This book takes a look at the religious world, everything from the true believers to the outspoken atheists. The book is told with a witty, satirical tone as well as revealing a great amount of scholarship as a departure point for mockery. The existence or non existence of hell pervades the book, but the easily readable sentences provide a closeness between author and reader. By the last chapter, I leave the reader with one word: love.
Religion perplexes us precisely because it is so religious. We are surrounded by the churches, some of them beautiful cathedrals, that seem so familiar, so meant to be there, as if someone had gone around plopping them down in ways attractive to the human eye. But a nagging discomfort that has been plaguing us for perhaps the whole of our lives corresponds with all this beauty. The sheer number of churches means that there are a variety of denominations one can subscribe to. That means that there is a multitude of ways of getting into the wrong religious life. After all, the Catholics are pointing their fingers at the Protestants telling them they are completely wrong, and you have the Evangelicals telling you it is enough just to be saved by Jesus, so who are we to listen to when it comes to negotiating the maze of saving our souls? We will be very concerned about getting it wrong. The fear of getting it wrong can consume us. It can make us afraid. It can make us afraid of ending up in hell.
There are a variety of ways of staying out of hell. One way is to abolish the religious universe altogether and convince oneself that the whole project of heaven and hell is just a fable created because we fear death. We seem to have this vexing problem of religion because we die. Just imagine if we were a race of immortal beings. Then, the whole question of whether or not to believe in God would be something of a past time. We could spin theories about what role a god would play in the life of an immortal being as if we were watching a baseball game and speculating about the outcome on the basis of the pitcher’s prowess.
Another way of staying out of hell is to become active in seeking out the one true path back to the God we left behind when we ended up in a hospital birthing room. The only problem with this method is compulsiveness. Diligently seeking out the Truth will have us running around in a way that makes us vulnerable to all kinds of pitfalls. Often, we simply adopt the faith of our family because it is the most familiar. But if we strike out on our own in order to research the issue for ourselves, we will have to concern ourselves with getting it wrong. In fact, everyone you meet will tell you that you have it wrong until you begin to agree with his or her approach. The mania to convert your neighbor becomes so all consuming that people devote their whole lives to it. It’s like a game. The more baptisms you rack up means that you are winning the soul saving dance by dunking as many people as you can in a tub of water as if you were doing a rather wet form of the mambo.
With everyone trying to convince us that their approach to God is not only the best one but also the “right” one, learning to tell the difference between the competing religions can end in a blur. One of the reasons that people are so intent on coercing agreement has to do with the fear that they are abandoning us to a horrible fate. At the end of the world and the believing Christians are raptured, those “left behind” have to cope with a world intent on torturing them. Beyond this period of punishment, all will be revealed and the correctness of their view will be available to absolutely everyone. We will all stand before the judgment bar of God and risk falling into the abyss if we have indeed gotten it all wrong. This is one worldview that the Christians have. The people, who reject this narrow selection of the saved, will have to prove that their point of view offers the advantages of a more universal cast. There are some, for instance, who believe that simply living a good life is good enough to avoid the flames tickling the feet of the damned. One such person was a philosopher by the name of Pascal whose argument became famously known as Pascal’s Wager.