Atheism 2012: Deal with the Devil

This is the third post in my series on Atheism, a series of observations with the goal of leading to a hypothesis as to why atheism has yet to become the dominant belief structure of society, particularly among technologically wealthy cultures. 
To some observers, it may seem that I give the atheists a hard time... or perhaps a disproportionately hard time. This is true. However, I feel that it is justified by the following two reasons:
  1. They talk about God too much. 
  2. They're doing it wrong.
One of the most annoying things about the religious is the constant discussion of their religion. Every topic of conversation becomes a chance for them to share their belief of their God's divine hand playing a part in our daily lives. Believe what you want, copulate with who you want, but come on... keep it to yourself.

The atheists that I give a hard time to are just as guilty. Every topic of conversation becomes a chance for them to share their belief that no deity played any sort of role in the matter at hand. If they truly believe God doesn't exist, they should shut up about him already. They're like the annoying kid in class who got the answer right, but then won't shut up about the question.

If they're not going to shut up about God not existing - if they have some self-assigned moral obligation to cure society of its mass delusion - they're doing it wrong.

They're doing it wrong
If they're doing it for the wrong reasons, if they like to show off their debate skills or like feeling intellectually superior to other people, they're doing it wrong, see #1.

If they're doing it for good reasons, if they think religions are harmful to society as a whole, misogynistic and bigoted, mechanisms of control over a populace that have been used to disastrous ends, they're still doing it wrong.

I've yet to encounter an atheist either justifying his belief in the non-existence of a deity or trying to convince a believer of their folly that hasn't done so using logic, reason, and evidence to make their case. That's how they're doing it wrong.

They don't see that evidence, logic, and reason is the wrong approach because their ego won't allow them to. The reason their ego would prefer it if they continue to be ineffectual by arguing using these tactics is that their ego doesn't want to admit how close they came to making a Deal with the Devil.

The Deal with the Devil

The Kübler-Ross & Grim model 
Quoting Wikipedia, (and if we can't count on egotistical know-it-alls to make sure Wikipedia is accurate enough for the purposes of discussion, we're probably doomed as a species anyway):
The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, is a theory first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
According to The Kübler-Ross & Grim model,1 humans go through the stages of the The Kübler-Ross model on a much larger time scale in addition to the 'acute' stages commonly recognized.

While the stages are recognized in patients with a terminal diagnosis, we also go through the stages when we first learn the concept of our own mortality. In modern American youth, I suspect this begins in early adolescence, not long after the Santa Claus myth is dispelled. There are several well-known behavioral stereotypes of people in various developmental/aging stages of human life that, if accurate, might serve as evidence to support the Kübler-Ross & Grim model:

Early adolescence to late teens: Invincibility - reckless behavior without regard to one's own mortality

Teens to mid-twenties: Rebellion. Nonconformity. Perhaps including stages of self-discovery.

Late teens to early sixties: The Deal with the Devil

Teens and older: Depression and suicide, self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, drug use, and promiscuity. Possibly including mid-life crises.

Early twenties and older: Inward spiritual journeys, reproduction, and conformity.

Deals with the Devil
While a deal with the devil is literally a deal with the fallen angel of the Christian religion in literature, it is also used to describe other human bargains where the bargainer exchanges something of great personal value for what appears to be desirable, but the trade results in the bargainer being worse off than prior to the bargain. These are often examples to warn against:
  • undervaluing what one already possesses 
  • failing to recognize the difficulties that come with possessing the object of desire (be careful what you wish for) 
  • trusting those more powerful than you have your best interests in mind
In The Kübler-Ross model, bargaining often manifests as an attempt by the terminal/grieving to trade changes in behavior, material wealth, etc. for a reprieve from their impending confrontation with their own mortality. 

In the Kübler-Ross & Grim model, the bargaining happens at a much deeper level within the human mind, possibly the subconscious level. Thankfully, keeping my end of the bargain has proven to be impossible and the agreement is no longer valid. I was able to move out of the bargaining stage.

As posited and illustrated in the previous post in this series, faith is an inherent human ability similar to imagination that when applied to an idea allows the idea to become a belief. For the most part, humans evaluate ideas to determine whether they are worthy of the faith required to believe them as true with reasonable criteria.

Ignoring or making exceptions to these criteria is the requirement of accepting the Deal with the Devil, the bargain proposed shortly after one is exposed to the idea of their own mortality. For those familiar with stereotypical Deal with the Devil, these exceptions are the 'signing of the contract in one's own blood' to seal the deal.

The Bargain 
As plausible deniability of the individuals mortality begins to crumble under the weight of the contrary evidence, the Devil arrives in the form of religion. 
"No", it whispers, "your inner voice does not have to grow silent when your heart beats its last beat. Not you, you get to live forever. All you have to do is reject all evidence and ideas to the contrary."

"You can continue on after your body dies, just make this little exception. Take the idea that you exist forever, that all that really makes you 'you' will continue on, apply a little faith, and make the idea a belief."

"Go on, sweetling, go ahead and believe. No one will have any evidence it's not true. Use the lack of evidence of falsity as evidence the idea is true. Believe, and live forever."

I accepted the deal. My ego has always wanted to be immortal and the bargain was presented to me while I was living in a shiny rhinestone of the Bible belt. The common acceptance of the soul and immortality made it easy to apply the necessary faith. The Devil seemed to be keeping his end of the promise too, lack of evidence disproving the existence of my soul never surfaced. Data from self-observation and observing other people was interpreted to support the new belief.

Of course I have a soul, that's where emotions come from. I even bought into that line from City of Angels about crying being because our mortal coils couldn't handle the emotions our souls were experiencing. Any reports of research indicating things like 'love is a chemical reaction in the brain' weren't contrary evidence, heavens no! That was just science observing the soul's effects on the human body.

The Package Deals: Religions
My Ego, however, has an issue with pride. It takes great pride in my ability to think and reason. While such a prideful thing readily accepts its own immortality, in the Bible belt there's a deluxe package being sold. The cost, however, if significantly higher; Not only does one have to apply faith to the idea of their soul's immortality, but one also has to use that belief as evidence of the existence of God.

As part of the bonus package, you get an invisible friend that loves you with perfect love. Not only are you better than sliced bread to this invisible friend, he's also all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Who wouldn't want such a friend?

The catch? Oh, a minor thing really. You have to ignore all that evidence, logic, and reason stuff just one more time. Sure, this time there's less of that 'lack of evidence to the contrary' to make things easier for you, but isn't having a supreme being as a friend and loving you with perfect love worth applying just a little more faith?

Oh, and one more thing: If you don't live your life by this ancient book your new friend wrote, you have to spend eternity in torment and suffering - probably a lake of non-consuming fire.

So Many to Choose From
The bonus package I struggled with. Sure, it'd be great to have the all powerful creator of the universe looking out for me - but actually sacrificing the pursuit of my ego's desires or eternal suffering wasn't something such a prideful thing wants to accept. So, I shopped around. There was the Catholic version, the Baptist version, the Pentecostal version. Heck, if none of those bonus packages was appealing enough, the internet made it possible to shop all over the globe for various invisible-friend packages for all different levels of costs and risks.

Yet, my ego resisted buying in on any of the bonus packages. Having an immortal soul so my physical body's mortality was no longer an issue was pretty damn nice already. Did I really need any more than that? Couldn't I just continue believing I had an immortal soul and not risk spending eternity in torment and the mortal existence part in servitude?

While my ego was struggling not to accept the extra deal, I explored a couple of the options on a trial basis. I spoke to several of the sales representatives who had personally signed on for a bonus package and discussed my hesitancy with them. In all of those discussions and in similar discussions I have since witnessed or read, they always had that one pesky argument I couldn't find the hole in: If One of Us is wrong.

You've probably heard or read at least one version of this:
If you're wrong, when your body dies you spend an eternity in torment.
If I'm wrong, when my body dies I'll have lived a good life and never know my true fate.
Until recently, the best answer to that reasoning I had was to find fault in the 'good life' portion, to argue how all the restrictions and requirements would get in the way of what I wanted to do with my allotted time in this mortal coil.

Hidden Costs
Recently, I've realized the hidden costs of not only the Bonus packages (accepting a theistic religion as truth), but also the hidden costs of believing in an afterlife and an immortal soul/ego. Quite simply, these beliefs require that you devalue the time spent in your mortal coil.

If you pull the faith in these beliefs out long enough to take a look, switch them back to ideas for a few moments, you can see the way they devalue what you currently possess: the time within your human lifespan.

If you go on forever, how is taking the time to see one more sunset worthwhile? They'll be plenty of sunsets to see when your afterlife kicks in. Maybe you'll travel across the stars experiencing firsthand the beauty we can see in pictures from the Hubble telescope. What's one little sunset compared to that?

If you go on forever, you don't really need to waste your time on earth visiting and spending time with the people you love. You'll have all the time you could ever want to spend with them just inside the pearly gates. Go ahead and work late.

If you don't though - if you're wrong and it's over when you die, can you imagine the weight of those decisions as you breathe those last few breaths? What other sacrifices will you have made along the way? What other opportunities will you have missed? What experiences will you have shunned? All so you could stay in the good graces of your all-powerful invisible friend. Tragedy and waste of the only thing you had worth having, your one life: That's what you get if you're wrong.

Ego and Evidence
I suspect there are at least two subsets of vocal anti-theists that choose to raise their voices against religion and theocracy. Those that entertain the possibility of a soul but insist there is no deity and those that chose not to strike the deal at all, refusing to apply their faith in exchange for spiritual immortality. On the surface, they aren't easy to differentiate as both will limit their arguments to evidence, reason, and logic. However, they do so for fundamentally different reasons: Ego and ignorance.

For being such proponents of evidence, reason, and logic, it is somewhat surprising that they continue to use the same tactics despite the obvious failure of those tactics. Evidence and its cohorts continually fail to undermine the faith believers put into the idea of an immortal soul and a supreme being.

The religious are under contract to reject any reason, logic, or evidence that doesn't support the existence of their God or their immortal soul. If they keep their end of the bargain, the get the payout of spiritual/ego immortality (or at least get to believe they do). Trying to get them to break their bargain with what they must reject to keep the bargain is about as effective as trying to get those guys in the furry hats at Buckingham Palace to laugh.

The Egoist
Like me, the egoist is likely to have accepted the Deal with the Devil at one point in his or her life. If not, they very seriously considered the bargain, and likely still entertain the idea that there may be something to the whole 'immortal soul' thing. Even if they can't allow themselves to apply faith to the idea and make it a belief, they do see the attractiveness of it.

Egoists continue to use evidence, reason, and logic to make their case because their ego demands it. Having embraced evidence and the like and refusing to trade it for an immortal soul, their ego embraces it as their defining quality. It convinces them that they were never close to allowing themselves to apply faith not supported by reason and such.

They want to see themselves as never having considered abandoning such precious things in exchange for an all powerful invisible friend. Not them, they've been loyal to logic through and through. Having embraced evidence and reason, they believe rational evidence-based reasoning is sufficient in and of itself to enlighten the most fervent religious zealot.

They've convinced themselves that the evidence impinging the accuracy of religious texts was all they needed to reject the idea of a deity. Using a tactic not based in evidence, reason, or logic would call that into question. Their ego won't accept that sort of behavior.

The Ignorant
The ignorant, on the other hand, have actually always been true to evidence, reason, and logic. For them, these things were sufficient grounds to reject not only the idea of a deity, but also the idea of an immortal soul.

They are ignorant of the Deal with the Devil, and cannot comprehend how so much evidence fails to sway the religious. Without the knowledge of the bargain, they reason the most likely cause of their failure to shake the faith of the believer is insufficient evidence, unexplained logic, or faulty reasoning. Determined, they just keep trying. More evidence, clearer reasoning, or step-by-step logic - Surely one of these things will get through to their opponent.

Doing it Right
To get through to a believer, it is necessary to understand the nature of the agreements they've made. They're not oblivious to the possibility that the faith they put in these beliefs is unfounded, but they don't see the hidden costs. To them, the payout of an immortal soul and an all powerful deity on their side is worth turning a blind eye to reason and contrary evidence.

The best chance for convincing them to reconsider their bargain is not to highlight the irrationality of the bargain. Instead, highlight what adhering to the bargain is costing them. If they can be made to see the devaluation of their most precious resource - their only shot at existence, the precious few years they have, the freedom they sacrifice to be obedient, the opportunities for genuine interaction not measured against an uncertain and unlikely afterlife - then perhaps they can be reached.

Not all can be reached, surely. Some will always be willing to put all of worth they have on the roulette wheel in the hopes of something more. Some can be reached though, more than will be reached by focusing on the things they've already agreed to reject in advance.

The unreachable, those that cannot be made to see the value of their time on earth as precious in the shadow of comparison to an immortal soul, will need to be offered a better deal. They need a new Package Deal that still allows for the belief in ego immortality and an all-powerful and loving caretaker, but with fewer restrictions and requirements.

1 If someone else already thought of this, I currently am ignorant of this fact. I will gladly properly reference the original thinker if I gain knowledge of him/her (it could have been in Kübler-Ross' book for all I know).