Dear Pascal, what if Hinduism is true

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Sooner or later, when you’re talking to a Christian apologist who is trying to convince you that you’re wrong and they’re right, you’re going to hear something like this:

“If you’re right, then we both lose nothing. But if I’m right, you’re going to spend eternity in a lake of hellfire!”

That statement is the essence of the good old Christian apologetics gambit known as Pascal’s Wager.

It was deployed against me just this past week, during a conversation I was having on Twitter with RDH_HDP @ RickeyDale07. Ricky and I went on for quite a while so if you follow me on Twitter, I think you should be able to see the thread. (I’m a returning Twitter user, so I don’t know if the mechanics are the same as they were when I took my hiatus…it would be great if someone could let me know if you are able to read our conversation.)

During our exchange I was doing what I normally do. I was using the Socratic method to help Ricky understand why his reasons were deficient.

Eventually we got to Pascal’s Wager. I had just asked Ricky how could he know if his beliefs were incorrect, and he said,

“I am not wrong…but let’s consider for a moment the possibility. If I am wrong, when I die…I lose nothing. If you are wrong, you will die and lose EVERYTHING.”

All CAPS were his, not mine.

There it was. Mr. Pascal. When an apologist tries this line of reasoning, I just normally flip it. By flipping it, I show my interlocutor a couple of things. One, I show her that it’s not a convincing argument. And two, it’s a great way to reinforce the unreasonableness of an epistemology that one uses to support her belief that a god is real, by using the outsider’s test for faith.

The outsider’s test for faith is a dialectical technique whereby one asks, “why can’t the same methods you are using to arrive at your god belief, lead someone else to a completely different god belief?”  It’s a way to hopefully get people to stop and think about why they believe as they do.

On this day, I countered Ricky’s deployment of Pascal’s Wager with my own,

“You do lose everything if at the end, Karma is real and yet you’ve spent your life telling people they are going to Hell if they don’t believe the same god claims as you.”

I flipped it. The ease with which Ricky dismissed my wager might have given him a clue as to the ease in which I dismissed his, but alas, his mind was singularly focused this day, and he kept marching in the same evangelical direction:

“I lose nothing…,” he said, and the rest was sermon.

A mind rusted shut for so many years, is tough to pry open.

Nature and mindfulness

An old friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page yesterday:

“When is the last time you listened to the earth and where were you? By this I mean physically attending to the sounds of nature without human/mechanical disruption.”

If this is not the kind of post you expect from your Facebook friends, let me give you some context here.

Zach is a pastor. For my regular readers, don’t jump to conclusions based on his occupation. He’s a thoughtful, compassionate person and we are consistently on the same side of most political issues. So, even though he has an underlying theological motive, we share a lot of the same humanistic goals.

And as you can see from the above post, Zach doesn’t post platitudes. He’s not the pastor who says silly, banal things like, “God’s got your back,” or “When it makes sense, God’s in control. When it doesn’t make sense, God’s in control.” Those pastors are far more popular. (Sorry Zach, but it’s true). They cater to what I might characterize as the lowest common denominator congregation; those folks in the pews looking for some kind of divine security blanket, who don’t really want to think too much.

Although I bet he’d take issue with some of these descriptions, Zach is more of a thinking person’s pastor. Which brings me back to Exhibit A, his Facebook post.

And mindfulness.

I tried to answer his question honestly and the best I could come up with was an admission of just how difficult it is to do what he was asking. “Attending to the sounds of nature” is a very challenging task. I love listening to nature when I run the trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park or when I meditate outside, but if I’m honest, it takes mere seconds before I find myself completely lost in thought.

This is not an admission of failure. In fact, this is the very essence of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the realization that the mind is a teeming, swirling, cacophony of thoughts, fears, worries, and emotions. The moment you come to terms with this realization, you begin to loosen the stranglehold these thoughts and emotions have on how you feel in the present moment.

If you don’t believe me, try it the next time you’re walking in nature trying to be attentive to a bird’s song or to the wind in the trees or to sounds of waves softly breaking on the beach. Notice the sound, but also pay attention to your thoughts. Are you suddenly thinking about work? Or bills? Or your kids? Or your spouse? If so, that’s perfectly normal. That’s how our minds work.

But just the simple act of noticing that you’re lost in thought, allows you to turn your attention back to that beautiful sound in nature. Mindfulness gives you the assurance that your place in the universe at that present moment, is right where you are. Despite where your worries are trying to take you, reality is you attending to that sound in nature.

Congratulations, you’re practicing mindfulness.

Thanks to Rev. Zack, for the wonderful prompt. For more of Zach’s musings, his blog is here.




Change of pace: a Dungeons and Dragons post

Sometimes when the political environment gets too toxic, when Facebook gets too nauseating, when Twitter gets too trolly – all of which seems to be the case all the time these days – you must have somewhere to retreat. Sanity demands it.

For James Taylor, that place was up on the roof. For the Flock of Seagulls, it was just a matter of running, running so far away. For me, that place is Dungeons and Dragons.

Of course, D&D is not a physical place, it’s a game. And it’s not a “regular” game where there is a defined objective with winners and losers, it’s a role-playing adventure game. D&D is more of a shared story-telling experience, set in a fantasy genre, than it is a game with boards, pieces, and moves.

I have a regular group of players that I play D&D with and each of us takes a turn “running” the game. The person who runs the game is affectionately known as the Dungeon Master or DM for short. A “game” can last anywhere between a single session of a few hours (called a one-shot) to an entire campaign which might last months, or even years! I’ve been the DM on this current campaign since early December.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after picking up D&D again, several editions and about thirty years since I last played. There are different kinds of players out there. There are the psychos: people who play evil characters who just want to roll dice and kill things. There are the grid lovers: people who spend an hour arguing over whether the shape of a particular spell hits a certain person because of the location and distance of all the stalactites and stalagmites in a cave. There are the rule hounds: people who keep their player handbooks open so that they can quickly question, check, and recheck every decision the Dungeon Master makes to ensure it comports with the rules.

And then there are guys like the guys I found. The role players.

For my money, this is where the game turns in to the retreat you want it to be. The role players create dynamic, flawed, interesting characters and play true to their character’s strengths and weaknesses. But more than that, they breathe life into the characters they have created. They give them accents. They create interesting back-stories for their characters and play them according to what baggage they might be carrying with them – figuratively and literally. They let the dice determine the outcomes – for better or worse. They trust the DM to sculpt the story in such a way that they are surprised, motivated, frightened, and above all, entertained.

The more immersive one is with the characters that he or she plays, the more fun everyone has.

If you enjoyed this change of pace, stay tuned because I’ll be writing more on D&D in future posts. I’m also working on some Dungeon and Dragons inspired fiction which I may share some snippets of here as well.

Happy gaming!

The world is not suffering from an overabundance of rational thought

The world is not suffering from an overabundance of rational thought.

I say this at least once a week. If this sentiment was true prior to our last presidential election, it’s become more relevant by a factor of about 100, since. In fact, I was inspired to write a book about it.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t respect opinions. Let me caveat that.  Of course, I respect everyone’s right to their opinion, but just the fact of expressing an opinion, doesn’t automatically grant that opinion some special dispensation from critique if it’s expressed around me. If your opinion has been formed using methods which lead you to conclude things that don’t comport with what is demonstrably true, then I will probably call you out on it.

For example, if you have opinions about vaccines not working, or global warming not being real, or the earth being only 6000 years old, or about all people of a certain skin tone being worthless, then I will take issue with you because you have come to conclusions which are factually incorrect, and in some cases, morally repugnant.

This is what Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham did to the President of the United States a few days ago. They held him accountable to his morally repugnant statement about people from Haiti and other African nations.

In a subsequent Facebook conversation I was having with a pro-Trump attorney, the attorney suggested that Durbin should have suspended his moral scruples in favor of getting an immigration “deal” done, because Durbin’s constituents are more important than his moral objections to Trump.

Never mind that that position complete absolves Trump from any responsibility for serving his constituents, the American people, in this case, but the line of questioning struck me as odd and frankly, a bit alarming.

I believe in speaking truth to power and holding all people accountable, irrespective of title or position, particularly if they are demonstrating irrational behavior or saying vile things. If the President of the United States wants to make “great deals” as he claims, perhaps Dick Durbin’s and Lindsey Graham’s vocal disgust will inform the president that he needs to adjust if he’s going to be taken seriously.

And to answer the attorney’s question, not only would Durbin’s and Graham’s constituents be better served by a more reasonable and compassionate President, but the entire nation would be better served as well.

In fact, who are any of us to remain silent in the presence of racism? The idea of suspending basic human decency in favor of political efficacy makes me wonder about the underlying morality of the trade-off the attorney was suggesting. In 1630, Puritan John Winthrop borrowed from Matthew 5:14 when he told his fellow Massachusetts Bay colonists, that this new community they had left England for, would be “as a city upon a hill”, watched by the world.

What do we want the world to see?

My public speaking adventure begins

I can’t think of a better day to begin a public speaking improvement journey, than on the day we as a nation, celebrate one of the most influential orators our country has ever produced, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

First a little background. I get the opportunity to speak publicly about once a year, usually to a large crowd at a work-related conference. While those sessions tend to go fine, once a year is just not frequent enough to truly get comfortable in front of a crowd.  Knowing this and knowing that I plan to do a lot more public outreach on topics that I’m passionate about, such as street epistemology and critical thinking, I gave myself a New Year’s resolution of delivering at least five public talks on critical thinking-related topics this year.

On MLK Day, I had the opportunity to knock one of the five off the list. It was also something I haven’t done since I was in high school….give an extemporaneous speech! With zero prep time, I picked a random Martin Luther King, Jr. quote from a basket, and then delivered a short speech based on that quote in front of a crowd of strangers.

It is great to be forced out of your comfort zone like that. Using inspiration from the quote, I’d like to believe that I put together a fairly cohesive speech about Dr. King, how he valued education, and how the real value of an education is in teaching children how to think, not just what to think. I wanted to make sure I reiterated to the audience, that education doesn’t stop once you leave the schoolhouse, and as life long learners, we all have to understand how to evaluate claims by honing our critical thinking skills. I could feel the ideas getting a bit jumbled at times, but fortunately – and for me this is a huge success – I only interjected one “uhh” in the process!

Finally, if I learned anything at all from the experience, it’s that I need to make sure I have a strong antiperspirant. 😂 On to the next speech!