Sorry it's taken me so long to post this continuation of our previously-msg'd discussion regarding your The Evolution of Christianity node. I've preserved your msgs and will respond, though I should warn you that I'm totally high on blow right now and may be more incoherent than usual.

Well... I think you've misunderstood me a bit... pascal's wager is an anti-meme to christianity. Being aware of the wager makes one less likely to believe in christianity.

Maybe it's the term "meme" that's throwing me off. indicates that the Wager was intended by Pascal (a devout Christian) as an argument for belief in God. Christianity doesn't enter into his argument -- I would suspect that since Pascal believed there is only one God, the first step in following him would be to accept his existence, an argument for which decision he then presented. So...are you then saying that because it is not a convincing argument for this it therefore becomes an anti-meme against Christianity?

Also, the Christian apologists I've read so far tend to be highly educated people who are aware of Pascal's Wager and have not found their faith shaken by it. What leads you to say that awareness of the Wager makes one less likely to believe?

most people are not aware of pascal's wager, however, and as such, the heaven and hell meme still does a good job scaring/bribing christians into being loyal.

Hmm. Have the Christians you've met been people who live in fear of the possibility of their going to Hell, or who are easily bribed? I'm picturing an army of greedy, cowardly creatures, alternately twitchy and grasping. This doesn't fit the personalities of most of the folks I know, so I'm genuinely curious about your experience.

I will however admit that we believe just about everyone has reason to be concerned at the possible consequences -- whether they come in this world or the next -- of how we choose to live our lives. I think it's obvious to anyone that each of us is capable of evil, and that we all do wrong however much we try to do right. We believe that therefore the solution lies in action from outside ourselves. But personally, this line of reasoning wasn't what made me a believer so I guess I won't go too far into it.

pascal's wager essentially says that because there are many different types of christianity that say "we're right and if you follow the others you'll go to hell" there is no way that anyone can pick and choose... i mean.. if there are 26 different versions of christianity, you have only a 1 in 26 chance of going to heaven, but a 25 in 26 chance of hell. At this point, the individual is supposed to realize the absurdity of the situation, throw up their hands in the air, and become an agnostic... well... that's what's supposed to happen according to me, anyway.

Hooray! My brief career as a philosophy major was not a total loss, for this reminds me of the dilemma of Buridian's Ass, in which a donkey starves to death because he cannot choose between two equally attractive bales of hay. The thing is, unless someone lives in a small town where there is only one church, pretty much every convert is aware that there are many different Christian sects, groups, denominations, churches and communities out there to choose from -- and while in the world of philosophy you'd think this would make it impossible to choose, in the real world people manage to do so.

Here's the thing. There is one Christianity, which has within it many different interpretations, traditions, methods of organization, and styles of worship. Some of these groups will claim (sometimes vehemently) that their community's interpretations, traditions, etc. are more faithful to God's intent than the others. When you become a Christian, you're not swearing allegiance to a specific club because you believe that you'll go to Hell if you don't -- you're making the decision to follow Jesus. This makes you a Christian. Whatever community you then join in order to live out that decision is your second choice.

Becoming a Christian is actually much simpler than having to choose from among a gazillion different groups. To become a Christian you do three things: believe in Jesus Christ, repent of your past misdeeds, and be baptized in his name. That's it. Given this, you can see that there are Christians in all of these supposedly mutually exclusive denominations, forming what one might call an "invisible church", the true membership of which is known only to God. Even the most hard-headed partisan will likely, if pressed, admit this (though he may feel that these True Christians should be brought over to the "right side" as soon as possible, as wherever they are now is doubtless filling their heads with lies.)

By the way, I don't mean to imply that believing and repentance are necessarily things that come to someone in a flash. They are a process. For me, when I became a Christian, belief was not a matter of suddenly saying, "Thirty seconds ago I was a doubter, now I am unshakably sure that Jesus is the Son of God." I had come to suspect that there is a God, and after much searching and struggle I decided to trust Jesus as someone who could lead me to the answers to my many questions -- and who I was at least willing to believe was the Son of God though I didn't fully understand yet how that could be. Likewise, real repentance came later when I had a better understanding of myself and could perceive my faults and weaknesses more clearly.

I actually have modified my writeup to address the good issue you raise about not all denominations being mutually exclusive... the point is, as long as there are still multiple versions that are exclusive it doesn't matter what the other denominations that get along with each other do... those versions that are exclusive still say that everyone else (including those who follow non-exclusive denominations) is going to hell and so pascal's wager still holds.

See, I disagree. It is entirely possible to choose which community of faith is right for you -- it just takes a little effort. Hell, I did it and I'm constantly second-guessing myself.

I'm not as well versed in the bible as you, so if i'm wrong, please tell me, but doesn't christianity slowly become more of a softer, loving religion over time? if this is the case, could you let me know exactly which specific aspects become softer? if this isn't the case.. obviously let me know that too.. thanks.

Erm. This is tough, because from the very beginning Christianity has been accused both of being too harsh and being too soft. For example, look at Jesus' alarming words in Matthew 5 31-32:

Furthermore it has been said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

This can seem terribly harsh. As someone who is married to a divorced woman myself, I'm certainly taken aback! But then look what happens in John 8:

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

Taking this all together, you have a religion whose members firmly believe in the danger of sin, but are constantly reminded to examine themselves first before presuming to judge others. Human nature being what it is, this is often the hardest thing to do and history is full of failures of this sort.

Some believe that the Old Testament presents a harsher picture of God than the new, but I feel that for the most part this is a result of focusing on its stories of God's anger and ignoring the more frequent passages revealing God's love. Ezekiel 33 speaks directly to this:

Again, when I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die," if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. Yet the children of your people say, "The way of the LORD is not fair."

I also believe that when a community is in danger (as the early Christians certainly were) moral imperatives take on an urgency that lessens when life becomes easier -- at such a time, a transgression that sows anger and mistrust within the congregation could eventually lead to its destruction, and in some cases arrest, prison, and even execution.

Finally, in the Bible and in the history of the church we see a continuing revelation of God's nature. The implications of Jesus' teaching become clearer as time goes on, and causes Christians to take a stand against things that may have been accepted in earlier eras. For example, though the institution of slavery is never explicitly condemned in the Bible, most Christians found as time went on that living out Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself", and the doctrine that all human beings are made in God's image, required them to oppose it.

I am considering adding a discussion about the idea of "love" and what it's effect on christianity has been.... I wonder if it is outside the scope of my w/u, however...

Yeah, although it's certainly part of Christianity's evolution, to discuss it fully here would require a lot of space. I guess it depends on how deeply you want to get into it -- whole libraries of material have been written on the subject.