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What atheists hear when people “debate” theology

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 19:10 EDT
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I love Nicole's take on how ridiculous it was that Chris Matthews had a round table to debate "what if there was no hell?*": "This is why we can't have nice things."  Debating whether or not there is a hell on national television is one of those things that makes me wonder if we, as a nation, are collectively five years old.  SInce this is a claim that can't really be dealt with on evidence, all the arguments basically fall along the lines of, "I believe X because I want result Y." 

You can watch the video yourself to see what the panelists actually said, but this is what I, as a non-believer, was hearing from them.  It starts off okay, with a discussion of Time magazine covering an evangelical preacher who doesn't believe in hell.  That's a fact-based story with real political implications, and I have no problem talking about that.  What I don't like is weighing the actual veracity of a claim that has as much evidence for and against it as the existence of unicorns.  But alas, that's the debate that happened, so here is my paraphrase of how it all went down:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: So, can we agree that religious claims have more to do with trying to sell yourself to people than the actual truth of the matter?

ANDREW SULLIVAN: I don't like the idea of an actual hell, so I'm going to dismiss it without evidence. However, I still enjoy thinking about baseless religious bullshit, so I'm just going to claim, out of the blue, that people who don't believe in god are actually in hell.  Of course, I just claimed that atheists are basically living in hell, which is stupid because there's no reason whatsoever to believe atheists are being tortured or are unhappy. Luckily, since we're all speaking bullshit, evidence against my insinuations is irrelevant.

JOE KLEIN: I'm going to note that I have an entirely different religion with completely different teachings. This doesn't actually matter in this debate, however, because I think we all kind of know this is made-up bullshit and doesn't really matter outside of how it can be used as a political weapon.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: The real question is, when you're making up bullshit and pretending to believe it, is it okay if you decide your bullshit is going to be nothing but sunny optimism, or should you inject some made-up adversity to prove that you're hard core?

NORAH O'DONNELL: Don't forget that social control is the major reason to make up bullshit.  Heaven and hell are more than just fun abstractions, like playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons. We should pretend there's a hell in order to extract certain behaviors out of people who are scared of it.  We should also hold out the empty promise of heaven in order to extract compliance with arbitrary religious dictates.

BECKY QUICK: I'm going to assume this hell stuff is in the Old Testament, since it sounds nastier and the Old Testament is nastier, right?  Either way, magazines have been exploiting this bullshit to sell issues forever.  But as long as you're making shit up, you might as well make up pretty stories people want to hear. You'll get more followers that way.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Why does the Christian right prefer the mean-spirited lies to the prettier lies, if the prettier ones are supposedly more popular?

ANDREW SULLIVAN: The meaner bullshit works better for them when justifying their preferred economic policies.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: For those of you whose preferred form of bullshit is Christianity, enjoy your arbitrarily chosen holy day.

*Answer: Life would be exactly as it is, since there is no hell.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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