Is This about Me or You?
Imagine this conversation:
Woman 1: So, anyway, at the end of the argument I just told my husband I thought he was wrong.
Woman 2: I can’t believe you said that. Aren’t you afraid he’ll hit you?
When I put myself in Woman 1’s place, I have two immediate thoughts:
1. Not in a million years would I be afraid my husband would strike me for any reason short of his own self-defense if I went violently insane.
2. How long was Woman 2 abused? Is she still being abused?
I wouldn’t expect Woman 2’s comment from a woman who has no history of abuse whatsoever. I suppose I could imagine a situation where someone was under a mistaken impression I was being abused, and was concerned for my safety? But as a general rule, that question would not be raised in seriousness by a woman who is not or has not been in a situation where she’s been battered.
The question, while aimed at Woman 1, actually speaks volumes about Woman 2, and tells us nothing at all about Woman 1.
Language, questions and comments aimed at others actually carry within them information about those who are speaking. Even the most innocent language does this. If I see a friend making a Lasagna, and I see her using cottage cheese, and I ask “Oh, you don’t use Ricotta?” I’ve just said, “I don’t use cottage cheese when I make Lasagna, I use Ricotta.” We spend our conversational time telling people all about ourselves, often without even realizing we’re doing it.
What Pascal’s Wager Tells Me about You
When we think of Pascal’s Wager, we generally think in brief of someone asking “What if you’re wrong?” The stakes generally are “something bad” if you’re wrong (that you’re risking), and either gaining reward or simply avoiding the “bad” if you’re right.
The Wager itself has a host of problems. But that’s not what I’m concerned with here. What concerns me here is what the Wager tells me about the person who puts it forward. When people ask, “What if you’re wrong?,” what are they telling me about themselves? What I hear when they ask this, is purely heartbreaking. And a letter writer recently put it in a way that evoked honest pity from me. Clearly directed to Matt, he asked:
I have watched many of your you tube videos, and from what I gather, you are a very intelligent man and you seem well educated.
But I wanted to ask you a question, just a simple question, perhaps a question that I myself toil with from time to time.
Q: “when the day is done, and you are sitting alone, or lying in bed, do you ever question your decision to be an atheist, are you ever scared at times, do you ever think that you might be wrong or fear what may or may not happen to you when you die”
Now, this question has no real direction, I just wanted to know if you were like so many others including myself, who at the end of the day either have a longing for an answer or experience doubts or concerns about the decision(s) you’ve made.
While he states the question has “no real direction,” it does, like all communication, carry a message and more of a message than what is merely being asked. It carries that message about the speaker, which I’m describing.
Matt submitted back a very thorough and well-thought-out reply. However, I kept thinking of this letter after I’d deleted it, and this morning I sent by a separate reply myself to the writer:
I know this was directed at Matt, and he answered it quite thoroughly. But I would like to add something. There are a number of people who have reported being horribly tortured at the hands of malevolent alien abductors. I don’t believe these people’s stories are true. They could easily ask me the same question:
Don’t you ever worry about being abducted yourself? What if you’re wrong?
Certainly if I’m wrong, I could also be abducted and tortured, but I can promise you I don’t lose an ounce of sleep on it. I don’t expend a moment’s concern over being a victim of such an event. And I’m going out on a limb to wager that (1) you’ve heard these stories I’m describing and (2) you don’t worry about being abducted by malevolent aliens any more than I do.
If I’m correct, then you have just experienced what I experience with regard to fear of being wrong about god. It’s the indoctrinated believer who fears and who thinks that fear must plague others who weren’t indoctrinated with that same fear. Just as it’s the “alien abductee” who can’t understand why I don’t seem concerned about what these aliens are doing not others who don’t believe in alien abduction; it’s the person either still in, or still suffering from the side effects of, indoctrination who can’t fathom life without that fear, which was most often burned into their heads as defenseless children. It’s put there as a mechanism to stop people questioning: “Even if you stop believing…you’ll be plagued by fear and doubt the rest of your life…WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?!” But the truth is, as Matt pointed out, and as I provided an example, if you don’t believe, then you don’t believe in the consequence either. And it’s just very hard to fear that which you do not believe exists.
This is why I consider religious indoctrination of children to be abusive. It scars people and they carry that fear of questioning well into adulthood far too often. Nobody should be made to fear asking questions, doubting, or not believing. Free and independent inquiry should be the basis for any sound ideology. Any ideology that puts mechanisms in place to impede free and independent inquiry such as severe and exaggerated mental fear of such investigation, should be viewed very skeptically. After all, what sort of “true” ideology incorporates an avoidance of examination?
And I suppose that’s all I had to say about it?