Belief, behavior, and bumper sticker religion

I’ve occasionally remarked that I don’t care so much what people believe as I do how they act. The people I enjoy spending time with are not always those who share my beliefs, but are those who demonstrate integrity, respect, honesty, and other virtues. These virtues are associated with not just holding beliefs in the sense of a mere tendency to agree with a statement, but a deeper belief that actually has consequences for one’s behavior. When I was a born-again Christian, I heard many sermons to the effect that many Christians were Christian in name only, paying only lip service to the doctrines while not living their lives in accordance with them. Clearly, there are a lot of such people out there.

There are a number of arguments that have been made by atheists to the effect that typical Christian behavior demonstrates that they do not really believe what they purport to believe. One such argument (a relatively weak one) is that Christians grieve at the funerals of fellow Christians.

Another is one that I’ve used myself, that applies to Christians of the sort who have bumper stickers on their cars that say “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” If these people really believed in an imminent pre-tribulation rapture, they would not just be putting stickers on their cars, they would refrain from engaging in activity that would put others at risk of not just death but condemnation to hell. Specifically, these people are purporting to believe that

(1) We are living in the End Times. Armageddon is near, and the rapture may occur at any moment.
(2) At the rapture, all believing Christians will be taken bodily up into heaven, while nonbelievers are left behind.

They also typically believe that

(3) During the seven-year tribulation that will follow the rapture, nonbelievers who convert to Christianity will achieve salvation and make it to heaven (though they will likely suffer persecution at the hands of the Antichrist and be martyred).


(4) Those who die without converting to Christianity will suffer eternal torment in hell.

But combine this with the following common sense belief that I think most would agree with:

(5) Driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment while in a state in which one may lose control at any moment (e.g., being intoxicated, being subject to epileptic seizures or narcolepsy) recklessly endangers the lives of other human beings and is immoral.

and you get a problem for anyone who actually believes their own bumper sticker slogan yet thinks that they are not doing anything wrong by driving, that

(6) Christians do not act immorally by driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.

The items (1)-(5) cannot be held consistently with (6). At least one of them has to give in order for (6) to be the case. I suspect that most Christians don’t really believe (1), and hold that the probability of the occurrence of the rapture during the immediate future (such as within the duration of a drive or airplane flight) to be significantly lower than the probability of an accident due to the other factors listed in (5).

About Jim Lippard
  • David B. Ellis

    As an atheist I prefer to leave bad arguments to the theists….and this is a bad argument.

    Any of us could have a sudden incapacitating illness (heart attack for example) which would leave our car unguided. This doesn’t mean we should never drive a car.

  • Bilbo Bloggins

    Peeeyew! This stinks….

  • Brian

    You should into account the probability of the rapture occurring at any given moment. Even Christians who believe in rapture w/in 10 years are only taking a 0.0011% chance of crashing every time they drive for 1 hr. That’s 12 times safer than the nat’l average of 0.014% chance of crash per 1 hr driven.

    (calculated from data here: 235 crashes every 100 million miles times 60 MPH)

  • Jim Lippard

    David: The key factor is the probability of the incapacitation; I think Brian’s response is the right way of refuting the argument. Bilbo’s, not so much.

  • Joe Markus

    If God can miraculously transport people from their cars into heaven, why can’t he miraculously insure that cars or other heavy equipment don’t unjustly kill or injure someone?

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