Can You Be Scared of God’s Wrath If You Don’t Believe in Him? May 17, 2009

Can You Be Scared of God’s Wrath If You Don’t Believe in Him?

This was among today’s collection at PostSecret:


I wonder how that works… to not believe in a god, but still think that your disbelief will result in something bad…

Isn’t that a contradiction?

Has anyone else ever felt that way? — You don’t believe in the supernatural, but you fall into irrational, superstitious thinking…

Maybe you don’t believe in horoscopes, but when you come across them in a newspaper, you instinctively scan for your own astrological sign.

Or maybe you crack open a fortune cookie and instead of automatically dismissing whatever it says, you stop for a second to think about whether or not it applies to you.

Have you ever done that?

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  • I hate to say I always scan the horoscopes. I know it’s a load of bunk, but Scorpios are just so awesome that I like to cherish my sign ;P

  • Gabriel

    I like the fortune cookies because you can add “in bed” to the end of every fortune and get a giggle and sometimes a real laugh.

  • Ryan

    I have an irrational hope that fortune cookies will somehow result in me winning the lottery or coming into a vast sum of money through some other mechanism.

  • Penn

    I also read fortune cookies for the ‘in bed’ factor. 🙂
    I think one of the few things I get superstitious about is dice (and much less than most RPG players). If my dice are rolling really poorly I’ll occasionally swap to a different die.

  • Maybe the cause of her fear is that his fellow soldiers will find out his wife is an atheist and then treat him differently, potentially increasing his chances of not surviving a combat situation.

    Or maybe she’s afraid HE’LL find out and disapprove, deciding that he doesn’t want to come home to a heathen wife.

    If not one of those two things, it seems like a contradiction, but not a surprising one, IMHO, especially if she’s recently become an atheist and still has those moments where she wavers… kind of an involuntary Pascal’s Wager moment.

  • Chad

    @Gabriel: Or “with a chainsaw”. Or both!

  • Can You Be Scared of God’s Wrath If You Don’t Believe in Him?

    I think yes. It’s more the fear of being wrong than the actual fear of God’s wrath. I still sometimes am afraid that I’m wrong. Hey, that’s part of being human.

  • Josh BA

    I hate those fortunes. They make eating a perfectly good cookie a pain in the ass (I am the only one I know who actually likes the cookie part). I usually just toss them without looking.

    When it comes to superstitions, I take a time out to think of what I would say to someone in my position if I was being brutally honest. Then I take my own advice. It has cut down on my instinctive/gut reactions to go along with superstitions immensely (I no longer have a lucky d20 for D&D for instance).

  • I think the book “Super Sense” deals with this issue, and my posts are full of reminders that none of us are free of the folly of superstitions and fallacy laden mental processes. Thanks for the post !

  • Les

    I took that to mean that her husband would leave her.

    I guess I’m just stupid =P

  • Will

    I also read fortune cookies for the in bed or in my pants factor and when I roll the dice i will switch them out even though it is completely irrational it still makes me feel better.

  • NeuroLover

    I actually read the card as being scared because she might never see him again (i.e. because there’s no heaven).

  • GullWatcher

    It doesn’t seem like a contradiction at all to me. Unless someone’s rational concious mind is 100% in control of all their mental processes (and our brains just aren’t built that way), thoughts like that will creep in. What’s important is not that people have irrational fears and thoughts, it’s what they do about them.

  • I intentionally confront those feelings. For example, someone might not want to think or talk about what would happen if someone had a terrible car accident and died, but I think it all out and then remind myself that it’s very unlikely that this person will die on this day from an accident.

  • Chal

    After watching Candyman as a kid, I still don’t think I could say “Candyman” five times in front of a mirror. If I’m right, I just look foolish, if I’m wrong I get painfully disembowelled in the comfort of my own home.

  • I’ve got to admit, I do sometimes have “those moments”. My husband and I are at a fertility clinic trying to get pregnant, when I’m depressed after yet another failure (and dosed to the gills with hormones) I often weep that god is an asshole and is keeping me infertile out of spite because I don’t believe in him. (Of course, these feelings only last a few hours at most then I get my thinking head on again and blame the scar tissue from my childhood abuse).

  • I actually read the card as being scared because she might never see him again (i.e. because there’s no heaven).

    That’s what it looked like to me, too.

    In that short, ambiguous post card, there’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that she’s saying she fears God will punish her for disbelief. It looks more like she’s saying that her disbelief makes the prospect of his death more distressing — she doesn’t have the comfort crutch of “Whatever happens, we’ll be together in the afterlife” that she sees in other military wives.

  • I read it more as being a contradiction…

    But an understandable contradiction particularly if she was formally religious. Its hard to shake all the remnants of religious conditioning from childhood.

  • bernerbits

    What, so nobody reads fortunes tacking on “in bed” at the end anymore?

  • magdalune

    Sure, I have irrational superstitions and beliefs. And I know they’re irrational. I still knock on wood, still say “bless you” after people sneeze, still cross my fingers, still wear my favorite shirt on days I want to do better. I still get nervous of shadows when I’m on my way to bed after watching a scary movie, and I probably wouldn’t say “Bloody Mary” three or five times in a dark bathroom. Some of these are simply socially acceptable habits that no one believes but everyone does.

    And I sometimes fear God (at least, a mental construct of him) because of that fear of being wrong.

    The side effect of imagination is superstition. I combat it as well as I can.

  • I read the card slightly differently from the above. She is not scared of God’s wrath. Rather, she is scared because she does not have the irrational hope held by some religious people. She cannot tell herself that God will guide her husband safely home.

  • I wonder how that works… to not believe in a god, but still think that your disbelief will result in something bad…

    Isn’t that a contradiction?

    Not necessarily. The person in question may be a “Failed Job” atheist, as PZ once called them:

    He is a failed Job; he’s portrayed not as an actual contented atheist, but as someone who has broken under the burden a god has placed on him, and is therefore a sympathetic figure, and also is implicitly endorsing the audience’s beliefs about god. Job without god, after all, is just a deluded loser.

    This is the kind of atheist that we see so often in movies and such.


  • medussa

    I think this woman’s fears make perfect sense.
    She’s under a lot of stress, managing her very realistic fear that someone she loves will be killed, either because he is targeted, or because he is near someone who has been targeted. She has even less control over the situation than he does, and one way of managing that is to try to create control (“if I just hope hard enough, it’ll all turn out ok”, etc).
    And we’ve all been indoctrinated in this culture (some more than others) that there is a god out there who can intervene on our behalf or punish. It’s hard to completely excise that indoctrination when under such extreme and ongoing stress.

  • MikeH

    I don’t believe in ghosts and yet I am afraid of them. Although the more time that goes by having never seen one the less I seem to be afraid. Maybe some day I won’t tiptoe around the house late at night.

  • Wendy

    That’s a total contradiction and it makes no sense to me at all.

  • anna

    i think there’s nothing wrong with the occasional involuntary superstition as long as you realize that’s what it is. I not only read fortunes, but have developed a superstition that if I read it before completely consuming the fortune that it will be invalidated. like many of my compulsions, I am aware that it is completely unreasonable. That knowledge doesn’t stop me from the action. I’m just glad that most of my superstitions are not things that affect anyone other than myself.

  • Hank Bones

    I read the card completely different. I understood it as her husband choosing not to come home to her because of their differing views on religion. If she de-converted while he was away, that would be a legitimate outcome that any rational person would fear. For her sake, I hope he does come home, and they live atheistically ever after.

  • AnonyMouse

    I quit switching out dice because my luck seems to build up the more I use the same one.

    Also, my motto as an early apostate (before my parents found out about my disbelief for the first time) was “Dear God, please give me the courage to tell my parents that I don’t believe in You anymore.”

  • Chakolate

    I totally understand her fear. When your husband is in danger, or your child is ill, you always wonder if there’s something you did or didn’t do or should have done. You second-guess yourself silly.

    Her fear is irrational – yeah, that’s kind of how fear works.

    And for those of us who were indoctrinated very young, with stories of a wrathful god who would smite us for not believing… well, that’s hard to overcome.

    The first time I shook my fist at the sky and dared god to smite me (I was making a point to a believer), there was a part of me that was afraid. It’s not rational, but since when is fear rational?

  • Yes, I’ll scan my horoscope if I’m reading the paper, or I’ll check out a fortune cookie. But I don’t do it to inform my daily actions, I do it purely for the entertainment. As such I see no mental disconnect. However the statement on that picture is just plain bonkers. It makes no sense, and was almost certainly written by a religious person trying to make a non-believer turn to god.

  • I agree with Chakolate’s comments. Unless you’re a hardline New Atheist (emphatic disbelief in anything supernatural) there’s a state of uncertainty. And when it comes to the life of someone you love: when it comes to logic and intellectual analysis… what if you’re wrong?

    But to extend that thinking a little further: what if you’re wrong… and your loving, benevolent god decides to smite your soldier partner for something you have or haven’t done, leaving you a widow and your children fatherless? It doesn’t make sense, even if gods existed.

  • Ngeil

    I still kinda fear hellfire even though I am very sure hell does not exists.

  • No… just… No.

    Then again… I still cross my fingers sometimes for luck even though I’m very aware that it’s utterly useless. But, I think that a conscious fear of judicious smiting is probably on a different level.

  • Polly

    Maybe she’s just saying that unlike the confidence that other army spouses have because of their faith, she is afraid because she has no such (false) confidence in a happy ending.

    Otherwise, I can’t make sense of it.

  • Polly

    but Scorpios are just so awesome that I like to cherish my sign

    Well, that’s just common knowledge. 😉

  • First thing I think of is Pat Tillman.

  • This is why Christians and theists insist we believe in god: because he’ll emotionally torture us in this life and the next if we don’t.

    Where’s the love in that? Imagine if I told my girlfriend that if she didn’t marry me and devote her entire life to me, I’d murder her parents and siblings. It wouldn’t come off as very loving (or sane); and yet god’s allowed to do it scot-free. Amazing.

    Incidentally, my girlfriend dying in a senseless car accident is exactly what made me question the whole god thing to begin with.

    As an ex-hardcore Christian turned atheist, I’ve already made my piece that if I’m wrong, I’d rather burn in hell than pretend to love a god who is impossible to love and trust anyway.

  • John Larberg

    You don’t have to be all that rational to not believe in gods. I think part of us should remain irrational so to speak so that we continue to dream and wonder about unlikely things like luck, ghosts and other mythologies.

  • ski-dc

    I don’t believe in any of that stuff either, but I always put on my team jerseys when there is a big game (go Penguins in the hunt for the Cup, by the way).

    Clearly this is an idiotic superstition, but it’s buried pretty deep in the old noggin, and I can’t quite kick it. At least it lets me rub it into the Caps fans that we beat ’em.

    It is rather funny that I don’t believe in God and am very clear about it, but I still gotta wear that Pens shirt “just in case”. : )

  • Michelle

    Hank Bones, I read it the same way as you did — that he might find out she didn’t believe in god and choose not to return because of it.

    And to all of the fortune cookie readers, “in bed” is good, but I can do you one better! A webcomic to explain:

  • shyrgil asuncion

    I’m not sure if  she really did not believe with God. Oh she’s like a devil that against with God. suboxone treatment

  • shyrgil asuncion

    Oh!! Don’t mind of what is his beliefs. He is an antichrist, I hate people that against God. suboxone doctors

  • shyrgil asuncion

    I hate person don’t trust to our only one God. I threat them as like a devil. suboxone

  • That’s sad. Gods and devils are both imaginary.

  • Rant

    you really are, ignorant, bigoted and pathetic.

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