself.His flock won't see past the "Our prayers worked!" phase unfortunately.

  11. Admin says

    "The problem with religion is that clinging to a belief in a heavenly afterlife effectively stymies the process at the 'bargaining' phase. You spend your entire life in a desperate, daily attempt to please a God…."I'm sorry for nitpicking, but can we all STOP using a capital 'G' in 'god' when referring to gods of general religions, as this quote is (see first line of quote)? Doing so only validates the fallacy that the Christian god is the only one on Earth, which Christians like to assume when arguing that existence of gods = Jesus. I'm so sick of that bullshit. There are tens of thousands, perhaps more, of gods which man has invented, and an infinite number more which have never been described, but are just as plausible. Stop humouring the Christians into thinking that the only 2 options are Christian god or atheism.

  12. says

    This is interesting since I have usually applied this same argument to the “No atheists in foxholes” argument. In fact, anyone who prays for their life in a foxhole does not believe in an eternal reward—or is, at the very least, not comforted by a religion that is unclear about whether or not they’re going to inherit it.I knew a Christian woman who was a gem of a human being. I visited her during her radiation therapy. She was keenly aware of her odds and knew death was very likely. However, far from comforted by her beliefs, she was concerned that her life was unworthy and that she would be rejected and face eternity in hell, despite the fact she never said an unkind word, was always sympathetic and ready to listen and help others, and that nobody had anything but wonderful things to say about having the honor of knowing her and calling her “friend.” As a devout Christian then, myself, I told her that her life wasn’t relevant—Jesus’ sacrifice was the price paid, and our imperfections had no bearing on entry into heaven—only our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice.The immorality of this doctrine was lost on me then. But the question of “Am I in the right branch of Christianity? Did I forget to beg forgiveness for some shortcoming I didn’t even know I had (ergo, not taking advantage of the sacrifice of Jesus), often plagues believers. Conversion by fear. And as much as they claim they understand salvation—they don’t. I’ve even been told that the final judgment is up to god—and “I” (the Christian) can’t say whether this or that person will go to heaven or not. So, god puts down this huge book of life instruction geared toward reconciling man to god after the fall. You study it reverently and often. And in the end, you don’t actually know what it takes to be acceptable to god—really? Well, hey, that’s some confusing text if even it’s own adherents can’t claim to understand it’s central purpose: How to reconcile yourself, as a human, back to god.Meanwhile—when does Robertson become someone who is bucking god’s plan? In the Bible, when a woman couldn’t have children, she prayed and god decided whether to allow her to have them or not. Today, if you can’t have kids, even a Christian will buck the Biblically prescribed method of divine allowance, and will seek fertility treatments. It’s not up to god anymore if you have kids. It’s up to doctors. If god doesn’t want you to have kids, just use medical science to defy your god.If you use artificial means to subvert natural consequences, then how can you know whether what you’re doing is in accordance with god’s will? You can’t win for losing.If it’s artificial and they don’t like it, it’s against god’s will and unnatural.If it’s artificial and they like it, it’s using the means god allowed man to come up with to achieve an unnatural ends that is a “miracle.”If it’s natural and they don’t like it, it’s sinful nature.If it’s natural and they like it, it’s obviously from god—built into His awesome design.Here we are again: Have you cake and eat it to. Every piece of Christian doctrine comes down to this Catch-22 of trying to have the cake and eat it, too.

  13. says

    ChristonIce:I can't dispute there may be people who fear the transition. But I can say I had no fear of death or dying when I was a Christian, and many Muslims and Buddhists demonstrate that same level of courage of their convictions. Again–different people have different concerns, and I can't claim my experience (or theirs) fits every model.But I will add that if transition fear is the problem, it still doesn't explain mourning at the death of other adherents. While I might be sad, for myself, for a loss–missing the person–adherents seem to be just as grieved as anyone else, and little served by the reminders of other believers that "he's in a better place now." It seems to comfort them not at all. And in fact, it's about as effective as "Well, at least he's not suffering any more," which is a secular equivalent.There seems to be no hint of celebration that this person has "earned his reward" that I have ever witnessed. But in Muslim countries, I have seen them celebrating the deaths of martyrs–even the families of the men and women. And I have seen Buddhists be very unemotional at the deaths of fellow monks.Christians I know simply do not seem to follow suit with those in other religions who appear able to apply their views of death in the hear-and-now. I can't say I know what drives it–but I certainly wouldn't rule out underlying doubts about their own belief system.

  14. says

    This fact often flummoxes Christian apologists, who are often overconfident in thinking that exploiting fear of death will make witnessing to atheists a cakewalk.A door- to- door Christian tried that on me when all their other attempts to convert me failed. They acted surprised when that din't work either. They asked how I could not be afraid of spending an eternity of suffering in hell. I told them that it was for the same reason they're able to leave their house without fear of being gored by a unicorn or roasted by a dragon.

  15. says

    OK, Tracieh, I love this: "If it’s artificial and they don’t like it, it’s against god’s will and unnatural.If it’s artificial and they like it, it’s using the means god allowed man to come up with to achieve an unnatural ends that is a “miracle.”If it’s natural and they don’t like it, it’s sinful nature.If it’s natural and they like it, it’s obviously from god—built into His awesome design."And, Jeremy, this got a laugh from me & my co-workers:"They asked how I could not be afraid of spending an eternity of suffering in hell. I told them that it was for the same reason they're able to leave their house without fear of being gored by a unicorn or roasted by a dragon."I post a daily atheist quote on my twitter…I hope you both don't mind, I will be quoting you on these! :)

  16. says

    lol (at Pat)….. this reminds me of a special I saw on PBS recently. There was this eye doctor who had a plan to go to N. Korea and perform a large no of cataract surgeries (I think the target no was 100 or something like that) during the time he was there. He knew the medical situation in N. Korea (dismal) and was volunteering his time and resources to do these surgeries for N. Koreans who would otherwise have had to have lived the rest of their lives blind.Long story short, he did manage to perform the original number of surgeries he'd planned.Interestingly and relevant here, tho, was when he was taking the wrappings off the patients' eyes, instead of thanking the doctor or even acknowledging him it all they instantly launched into praise and worship of the "dear leader" instead. They went on and on praising and thanking his visage (literally) for restoring their sight, making their lives as wonderful as they are, etc. Ol' Pat's endless praise, worship of and thanks to his god instead of his doctors is pretty like minded. His god who because of its apparent non-existence gives him nothing and does nothing for him – and his fantasy of the abusive and punishing relationship they have. Yet he dares not do anything other than offer unceasing and as-perfect-as-possible praise…. for giving him nothing……This is the way of life Pat wants all the rest of us to follow too under force of law. As C. Hitches says, at least you can fucking die and get out of N. Korea……LS

  17. says

    Jennifer: I don't mind at all. Glad you liked it.LS: That's spectacular. I'm sure any American, Christian or non would drop a jaw over that scene. And yet, Christians do exactly the same thing (wholly miscredit the source of the benefit) and don't bat an eye.

  18. says

    I found the special exceedingly difficult to watch, especially during the parts where they were in praise of the "dear leader".The most painful part is seeing people reduced to that kind of a life, people that just looking at them are otherwise just like you and me and all the rest of us. But in the N. Korean case stripped of absolutely every dignity a human being should have.The worst part being forced at gunpoint, essentially, to praising, worshiping and (somehow) even conjuring up a kind of _love_ for someone who starves you, steals from you, incarcerates you and often eventually tortures and murders you.The creepiest part is Pat's imaginary relationship with his imaginary god is _exactly_ like the typical N. Korean's relationship forced upon him/her with the "dear leader".In fact this is really the idealized situation of the typical Xian – worship, praise and obedience to a true menace regardless of what that menace may or may not do to/for you!when I watch Sunday worship services on TV I get the _exact_ same cringing feeling I got when I was watching that special…..LS

  19. says

    I hope that bit the doctor took wasn't his soul. Can you imagine an evangelical christian without a soul? He might start collecting money and keeping some of it for himself rather than using it to help people.ROFL

  20. says

    >The worst part being forced at gunpoint, essentially, to praising, worshiping and (somehow) even conjuring up a kind of _love_ for someone who starves you, steals from you, incarcerates you and often eventually tortures and murders you.Mainstream Christianity is just a trip through the looking glass. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop being amazed at what indoctrination was able to get me to “believe.” But it’s not belief, because it’s put into someone’s head as a child and then they’re taught to defend it. That’s not how belief works. You experience and reason reality and _your_ beliefs flow from that. When you’re told what to believe and then given “your” reasons for believing—that’s brainwashing. It’s a backwards process. By the time you hit an age where you would normal filter beliefs through reality to see if they’re applicable, this has already been so normalized in your brain, you aren’t likely to revisit it or question it.So, you accept that god loves you—and if you don’t love him back he’ll torture you forever. And it never occurs to you that you would never do that to someone, because it’s just wrong. And you accept that if god does this to people you love, it’s righteous.You accept that it’s OK to socially shun friends and family for saying “I don’t believe this anymore.” Even though there’s not one other issue on which they could disagree with you that would make you think such an act of emotional abuse was justified.You accept that it was a sign of god’s loving kindness that he would have an innocent beaten to a pulp and tortured to death in order to cover the crimes of others. You accept god can do anything—and this was the best and most perfect plan of salvation a loving and divine being could conceive of.You accept that an ancient and brutal way of life was built on the codified law of a divine being. You accept asking someone to kill their own child to demonstrate their level of loyalty to you is something to be viewed with reverence, and that being willing to kill your own family members for god represents great faith that everyone should emulate.It’s an opposite-land where good becomes bad, bad becomes good, where there is no line between affection and brutality, acts of loving kindness and acts of atrocity. Whatever brutal, bloody, vengeful act of betrayal god can convince or force someone to do, in that doctrine, is considered upright and good.I think even beyond the ridiculous fallacies I believed, the most frightening aspect of my Christian period is the realization that I was morally bankrupt and thought that I was following some sort of virtue. The idea that people could so wholly put my head on backwards—and get me to call horrific acts “good” is something I’ll always be mindful of. How was I any better at that time than any other adherent to any other belief system that convinces adherents to commit atrocities? I’d have done anything if I thought it was god’s will. No holds barred. And I’m not sure a person who has not been similarly indoctrinated can really relate to how controlled a human being can be under particular circumstances.

  21. says

    I have another hypothesis regarding the reason believers want to live as long as possible: maybe the possibility of spending an eternity in bliss worshipping God directly does not seem so appealing as they would admit. In Camus' Outsider, Meursault says to the priest trying to make him confess that all his faith is not worth the smell of his mistress's hair. Before this, Meursault had said that the only other life he wanted to have was a life that reminded him of his mortal one. I think this is where all believers's perception of Heaven crumble: the joy they imagine is simply not worth the earthly pleasures they know.

  22. Martin says

    Jennifer Juniper: I think I'm stuck at that despair stage! O_OYou'll get past it. Don't worry.ChristOnIce: I wasn't trying to draw a direct correlation between fear of death prompting afterlife belief. But I was suggesting that a lot of afterlife belief is a kind of emotional placebo to reduce or cloak the fear of death. Nor was I trying to suggest that someone who believed in an afterlife would be doing all possible to shorten this one deliberately, throwing themselves in front of buses or what have you; only that, when the reality of their death finally becomes imminent, afterlife believers should display less fear than you might think, especially if that afterlife were the paradise of Christianity's Heaven. If, that is, their beliefs were committed to the point of certainty — which is what many fundamentalists like Robertson claim.Many Christians do take the "God isn't finished with me yet" line when questioned about their attitude towards death and whatever apprehension they may have about it. While this would play into your notion of still feeling you had important things to accomplish, it also strikes me as a typical emotional defense response, translating roughly to "I don't really want to talk about that, thanks."I'm sure most mainstream Christians probably ruminate on death in a generally healthy manner. But in the fundamentalist world, self-examination is rarely encouraged. Or you might say, fundamentalists practice self-examination only up to the point where they can say, "Yes, I'm a sinner, but all that was washed away in the blood of the Lamb and all, so it's all good." There, reflection stops and the usual fundie hubris begins. I'd say it's only by undertaking serious and deep self-examination that one can truly come to terms with such heavy subjects as one's own mortality. In a culture that dulls these personal growth exercises with quaint banalities about being "saved," etc., you're likely to see more suppressed anxieties than otherwise. Recent studies have found that the more religious cancer patients are, for instance, the more aggressive end-of-life care they demand. Religious faith is often criticized as a crutch, whereas I'd call it more a security blanket to hide under. Tell me this isn't a sign of real fear coming out from under a blanket that can no longer contain it.March Hare: That Pat Robertson can reach into his bottomless Bag of Holding where he keeps all his rhetorical bullshit, and dredge up any more of carefully rehearsed excuses that allow him to pretend his fear is something other than what it is, in no way renders my argument lame. If anything, I'd say it reinforces it.

  23. says

    March Hare beat me to the punch. Of course PR wants to live. He still has the Lawd's work to do.As for being an atheist and fear of dying, I think context matter. I am 40, with a wife and two young kids. I don't want to die know, because my family needs me. But if I was 80 years old, my wife already deceased, and my two children were doing well for themselves, I could accept dying.

  24. says

    "Many Christians do take the "God isn't finished with me yet"Oddly the only time EVER i've seen a sensable representation of that was in the Disney/Muppet sit com Dinosaurs.The Grandmother died, found herself in heaven and was sent back because it wasn't her time. She spent the rest of the episode TRYING to die and looking forward to dying again so she could get back to Heaven which was much better than her actual life until they basically told her to 'cut it out'.

  25. says

    In the mind of a Christian, the surgeons are actually God's tools, and the prayers of Robertson's devotees made the surgeons do a good job and not make any fatal mistakes.So no thanks to the surgeons is necessary, since God is the one controlling everything. The devotees get thanked for their prayers though because without them, omniscient God wouldn't have acted upon Robertson's plea for life.Seriously, that's how they think!

  26. says

    "In the mind of a Christian, the surgeons are actually God's tools, and the prayers of Robertson's devotees made the surgeons do a good job and not make any fatal mistakes.So no thanks to the surgeons is necessary, since God is the one controlling everything. The devotees get thanked for their prayers though because without them, omniscient God wouldn't have acted upon Robertson's plea for life.Seriously, that's how they think!"Why do I immediately imagine House standing over an opened up patient still as a statue, sardonically waiting for a god to pull his strings and do the operation?

  27. says

    Just to be pedantic, Skeptic magazine did an article debunking the "stages of grief" stuff a few issues ago, basically saying that the "stages" were never meant to be applied as generally as they are, and they aren't as linear or cut-and-dry as they appear, as I recall.

  28. says

    Pat does believe in Heaven, but he doesn't believe in he will be in Heaven, therefore he scared to die.Everyone knows that he will never be in Heaven including himself.

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