The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Soul for Sale

February 1, 2006 | 40 Comments

A 22-year-old atheist from Chicago is offering the religious a chance to convert him — on eBay. While he doesn’t take his non-belief lightly (he’s active in a couple of national secular organizations), he “would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary.” His proposal:

Everytime I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day — for a certain number of days — for at least an hour each visit. For every $10 you bid, I will go to the Church for 1 day. For $50, you would have me going to mass every day for a week.

My promise: I will go willingly and with an open mind. I will not say/do anything inappropriate. I will respectfully participate in service, speak to priests, volunteer with the church if possible, do my best to learn about the religious beliefs of the church-goers, and make conversation with anyone who is willing to talk. (Though I do reserve the rights to ask the person questions about the faith).

Substitutions allowed: Instead of the Irish church, he’ll attend a Protestant church, or a mosque, synagogue or any other house of worship the bidder believes might challenge his non-faith. He’ll document his attendance with a journal or pictures, and chronicle the experience in the agnostic/atheist newsletter he edits.

What are some objections to this offer? As preliminary matter, I don’t see the financial aspect of the transaction as a major difficulty. It’s not a wager like the one made by James Randi, which gives the skeptic a financial incentive to resist belief (or deny it) to win the bet. Rather, in this case, the atheist is paid in advance and will gain nothing more by attendance.

The offer is not completely unprecedented: at least one church has offered to pay members to attend, and many offer non-financial incentives unrelated to theology to fill the pews. And a staple of Christian theology is the doctrine that one should sacrifice all of one’s worldly possessions to help another enter the Kingdom of God. While is it certainly possible to object that the money would be wasted in this particular case, and dismiss the auction as a money-making scam by a hardened atheist, that seems unlikely. The amounts involved are trivial given the effort required to set up the auction, attend the church and document compliance.

More troublesome is an objection frequently raised (among many others) to Pascal’s Wager. PW proposes that it is safer to “bet on God” by believing in Him because everything is gained if you are right, and nothing is lost if you are wrong. But the notion that one can simply flip a switch and “make” oneself believe for a reward is unsettling. A belief is something one embraces on the ground of its truth, not gain. And, of course, if one did not believe in God, the reward would be no incentive because it too would be rejected as illusory. Interestingly, Pascal’s answer to this is consistent in a significant respect with our eBay atheist’s project:

Endeavor, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.

The auction proposal differs somewhat from Pascal’s in that the atheist will not merely be acquiescing in worship and rituals, but will continue to seek actual reasons to convert through a process of questioning. But his offer does not exclude the possibility that he will thereby be convinced of the “proof” of at least one of their arguments: namely, that faith is a “gift” that can hit anyone and relieve them of the need to seek additional, more traditional proofs. While this may seem implausible to most atheists, who would reject it along with the possibility that “faith” could somehow persuade them that 1 plus 1 equals 5, believers who came to God by faith would know differently and accept the offer as a sucker’s bet. And by bidding they would have nothing to lose, certainly nothing that was, under their own premises, of any value.

Comments

40 Responses to “Soul for Sale”

  1. lily
    February 1st, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    And a staple of Christian theology is the doctrine that one should sacrifice all of one’s worldly possessions to help another enter the Kingdom of God.

    Huh? Since when? This is a new one on me. I am aware that I might have to sacrifice all of my worldly possessions to get rid of all the baggage that keeps me from God but it sure is news that I have to do it for someone else.

    Really, RA. You may want to stop playing armchair theologian and go back to ticking off your base over abortion, where you are on solid ground.

  2. Jesse
    February 1st, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

    There is a website, http://www.ebayatheist.blogspot.com/, where he is going to document his “journey”, and it says at the top that

    “To those reading this, the proceeds from the auction will be going to the Secular Student Alliance, a non-profit group that supports high school/college secular groups across the nation.”

    So the religious people who are paying to attempt to convert this one atheist are in fact directly funding the education and collaboration of even more atheists! I love it!

  3. tarkovsky
    February 1st, 2006 @ 1:44 pm

    But the notion that one can simply flip a switch and “make” oneself believe for a reward is unsettling. A belief is something one embraces on the ground of its truth, not gain.

    You can’t be serious. A belief is something one embraces on the ground of how it psychologically satisfies you. That is a sort of gain, wouldnt you say? And that would explain why there are so many conversions.

  4. SmartBlkWoman
    February 1st, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

    I’m with Lily on this one. I’ve never heard a Christian say that you have to sacrifice all your worldy happiness to gain entrance to heaven. Thats like saying only paupers can be happy in the afterlife.

  5. benjamin
    February 1st, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

    hmmmm SmartBlkWoman, TRA and Lilly talked about giving up wordly possessions, not worldy happiness. I’m sure that was just a slip, and you don’t equate possessions with happiness, right SBW?

  6. Bob
    February 1st, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

    “I see FOUR lights!”-Captain Picard

  7. SmartBlkWoman
    February 1st, 2006 @ 7:48 pm

    benjamin said: hmmmm SmartBlkWoman, TRA and Lilly talked about giving up wordly possessions, not worldy happiness. I’m sure that was just a slip, and you don’t equate possessions with happiness, right SBW?

    No, I made a mistake. But I must admit that nice worldly possessions do make me happy. Who doesn’t want a beautiful home, successful career, and a nice car? Going on vacation to some exotic resort twice a year wouldn’t hurt either.

  8. Jason
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 1:15 am

    “I’ve never heard a Christian say that you have to sacrifice all your worldy happiness [possessions] to gain entrance to heaven. Thats like saying only paupers can be happy in the afterlife.”

    I seem to remember Jesus saying something about the rich getting into heaven being as easy as fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. He also said several other things about giving all your money and possesions away. Can’t think of them off the top of my head. True, he didn’t say that that was the only way, but he made it pretty clear that it was one of the best ways.

  9. SmartBlkWoman
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 1:29 am

    Jason said:I seem to remember Jesus saying something about the rich getting into heaven being as easy as fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. He also said several other things about giving all your money and possesions away. Can’t think of them off the top of my head. True, he didn’t say that that was the only way, but he made it pretty clear that it was one of the best ways.

    I know what your talking about. He wasn’t speaking about the possessions themselves being the blockade to stop entrance to heaven ( atleast I don’t think so). I think that it was more that rich people get so wrapped up in the things that they have that soon they start worrying more about keeping money and the status that money brings instead of being a good person. Its not the possessions but the attitude that comes with it.

  10. Gathercole
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 2:54 am

    re: Randi’s challenge, while Randi himself may have a “financial incentive to resist belief,” the test is not performed by him or his organization, but by volunteer scientists who have no money on the line, and eternal fame to gain if they are the first to prove the existence of the supernatural in a controlled experiment.

  11. Jason
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:17 am

    You may be right about his meaning. But it seems to me that he’s saying that it’s damn near impossible for anyone to get rid of that attitude without being willing to actually forfeit their worldly possessions.

  12. Lily
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 7:52 am

    Jason:

    This is one of those happy times when two people in seeming disagreement really aren’t. At least not very. Actually you are almost (97.664%) right and SBW has nailed it.

    Wealth can be a trap. But Jesus wasn’t saying that people have to give up their worldly possession; they just have to be able to, (which for many is really hard). And there is a practical reason for that, if you think about it. How will we be able to help feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and help out with other needs, if we ourselves have nothing?

  13. mark
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 8:35 am

    Pascal’s wager assumed that there was no cost to belief in this life – but isn’t life much more fun when you don’t believe in hell?

    Try flipping Pascal’s wager around – ask someone who absolutely believes in hell to convince themselves that there would be no consequences to a decadent lifestyle. It would be hard.

    Just for clarification, my atheism is not motivated by, or used as an excuse for, living without rules of common decency. I say this because I remember watching an interview on Fox where the presenter asked an atheist if there were any atheists in hurricane Katrina. I think he genuinely thought that people chose atheism because of desire to live without morality and would convert back when they needed god.

  14. HappyNat
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 10:54 am

    Lily said “But Jesus wasn’t saying that people have to give up their worldly possession; they just have to be able to, (which for many is really hard). . . .”

    Well then what is the point? I am able to turn my entire paycheck over to charity, but I don’t have to do it. Just the fact that you are willing to give everything up means you don’t really have to do it. Well who can’t do (say) that?

    Seems pretty weak to me. Kind of like “sacrificing” yourself and then coming back to life 3 days later.

  15. Lily
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

    What is the point? God is not fooled. He knows who can and can’t. It is so interesting to me that you frame your response as you have. It is another clear demonstration that y’all don’t get it.

    The demands of Christianity are not a series of hoops one has to jump through but habits of the heart and soul one needs to develop, in order to follow Christ. So it is pointless for me to claim to be able to give up all my worldly goods, if that is what it takes, if I cannot do it. Maybe the people around will think I am wonderful but the only one who matters won’t be impressed and will deal with me accordingly.

    There is a story in Acts (A book of the New Testament) about a couple who claimed they had sold a piece of property and given all the money to the Church. They were lying and when they made the claim in public, they were struck dead for lying. Lest anyone miss the point, the author tells us that was the reason and that the money had been absolutely theirs to keep.

    As for the rest, well, I can see you are no theologian, not that you actually have to be to understand the death and resurrection narrative. You could understand it by reading one of the Gospels from beginning to end. You might still not *believe* it but that is not the same thing as understanding it.

  16. No God Here
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    I understand and believe that it is impossible to rise from the grave.

  17. Choobus
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 3:09 pm

    lily wrote

    “There is a story in Acts (A book of the New Testament) about a couple who claimed they had sold a piece of property and given all the money to the Church. They were lying and when they made the claim in public, they were struck dead for lying. Lest anyone miss the point, the author tells us that was the reason and that the money had been absolutely theirs to keep.”

    so, according to the bible, shlould the commander in chimp be “struck dead”? If not, when can I take a gander at all the WMD’s in Iraq?

  18. Lily
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 3:15 pm

    Choobus: the lying in question was about a specific matter. If all liars were immediately struck dead, who would still be alive?

    If you want to look at the WMDs, head off to Syria. Or, go to northern Iraq and look at the mass graves of the Kurds who were gassed.

  19. jahrta
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

    No god here:

    “I understand and believe that it is impossible to rise from the grave.”

    I guess you’ve never played the Sega Genesis classic “Altered Beast” ? :P

    (although given the crappy 16-bit sounds they culled to sound like speech, it really comes out more as “rye fum yo gabe”)

  20. Choobus
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

    Lily, are you saying that lying about giving money to the church is grounds for death, but lying in order to start a war is ok? Somehow this seems unreasonable to me. Is this one of those “god works in mysterious ways” type of thiings?

  21. HappyNat
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

    Lily,

    What is this “New Testament” you speak of (I hope this parenthetical statement is as condescending as yours)?

    So you know I was a believer for 20+ years. I was raised in a Methodist church, snag in a traveling church choir, went on mission trips, and was a all around good Christian boy. I’ve read the Bible straight through on two occasions, once when I believed in Middle School, the second time in Graduate School when I was trying to convince myself I believed. Guess how that second reading turned out? The Bible made much more sense as a folklore used to teach people right and wrong and explain the world instead of the word of god.

    Sure God struck all those people down in Acts, but back in Biblical times he was all over the place. He spoke to people, flooded the entire world, lit bushes on fire, sent his son down, and gave people all sorts of visions. Proof of god abounds in the Bible!! So where has god been the last 2000 years? After people murdered his son he decided to go into hiding and only communicate through tortillas, crying statues, and stains on walls? He hasn’t struck anyone down in 2000 years.

    I understand the death and resurrection of Christ just fine. It makes sense that to convince a society that was accustomed to sacrificing animals to god(s) that a story about a god would sacrificing his son would convince people. The people of the time could relate to the story and see how much this god loved them. Sorry, but it just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me today.

  22. Choobus
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:28 pm

    “So where has god been the last 2000 years? After people murdered his son he decided to go into hiding and only communicate through tortillas, crying statues, and stains on walls?”

    Aaaa ha ha ha, that’s great. Fuck going to church, you’re better off going to taco bell to hear the TRUE word of god

  23. Alfredo
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

    Lily’s WMD comments hold a mixture of batshit stupidity and complete irrelevance, given that:

    1) She repeats a common belief that Iraqi WMD did exist, but were smuggled to Syria — a belief that no one has ever produced a scrap of evidence for, but one that assuages moonbat right-wing fascist bloggers all over the Western world. No matter — the blood is still on their hands.

    2) She points out that Iraqi kurds were gassed, without mentioning that this was done with materials sold to Iraq by the United States and her Western allies, and that the United States and her Western allies continued to sell Iraq WMD materials after this atrocity took place.

    Anything to justify the death of Muslims is okay with you, though, Lily.

  24. Alfredo
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    Choob, God and Jeebus and Allah and their ilk work in mysterious ways.

    No one’s been “struck down” for millennia, except by their followers.

  25. Lily
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 5:51 pm

    Jim/Alfredo: Believe what you want. And no matter who gave Saddam the materials for making the gas that he used to indiscriminately kill the Kurds, he is the one who made the gas and used it.

    HappyNat: I am sorry you found my parenthetical qualifier condescending but what for you is self-evident is not self-evident to all the atheists here, as I have seen demonstrated over and over.

    Choobus: The story in Acts relates to what happened to two supposed Christians who lied to the apostles and the rest of the Church. The lesson was for the Church and, among other things, should remind us that God expects better of those who claim to be his followers.

    Neither you nor I would be writing here today if God struck down all liars. Not that in your case that would be a bad thing but I reserve the right to believe that I am special and deserve to be spared.

  26. Alfredo
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 8:09 pm

    Lily:

    Thanks for confirming, once again, that you’re a mental midget.

    In one fell swoop, you show your predilection for dodging points with which you’re incapable of dealing (the fact that no evidence whatsoever has been produced by anyone demonstrating that Iraq had WMD material in the run-up to our invasion, or that anyone smuggled said fanciful WMD to Syria), and ignoring the point of a discussion (that Saddam Hussein committed mass murder with the direct, tacit, and implicit support of the Western powers who now vilify him for it).

    I wish I were surprised by your determination to cling to the fanciful “Syria” theory, but then again, you do adhere to the beliefs of a ridiculous ressurection cult.

    I wish I were surprised by your unwillingness to face up to the hypocrisy of supporting a mass murderer until it’s inconvenient, but it’s the sort of thing I’ve seen from you and your ilk before.

    I am, however, slightly shocked that you take your frustration with the constant trouncings you receive here to the level of wishing that Choobus had been killed by a diety. But, then again, I’m sure they love that sort of stuff over on LittlegreenFreakballs.

  27. Lily
    February 2nd, 2006 @ 8:16 pm

    Jim:
    Why does it not surprise me that you can’t read a rather mild joke and see it for what it is? Anger deranges. And you are deranged, no matter what name you post under.

  28. Nate
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 12:01 am

    All I can say is I wish I had thought of this…..there has got to be somebody willing to pay a ton of money to watch some guy go to church and when your done you just put yourself up for auction again.

  29. Alfredo
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 10:30 am

    Lily:

    You’re so cute. Whenever someone points out the idiocy inherent in your logic, you simply avoid the discussion altogether, and/or say “I was joking! How dare you hold me up to any intellectual standards!”

    Unfortunately, those of us watching the bodybags coming home, and those still being filled in Iraq, don’t find your moronic “jokes” about the reasons for invasion funny at all.

  30. Lily
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    Get medical help, Jim. I made no jokes, moronic or otherwise, about the invasion of Iraq. You are having hallucinations.

  31. Alfredo
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    “I was joking! No, I wasn’t!”

    …and the Anne-Coulter-isation of Lily is complete.

  32. godsarefake
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

    Lily said: And no matter who gave Saddam the materials for making the gas that he used to indiscriminately kill the Kurds, he is the one who made the gas and used it.

    So, by that logic, if the US is blameless here, we should let Charlie Manson out of jail, because he didn’t directly commit murder, he only gave some women the means to commit it.

  33. godsarefake
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

    Lily said: And no matter who gave Saddam the materials for making the gas that he used to indiscriminately kill the Kurds, he is the one who made the gas and used it.

    So, by that logic, if the US is blameless here, we should let Charlie Manson out of jail, because he didn’t directly commit murder, he only gave some women the means to commit it.

  34. Lily
    February 3rd, 2006 @ 9:12 pm

    Fake:
    You can do better than that, for heaven’s sake! Manson’s actions and goal were murders. The fact that he did not actually kill is irrelevant. He planned it and enabled it.

    The materials supplied to Saddam had several applications. He and he alone developed them into a toxic gas with which to murder what? 5000 Kurdish men, women and children.

    The US bears as much, perhaps less, guilt in the Kurdish slaughter, as you do for wearing clothes and walking on rugs made by slave and/or child labor in horrendous condition in Indonesia, Thailand, China, et al. When I see you all beating your breasts about that, I will take your issues with our sins in Iraq a little more seriously.

    If an earlier version of this fine message appears, it is because for the gazillionth time when I attempted to post, the message was lost and I got the always welcome “page not found” . A conspiracy? It can’t be ruled out…

  35. godsarefake
    February 4th, 2006 @ 2:35 pm

    The US bears as much, perhaps less, guilt in the Kurdish slaughter, as you do for wearing clothes and walking on rugs made by slave and/or child labor in horrendous condition in Indonesia, Thailand, China, et al.

    You really think the U.S. government is as ignorant about the things it directly allows to be sold to Iraq as the average American citizen is about who and where their consumer products come from?

  36. Alfredo
    February 6th, 2006 @ 11:28 am

    Lily only thinks that the US is blameless in Iraq’s use of WMD if she is ignorant or foolish.

    The materials provided to Iraq were provided via specific Federal export licenses BECAUSE of their potential for use in WMD; this was despite Iraq’s past use of chemical weapons against Iran. And, once Hussein had used the weapons on Kurds, we continued to export those materials to Iraq.

    Her imbecilic comparsion of sweatshop labor issues is not only a wild, wild stretch, it relies on a common logical fallacy.

    This is all par for the course for Daphne’s Mom, however, who will go to any lengths to demonstrate how brown people deserve whatever they get, unless they’re Jewish.

  37. godsarefake
    February 6th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    Alfredo,
    You hit the point on the head. The other piece of information that I think is important to this discussion, is to note that Turkey, one of the American’s time-honored allies in this highly strategic world arena, is a mortal enemy of the Kurds. There is no reason (other than moral) why the US would stop Saddam’s slaughter of the Kurds and, because of the U.S. alliance with Turkey, many reasons why they would (in a completely deniable way of course) promote it. While this supposition is unprovable at this point, such an action is consistent to the way the U.S. carries out much of its foreign policy that involves unsavory activities.

  38. Papa Vic
    February 9th, 2006 @ 6:54 am

    What theists fail to appreciate is that Pascal’s Wager works equally well when basically inverted:

    “Any God that would make Himself so obscure and distant so as to allow if not encourage confusion and dissention about His basic existence and nature needs must extend extraordinary grace to cover the disbelief of honest skeptics”

    Any god that could impose on his creation free will and then punish it for using free will is an hypocritical, unjust autocratic monster.

  39. demon dog lucifer
    February 22nd, 2006 @ 5:45 pm

    i love obedient stupid souls. you shall be my taking. your payment shall be 1 billion dollars american money per US Bank abn#78953612 upon crucifixtions to the demon spirits on earth called jobs, taxes, bills, liberals, hypocritics, faggs, and daily grind. your spirit and soul shall be engulf upon your next breath and passing by car or person without a SSN. You shall be the curses of curses. Hell is start to take over thanks to the nice people and average person. Payment in full upon your soul leaves your flesh per US Constitutional code 87563 death penalty by choice. check yours states for legality; acceptence of this is a legally binding contract. Recourse is Death at JOB.

  40. jahrta
    March 6th, 2006 @ 4:37 pm

    “i love obedient stupid souls. you shall be my taking. your payment shall be 1 billion dollars american money per US Bank abn#78953612 upon crucifixtions to the demon spirits on earth called jobs, taxes, bills, liberals, hypocritics, faggs, and daily grind. your spirit and soul shall be engulf upon your next breath and passing by car or person without a SSN. You shall be the curses of curses. Hell is start to take over thanks to the nice people and average person. Payment in full upon your soul leaves your flesh per US Constitutional code 87563 death penalty by choice. check yours states for legality; acceptence of this is a legally binding contract. Recourse is Death at JOB. ”

    So LucyMuff is posting under a new name now, is s/he?

  • Basic Assumptions

    First, there is a God.

    Continue Reading...

  • Search

  • Quote of the Day

    • Fifty Random Links

      See them all on the links page.

      • No Blogroll Links