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Finding Jesus Through Board Games

The Atheist Experience podcast discussed an interesting apologetic several years ago. Here is my version.

Imagine a board game called “Monopoly Plus,” an updated version of the popular board game. There’s a track around the outside of the board that’s divided into cells. Each player is represented by a token on the board—a dog, a car, a top hat, and so on—and each player in turn rolls dice to see how many cells to advance. You start with a certain amount of money, and you can buy the properties that you land on as you move around the board. Players who then land on one of the owned properties must pay the owner rent, and the owner can pay to improve properties so that the rent is higher.

Here’s the object of the game: you must accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Yep, that’s a pretty bad game. The motivations within the game have absolutely nothing to do with how you win.

Now take that idea about a million times larger, and we have the game of Christianity®—ordinary reality filtered through a Christian worldview. It’s far more complicated than any board game. In Christianity, there are good things (love, friendships, possessions, accomplishments, experiences, personal victories) and bad things (illness, death, sorrow, financial difficulties, disappointment, personal defeats), and players try to maximize the good things and minimize the bad.

Immersed in this huge mass of complexity, we’re told that, in the big picture, all that doesn’t matter. To win the game you must accept Jesus as your lord and savior.

Wow—who invented the rules of that game? And why is the game of Christianity any less out of touch with reality than the game of Monopoly Plus?

God does not play dice with the universe:
He plays an ineffable game of His own devising,
which might be compared,
from the perspective of any of the other players,*
 to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker
 in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes,
with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules,
and who smiles all the time.
— Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
* i.e., everybody

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 11/26/11.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    The problem I see, personally, is that God won’t allow us to step out of existence. He did not ask us the permission to create us, to throw us into this crazy world, and now that we exist, we are not allowed to be annihilated. Many people would like to be annihilated rather than going to eternal hell, but they are not given the choice. It sucks.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      It sucks.

      So is God a dick? Or is he mythology?

  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com Hausdorff

    I love this game analogy. It really does a great job of highlighting the silliness of saying that all that matters in life is accepting Jesus.

    • RandomFunction2

      To Hausdorff,

      Religion is part of life. It’s not the whole life. I would even say that ethics is more important than religion.

      • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

        Think about all that there is in the religion. There are tons of rules and things you are supposed to do, but at the end, all that matters is that one thing, whether you accepted Christ. I still think the analogy is great.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Hausdorff,

          Well, it’s indeed true that in Judaism and Islam there are tons of rules, but it’s less true of Christianity (barring the Catholic Church). Jesus made it clear that he did not want to burden people with lots of rules though he did demand of them a strong commitment to neighborly love and justice.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Jesus was a Jew. As a Jew, he respected the 613 rules in the Old Testament.

          But I’m not sure the number of rules is the point. The point as I see it is that the obvious rules about how to get along in life are deemed unimportant, and previously nonexistent rules are brought to the fore and made preeminent.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken atheist,

          Sure, Jesus the man was raised a Jew. But Christian Scriptures claim that he profoundly reshaped the Jewish religion (Paul too) into something new in many ways, though it still had a connection with the Old Testament.

          To your point: when Jesus was asked to sum up the Jewish Law, he just said: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. You won’t find in the gospels an obsessive care about secondary rules, as in the Torah or the Koran. Jesus came to free people, not to enslave them to a burden of countless laws. Of course Jesus WAS demanding, but his demands have another meaning.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Bob the broken atheist,

          I’m missing the “broken atheist” part. Can you explain?

          Christian Scriptures claim that [Jesus] profoundly reshaped the Jewish religion …

          Well … in some places. In other places, not so much: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Matthew 5:17–18.

          when Jesus was asked to sum up the Jewish Law, he just said: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

          That’s it? That’s Christianity?

          There’s no hell? No rule that if you don’t believe you burn forever?

  • RandomFunction2

    to all,

    From the standard religious standpoint, life is like a boardgame you cannot refuse to play, and in which whatever you end up doing has eternal consequences.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      “God does not play dice with the universe: He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players,* to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

      Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

      * i.e., everybody

      • machintelligence

        I love Terry Pratchett novels. They have footnotes.*
        * Hell, even the footnotes sometimes have footnotes.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Footnotes? Oliver Sacks’ Uncle Tungsten was half footnotes. (At least he apologized for them.)

  • machintelligence

    This is beginning to sound like the gambler’s version of the three laws of thermodynamics:
    1. You cannot win.
    2. You cannot break even.
    3. You cannot get out of the game.

  • DrewL

    Immersed in this huge mass of complexity, we’re told that, in the big picture, all that doesn’t matter.
    Citation needed.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      A trillion years from now, when you’re in heaven, will this coversation matter? Sure, it could form a non-zero part of your personality (if you’ve not forgotten, which would be understandable).

      More important, whether you saved babies or ate them, believing in Jesus would be both necessary and sufficient to get into heaven.

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken atheist,

        Jesus says: “It is not by saying ‘Lord, Lord!’ that you will be saved, but by doing the will of the heavenly Father”.

      • DrewL

        A trillion years from now, when you’re in heaven, will this coversation matter? Sure, it could form a non-zero part of your personality (if you’ve not forgotten, which would be understandable).

        More important, whether you saved babies or ate them, believing in Jesus would be both necessary and sufficient to get into heaven.
        Still waiting for that citation…

        • Bob Seidensticker

          From … ?

        • DrewL

          You tell me…
          Immersed in this huge mass of complexity, we’re told that, in the big picture, all that doesn’t matter.
          You’re at your best when you cite real people making citable claims. You’re at your worst when you attack a strawman Christianity that is probably just undealt with emotions from your past.

          At least have the decency to dig up some marginalized irrelevant pastor that you can declare “official spokesperson for all organized religions ever.” Then you get to sit back and wait to accuse your interlocutors of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy when they complain they’ve never even heard of your appointed “official spokesperson for all organized religions ever.”

          That’s how this game is played….you need to get with it if you’re going to make it on Patheos.

        • machintelligence

          Here’s the object of the game: you must accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

          How about right from the horse’s mouth (so to speak):

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          If you’re unconvinced that many Christians see life here on earth as irrelevant in the big picture, then I’m sure I can’t sway you.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          I think Drew’s point is that, while “many Christians see life here on earth as irrelevant in the big picture,” these “many” are still a tiny minority of all Christians – and that your characterization of even this tiny minority appears to be an oversimplification.

          In other words, the burden is on you to show that this is not a straw man argument.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert: And I’ve been desperately and futilely trying to get Drew to clarify what he thinks is the truth. Have I got it wrong? Then explain why. That Drew shows no interest in doing that makes me think that he’d prefer to provoke than engage in informative conversation.

          You could be right–my characterization could be held by a vanishingly small fraction of Christians. Maybe you can clarify: what significance can our four score and ten years here on earth mean a trillion years from now to you in heaven?

  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

    I’m a little bit confused about the defensiveness here. Is this really a strawman of Christianity? If it is then the Church I grew up in must have been very different from your average church. We had plenty of rules, people didn’t always follow those rules, but there were rules nonetheless. You are supposed to come to church every sunday, you are supposed to tithe 10% of your paycheck, love your neighbor, pray before you go to bed, say grace before you eat. In a sense, every sunday the sermon was a essentially a talk about stuff we should be doing as good christians. But in the end, none of that really matters as far as getting into heaven. To get into heaven there is exactly 1 rule that matters, accept Jesus you’re in, don’t you burn.

    You might want to argue about what it really means for something to be a rule, perhaps by some definitions there really is only 1 rule, accept Jesus. But in my mind, when people say “A good Christians would do…” that is a rule. That’s a thing you should be doing. When the preacher gives a sermon encouraging the congregation to take some particular action, that is a rule of sorts. Even the rule above “love your neighbor as yourself”, what if you accept Jesus but you don’t do that, do you get to heaven? I have been led to believe by many Christians that accepting Jesus is the one and only thing that gets you into heaven. It’s usually not framed quite in that fashion, but that is the message.

    As for a reference, how about John 3:16? If you believe in Jesus you have eternal life.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I get the “that’s just a strawman of Christianity” a lot. Can they be saying that no Christians agree with the point that I’m attacking? And if they’re simply saying that they don’t accept the point that I’m attacking, then they should flippin’ agree with me!

      To get into heaven there is exactly 1 rule that matters, accept Jesus you’re in, don’t you burn.

      Yes, I think that’s a very widespread belief within Christianity. (Which, as I think we agree, is certainly not a rule that falls out of the daily ups and downs of life.)

      As for a reference, how about John 3:16? If you believe in Jesus you have eternal life.

      Maybe that’ll work, though I think Drew is determined to remain unconvinced.

      • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com Hausdorff

        “I get the “that’s just a strawman of Christianity” a lot”

        I am certainly ok with being wrong, but I don’t yet understand how this is a strawman. I have always heard that the only requirement for getting into heaven is accepting Jesus. As Bob put it above, it is both necessary and sufficient. For anyone that believes that, this would seem to not be a strawman to me.

        So for those who think this is a strawman, what are the requirements for getting into heaven?

        Sorry if I am being thick, I just don’t yet understand.

        • B-Lar

          You do understand correctly, although there is a bit more to it than that. The line “but all you need to do is accept Jesus as your personal saviour. All you have to do is believe!” is a nice easy hook, a punchline to the “You are a filthy sinner and are going to burn in hell” joke. Its a recruitment drive. You then have to be obedient to the churches commands and live a good moral life in order to get your promised reward of not-suffering indefinitely.

          The problem the chuirch faces is maintaining its numbers and therefore finances. It cant tell people to just be good people to one another (like Jesus says) because that might result in them being good people independent of the church. The “just believe in Jesus” line is quite elegant as a solution if you ignore or rationalise away the deceptions that are bundled up in it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          One has to wonder how much of Christianity’s longevity is simply insiders who, for selfish reasons, want to maintain the status quo.

    • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

      If this is the only form of Christianity you’ve ever heard of, or if you think this is representative of Christianity as a whole, then you could stand to get out more.

      Roman Catholicism alone outnumbers all other forms of Christianity combined, and explicitly does not teach “All you need to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior” as the sole necessary and sufficient condition for salvation. Nor does Orthodox Christianity, which is the second-largest group of Christians in the world. Nor does mainline Protestantism, which is a significant chunk of the rest.

      The particular version of Christianity which teaches this as the sole necessary and sufficient condition of salvation is very vocal, and may be dominant in some regions of the U.S., but it remains a tiny minority within Christianity as a whole.

      Therefore, to define all of Christianity as holding this doctrine is to construct a straw man.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Therefore, to define all of Christianity as holding this doctrine is to construct a straw man.

        Good point. And back to the blog post: do you share my view that, for those Christians to whom it applies, this is a nutty view of life?

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          Let me put it this way: I think a theology that holds this doctrine has some problems considering itself part of the historical mainstream of Christianity. But it has a wonderful internal logical consistency.

          It reminds me of G.K. Chestertons chapter on “The Maniac” in his 1908 book Orthodoxy; for example:

          The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable;

          In this sense, yes, it is a nutty view of life; but I treat those who hold it as people in need of help, not people in need of ridicule.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I meant to critique, not ridicule.

          And what is your view? What do you see as the requirement for heaven?

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          I’m a Catholic. Heaven is not (primarily) a place, but is a relationship or an event: complete union with God in Jesus Christ. The most frequent images used in scripture are a wedding feast, a garden, or a kingdom; but these images are analogies, and are not intended as complete or comprehensive definitions.

          So the requirements for heaven are not bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but the requirements of a relationship: things like honesty, faithfulness, humility, willingness to ask forgiveness when one is wrong, and above all love. The greatest commandment, the one that includes any and every other commandment, is the two-fold command to love God and love one’s neighbor.

          Every other “requirement” is derived from this: sacraments, works of mercy, moral do’s and don’t’s, etc. These are expressions of loving God and neighbor in the concrete situations we find ourselves in.

          Heaven is not restricted to after death, in the Catholic view. Death is the end of life, but is the gateway to resurrection. All people will be raised to face judgment – essentially a judgment of whether you pursued love or rejected it. Those who rejected love in this life will face an eternity without love in their resurrected life; while those who pursued love will live in a fullness of that very love they showed in this life. The more you live in love here and now, the more you will be able to live in love after death. This is one reason (among many) that the world here and now is important to Catholics.

          That is, briefly summarized for a blog comment, the Catholic view on heaven and getting there, along with why it doesn’t make our mortal lives worthless. I hope it clarifies what Catholics, at least, believe. I’d be happy to explain further anything that you have questions about.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So the requirements for heaven are not bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but the requirements of a relationship: things like honesty, faithfulness, humility, willingness to ask forgiveness when one is wrong, and above all love.

          Is this Catholic teaching, or is this spelled out in the Bible?

          This is a lot more works-y than the faith-only approach of evangelicals, it seems to me.

          All people will be raised to face judgment

          Is judgment immediately after death, or is there some time in the future when everyone faces judgment all at once? And what happens to you during this intermediate time?

          Those who rejected love in this life

          Is this code for “if you didn’t believe, you broast in hell for eternity”? And what about someone like me–middling in the good works department and about average in love, let’s say (if I may self-evaluate) but not a believer? I’m going to hell, right?

          The binaryness of the afterlive seems pretty arbitrary. That’s not how human justice works.

          This is one reason (among many) that the world here and now is important to Catholics.

          Certainly, but what about the big picture? Will your small efforts in making the world a better place be on the short list of your accomplishments a trillion years from now in heaven?

          it doesn’t make our mortal lives worthless

          Certainly not, and I never meant to suggest that.

          I hope it clarifies what Catholics, at least, believe

          Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

  • avalon

    Bob:”One has to wonder how much of Christianity’s longevity is simply insiders who, for selfish reasons, want to maintain the status quo.”

    I’m afraid that motivation goes back long before Christianity.
    Have you heard of Korah’s parable?
    Korah incited all the people against Moses, arguing that it was impossible to endure the laws instituted by the latter. He told them the following parable: “A widow, the mother of two young daughters, had a field. When she came to plow it, Moses told her not to plow it with an ox and an ass together (Deut. xxii. 10); when she came to sow it, Moses told her not to sow it with mingled seeds (Lev. xix. 19). At the time of harvest she had to leave unreaped the parts of the field prescribed by the Law, while from the harvested grain she had to give the priest the share due to him. The woman sold the field and with the proceeds bought two sheep. But the first-born of these she was obliged to give to Aaron the priest; and at the time of shearing he required the first of the fleece also (Deut. xviii. 4). The widow said: ‘I can not bear this man’s demands any longer. It will be better for me to slaughter the sheep and eat them.’ But Aaron came for the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (ib. verse 3). The widow then vehemently cried out: ‘If thou persistest in thy demand, I declare them devoted to the Lord.’ Aaron replied: ‘In that case the whole belongs to me’ (Num. xviii. 14), whereupon he took away the meat, leaving the widow and her two daughters wholly unprovided for” (Num. R. xviii. 2-3; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 4-6).

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Ouch. Now that’s an oppressive government.

  • Clyde

    I don’t get it. “in the big picture, all that doesn’t matter.” “The motivations within the game have absolutely nothing to do with how you win.” It seems like this only describes a sort of nominal Christianity which half-serious Christians, whether they’re Catholics or only Creationists, would not care for.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Help me understand your point. Are you saying that no Christians feel that life here on earth is unimportant in the big picture? Or are you simply saying that you don’t feel this way?

  • DrewL

    Drew:

    If you’re unconvinced that many Christians see life here on earth as irrelevant in the big picture, then I’m sure I can’t sway you.

    Wow, I thought you preferred beliefs that were supported by empirical evidence. Here you’re essentially trying to turn a claim about empirical reality into a “self-evident belief” and then recast my desire for “proof” (generally something atheists value!) as a sign of my own closemindedness. I’ve apparently dared to questioned a truth not permissible to be questioned here; how naive of me.

    It seems, at least for this perceptionsof religion, you are either a) too intellectually lazy to actually investigate empirical reality, or b) are largely working from unscientific, unverified personal prejudices.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I thought you preferred beliefs that were supported by empirical evidence.

      Good catch.

      Here you’re essentially trying to turn a claim about empirical reality into a “self-evident belief” …

      Do many Christians see life here on earth as irrelevant in the big picture?

      and then recast my desire for “proof” (generally something atheists value!) …

      Proof? You’ll find none here. The best I can offer is evidence.

      …as a sign of my own closemindedness

      ?? And next I’ll learn that I’ve accused you of racism as well!

      I completely missed my charge of closedmindedness.

      I’ve apparently dared to questioned a truth not permissible to be questioned here; how naive of me.

      Straighten us out on this issue.

      • DrewL

        The best I can offer is evidence.
        I’m still waiting for it.

        Immersed in this huge mass of complexity, we’re told that, in the big picture, all that doesn’t matter.
        Evidence? Who is telling “us” that?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’m still waiting for it.

          Yep. I have none that will satisfy you, as I’ve made clear.

          But here’s your chance to add clarity to the conversation. Tell us what Christians believe on this issue. (Or is clarity not your goal?)

        • DrewL

          Yep. I have none that will satisfy you, as I’ve made clear.
          Try me. You’re the one making big statements about a belief system of which you are not a part. I believe the burden is on you to present some empirical evidence. If your blog exists to “critique Christianity’s actions in society,” I would think your arguments would be improved by critiquing empirically-verified actions, not actions dreamed up in your head.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Wow–how much more can I give up on this challenge of yours than I already have?

          The challenge has now shifted to your capable shoulders. I’ve already asked you twice to unravel this conundrum. Straighten us out on this issue. That you don’t makes me think that you don’t much care about sharing information but have some other agenda.

        • Phil

          Too bad DrewL never replied. I would have been curious to hear what he had to say….

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Phil: Yep, I would’ve liked to have seen his reply.

          Remove the nastiness, and I’m sure he had a lot of good analysis that could help illuminate the situation. (Though as it was, his attitude made conversation difficult.)

        • Phil

          I agree.


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