As a further exploration of yesterday's topic (hell), I'd like to ask a question.
Let's say you have two people arguing. One (let's call him Sam) believes in god, divine retribution, the devil, angels, and the whole shebang. The other (Joe) believes in none of the above. In the course of the argument, Sam gets frustrated with Joe's lack of piety and tells him, "You are so going to hell. Satan has a whole room full of Inquisition-style torture equipment ready, with your name on it."
My question is: why would Sam think this is an effective means of persuasion?
Threatening Joe with a retribution by Satan in the afterlife, when Joe himself believes in neither, kind of sucks as a strategy. That notwithstanding, it seems like the most common approach. And the whole thing isn't limited to members of traditional religions.
In fact, the subject comes up because of last weekend's New Age Expo, "Body, Soul, and Spirit," which was held in Toronto. Amongst the workshop offerings were ones on "Crystal Healing," "Raising Your Vibration for Improved Health," a workshop whose description implies that quantum physics proves the oneness of the body and mind, and a "demonstration of mediumship" in which a gent named Vincent Pace "will connect to loved ones, guides, or Angels from the Spirit world, & deliver their message for audience members randomly!"
Those of you who know me well can just imagine how much I'd enjoy attending such an event. And evidently some other skeptics felt the same way, because some members of the Canadian group Centre for Inquiry (whose website is a must-see) approached the leaders of the Expo, described their stance on the whole thing, and asked to be admitted as unbiased observers.
I have to admit, it was mighty sporting of the Centre for Inquiry folks to clue the Expo leaders in on their intentions, but they must have realized that it was unlikely that they'd be welcomed with open arms. In fact, they were categorically denied entrance to the Expo. The take-home lesson, here, is that believers don't like skeptics, so the direct frontal approach in such situations is unlikely to succeed.
Myself, I'd have used the stealth approach. I'd have been the Ninja Warrior of Skeptics, dressed all in black, scaling the wall and slipping undetected into the workshops, and recording the whole thing on my tiny digital recording device. Then I'd vanish like the wind and return to my secret headquarters. They'd never know I was there, until a scathing exposé hit Skeptophilia the following day, and then they would retreat in complete disarray.
Okay, I have to admit, that's probably not what would have happened. Scaling walls is kind of out of the question for me lately. Some days, walking is almost out of the question. What I'd probably really have done is that I'd have simply bought a ticket, and probably would have ultimately been escorted out by the police after guffawing directly in the so-called medium's face. And since I doubt anyone who would attend a "Body, Soul and Spirit" convention reads Skeptophilia, "retreating in complete disarray" might be a bit of an overstatement.
But I digress.
So anyway, the Centre folks were denied entrance. What is even more interesting, however, is that the Expo leaders threatened the skeptics... with "bad karma." The response said, in part: "If you were really sincere, your company would focus on exposing the corruption in government, banking, medical, etc. So get honest with yourself or karma will teach you in ways your ego would not like."
Whoooo. That is one scary threat, there. Doesn't it occur to them that, just like the fictional Sam and Joe from the earlier example, you can't effectively threaten someone with something that they believe is nonexistent? I've never been told I'm going to have bad karma, although I have been told I'm headed for hell more than once; but it's hard to see how either one would change my behavior. You have to believe in something before it has any emotional pull on you.
Now, if the Expo leaders had said, "If you people show up here, we're getting out the baseball bats," that would be a threat I could respect. I believe in baseball bats. They do damage that even crystal vibration healing would have a hard time dealing with. But maybe the Expo leaders think that that hitting skeptics with baseball bats would be bad for their own karma. I dunno.
So, anyway, the skeptics didn't get to go to the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo, which is kind of a disappointment. Next time, they should take my suggestion and try the stealth approach. I'm happy to come along. I've got my black Skeptical Ninja-suit all laid out.