So there we have it: Pastor Sonny Manuel provides people passing the Palm Heights Baptist Chuch with the definitive answer to a conundrum that has been exercising philosophers for years.
Well, he almost does. I think he's actually trying to be funny.
...or maybe he's simply an accomplished surrealist? Isn't everyone in his line of work?
It's the certainty of it that annoys me most, I think. In "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins talks about a continuous "spectrum of probabilities" between two extremes of opposite certainty, which can be represented on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certitude that God exists and 7 is certitude that God does not exist:
- Strong theist. 100% probablity of God. In the words of Carl Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
- Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
- Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
- Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
- Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'
- Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
- Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'
Dawkins rates himself as between a 6 and a 7: "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there." He goes on to add that "I am agnostic, but only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." His point is that although not many 'atheists' would score themselves as a 7, how many Christians would score themselves as anything other than a 1? I get the distinct impression that Pastor Sonny Manuel would score himself as a strong 1, don't you?
Surely they're not representative? For every one of those, there must surely be hundreds of perfectly reasonable signs outside churches, put there by nice, moderate people?
But why am I asking Google?
(That's certainly true, but am I alone in thinking that Google has probably provided more actual answers over the years than prayer?)
Then again, in the cold light of day, is saying something as sanctimonious, judgmental and smug as "I kissed a girl and I liked it... and then I went to hell" actually all that much more ridiculous than saying "When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Both statements ultimately display a level of certainty that I suspect leaves little room for rational debate. There was one outside the church around the corner from me the other week loudly declaring that "JESUS IS HOPE". There's not much room for doubt or negotiation there either.
Of course, as long as they don't insist on inflicting it on anyone else, people are entitled to believe what they want. If you ask me, I think that we'd be a whole lot better off basing our society upon the utopian ideals of the Wyld Stallyns:
Now just tell me the world wouldn't be a better place if we all lived by that one simple adage?
Here endeth the lesson.