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Why is one belief better than the other?

So, over at RPG Watch forums, there is this interesting discussion titled, "Why is one belief better than the other?" What's interesting (aside from the fact that it's taking place on a gaming forum) is that it hasn't sunk down into a religious war. There are cool conversations happening. And I made a post that I wanted to reprint here in its entirety. The discussion centered around a woman who believes that God is responsible for everything in life – her grades, her jobs, her success, her failure. She could control none of it. I likened that to Calvinism (predestination).

And then I told an interesting story. Maybe. You can judge for yourself, but first let me give you one piece of info.  There is an allusion to a game that you need to know about in order for some of this to make sense.  The game involves a character called Vhalior.  He is a suit of armor with nothing inside except pure will to do justice.  And at a certain point in the game, the main character (called "The Nameless One" or TNO for short) has the ability to cause Vhalior to disappear in a puff of logic, the armor clanking to the floor.  How this happens isn't the point here.  The point is merely this: what happens when we follow our own logic about existence and discover that we don't need to exist?

Here is the post, in full:


Originally Posted by Corwin
Aboyd, you have over simplified the tenets of Calvinism a trifle there.

I'm not sure I did, since I mostly just linked to discussion about it. People can learn for themselves about it and "see how deep the rabbit hole goes." But if you're referring to my act of tying Calvinism to this woman's viewpoint that "God does everything," perhaps you might allow that I was trying to be charitable with someone I don't know?

Originally Posted by Corwin
I subscribe to SOME of his ideas (certainly not all ), but PB's friend is taking an EXTREME position and I don't like any form of extremism. Actually, I think most extremism is escapism!! These people are trying to escape, primarily from any sense of responsibility, for their life, their actions, and their relationships!!

Let's assume – since we don't really know – that she is not trying to escape responsibility and self-examination. Instead, let's just say she has a framework for trying to make sense of her life. If something awful happens, what does that mean? How can she go on if at a personal level she has seen horrible failure, and at a global level she has seen genocide and "acts of God" that utterly decimate entire populations? There are some pretty cruel things to deal with out there, and I don't blame a person for saying, "maybe God's masterplan is at work here and all this horror will ultimately lead to something good."

If it keeps someone from killing themselves and remaining able to contribute something good, then I'm not going to blame.

A few years ago I overheard a girl chatting with a friend at the Barnes & Noble in my area. It was rude to listen, but the conversation was like tip-toeing across a razor blade. It was clear the "friend" was going to easily direct this person into living a full life, or killing herself that night. The girl had become an atheist, and the more she delved into it, the less hope she had. What was the point? You do good, you die, and nothing comes of it? You fight for starving people and charity, and make barely a dent, and then a government kills half the population and buries them in mass graves? She just started thinking about the whole "no consequences no reward" issue that comes up when you think that life on Earth ends with nothing more. We're just basically a virus on a rock in a big black nothingness. And eventually the whole universe will collapse back in upon itself or will disperse into cold oblivion, making everything here useless.

That was her thinking. As you can probably tell from my previous posts, I'd be fine with that thinking if it turned out to be true. I wouldn't mind that everything returns to nothingness. I wouldn't mind that everything we do is completely without any eternal impact or point. I would certainly lead a different life, though. However, for her, this was a crisis. To her it meant there was no reason to go on. She wasn't doing anything worthwhile and technically, she couldn't. The structure of her universe was built to null out everything.

To put it into game terms, she had become Vhalior and TNO at the same time. She was sitting there in tears, having followed the logic to its natural conclusion, and what it said about her life was so tragic that she was about to disappear from existence.

To be honest, I'm criminal enough that I didn't stick around. I didn't interrupt, didn't try to save her, but didn't try to urge her into oblivion, either. I figured fate, God, or something had put that person there, at her table. And whatever he ended up saying would either work, or not.

I almost thought it might be poetic that he could have said something profound, something life-changing, something that sent this woman's life onto an awe-inspiring trajectory... and that no one but her would have been there to hear it. It's their secret.

And so we come full circle. We don't know what secrets this friend of purpleblob has. We don't know what went on in her head. We don't know what bargains she has made with God or herself. Maybe she is just escaping blame and responsibility. Or maybe she is fully in love with God and everything she says is just an act of worshiping Him. Or maybe she gave it years of thought and would shock purplebob with her depth of insight if he were to bring up Calvin. Whatever the case, these things have a way of working themselves out.

Originally Posted by Corwin
The tenet of Free Will is fundamental to Christian thought and belief (and I believe to the most of the Jews and Muslims, but I could be in error there ). The relationship between free will and God's will is not something I have time to explore here, but suffice to say God is not a puppet master directing every aspect of your life. For me, He's more a loving father wanting me to be the best I can be!! PB's friend has a very distorted view of God IMO!!

Ah. I agree that Free Will is Teh Win. I'm not sure I can make pronouncements about the nature of God, though. Your idea that God is a loving father is interesting, and Biblical. It's too bad that you don't have time to explore it here, as I suspect that's probably the kind of thing the original poster was looking for.

Of course, I would stand on the sidelines, and toss out questions that undermine the entire concept. So maybe it's best not to discuss. These are, after all, the things that get me kicked out of every church I've ever attended.


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Comments (2)
Michael writes:

I disagree with your statement that atheists have nothing to "live for" so to speak. I'm an atheist, and I typically think that a person's purpose in life should be to enjoy himself (using masculine terms to save some typing) while doing what he can do to make other peoples lives better when he gets the chance. Sure he may die, but his children will have benefited in some way from him, as will the children of people he helped.

There's are plenty of good things in the world to be happy about, even without believing in a god.

Tony writes:

Michael, thanks for commenting. I'm sorry it took me a month (!!!) to approve it. I was flooded with spam comments (about 1000 of them) and it took me a long time to wade through them all.

Anyway, I appreciate you providing a different perspective. Sadly, while it's a nice counterbalance, I don't think it nullifies my example. That is to say, while I fully believe that you have great purpose as an atheist, this poor girl I eavesdropped on clearly did not. Your good experience doesn't make her bad experience disappear, although it does paint a fuller picture of the world. So thanks for that.

In any case, my point wasn't that all atheists are struggling with an existential crisis. My point was that many people have had to wrestle with very profound questions in order to get where they are, and we ought not write off someone's behavior as shallow or unpurposed when we haven't lived what they have lived.

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