Just in case


This video is making the rounds on the internet. It’s called “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See”, but that’s a bit strong. It’s about global climate change (GCC) and what, if anything, we need to do about it. It’s strange in that the author doesn’t try to convince you that GCC is actually occurring, but that we need to do something about it anyway.

The logic is hardly groundbreaking — either GCC is occurring or it isn’t, and either we do something about it or we don’t. If it is occurring and we take action, we’re good, and if it is not occurring and we do nothing, we’re good. The two risks are the crux of the argument, and he describes the two extreme cases. If GCC is occurring and we don’t take action, ocean levels will rise, wiping out entire cities or possibly countries, millions of people will die and millions more will be homeless, there’s worldwide economic, political, and social chaos, and life generally will suck. If it is not occurring and we do take action, we could be spending billions of dollars solving a problem that doesn’t exist and we cause a worldwide economic depression. The latter is certainly the lesser of the two evils, so we need to take action against GCC, “just in case”. I have no real problem with that logic, and am happy to do my share to help.

Am I going to become a vegan or vegetarian because the more meat we eat, the more cows there are, and the more cows there are, the more gas they release, thereby contributing to global warming? No, because I don’t think that cow farts are really that big of a problem. I have actually seen this reasoning in defence of veganism, by the way.

Anyway, the logic he used reminded me of religion. I think a large number of people believe in God “just in case”. They figure that if God exists and I don’t believe, then I get to sleep in on Sundays, but I’m going to hell. If God does not exist, and I do believe, then I’ve wasted** my Sunday mornings and not much else. Going to hell is obviously worse, so I’ll go to church. I know that there are a much larger number of faithful church-goers who believe wholeheartedly in God, and this is not something they think about — God not existing is not an option in their mind. But I think the number of “just-in-case”ers is not insignificant.

Personally, I am as “devout” an atheist as the aforementioned “faithful” are devout Christians (or Jews or Muslims or…), so the option of “God exists but I don’t believe so I’m going to hell” doesn’t exist in my mind. In fact, I used to be a just-in-case’er myself, back before I “came out” as an atheist. It seems that some consider “atheist” one of the worst insults you could use, like “anti-American” (or its equivalent, “terrorist”) seems to be these days. Once I decided that the word “atheist” was not an insult and accurately described me, I dropped the whole “just-in-case” thing.

But the just-in-case’ers seem to be missing one crucial point. If God does exist, then he knows you’re a just-in-case’er, that you don’t really believe with all your heart, so you’re going to hell anyway. In that case, you’ve wasted your Sunday mornings and you’re going to hell. Worst of both worlds.

** – I also realize that people do more at church than simply pray. They learn valuable life lessons during sermons, meet people and make friends, perhaps get advice or counselling, etc. I talked with someone once who said that her mother was “the biggest atheist around”, but still went to church on Sundays because she simply enjoyed it. I’m sure a lot of the just-in-case’ers really enjoy their church-going time, and from that point of view it’s certainly not “wasted time”. But you know what I mean.

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