Adventures in Theology--Tutu's Wager

I am about 90% finished with a post on the Hebrew Scriptures seen through the Girardian lens.  In the course of writing this post, an idea that has been percolating in my head came into focus, and idea that I call Tutu's Wager.  It's a bit of a riff on Pascal's Wager, coined by the French thinker Blaise Pascal, but in a sense it is also the opposite of Pascal's Wager.  It goes something like this.

Consider Huitzlopochtli.

Huitzlopochtli is the god of war in the tradition of the ancient Aztecs of Mexico.  As can be seen in the picture, the proper way to worship Huitzlopochtli (and many of the other gods of the Aztecs) is to sacrifice human beings to him by cutting out their hearts.  At least, that's what the Aztec priests believed, so let's assume that, to the extent Huitzlopochtli exists, he demands the sacrifice of human beings.

Suppose for a moment that you are concerned about the question of whether Huitzlopochtli is real.  Or, rather, you are concerned with the practical version of the question, which whether or not you need to change your behavior in light of Huitzlopochtli's teachings.  Presumably, you have no desire to cut out the hearts of human beings; indeed, you find that abhorrent to your moral senses and intuition.

On the other hand, it is possible Huitzlopochtli actually exists; then, on some level, your failure to sacrifice human beings will put you in poor standing with Huitzlopochtli, and will likely have bad consequences for you.  I am not familiar with the ins-and-outs of Aztec theology, but I know the Mayans a bit further south in southern Mexico believed in an afterlife.  Indeed, the entrance to the Mayan underworld can be found in the cenotes, water filled caves where the water wears away the limestone, that dot the Yucatan.  So, let's assume for the sake of argument that sacrifices to Huitzlopochtli will insure a good place in the underworld after you die, and failure to sacrifice will result in you not being allowed to go to that place.

What should you do about the possibility of Huitzlopochtli demanding sacrifices?  If you are morally opposed to cutting out the hearts of human beings, there is a clear answer--you should ignore the possibility that Huitzlopochtli exists.  Why?  There are two possible outcomes here.  First, Huitzlopochtli doesn't exist, in which case you following your moral sense and avoiding human sacrifice was clearly the way to go.  Or, Huitzlopochtli does exist, in which case you have a problem.  Or do you?  What have you lost by not making sacrifices?  The chance to spend an eternity hanging out with Huitzlopochtli, the dude who makes people cut out the hearts of fellow humans?  If you are truly committed to the idea that sacrificing other human beings is bad, then you probably don't want to spend eternity with this guy anyway.  It may be the case that Huitzlopochtli "punishes" you in some bad place, but at least you will with all of the other folks who did not commit human sacrifice--Gandhi, presumably your parents and grandparents, Jim Henson, etc.  On balance, I'll take my chances with the "bad" place than deal with an eternity hanging out with Huitzlopochtli.  As a result, I don't really care if Huitzlopochtli exists or not, because my behavior will be the same in any event.

This thought process is the heart of Tutu's Wager.
The name refers to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who is best known for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa, and later his service running the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Since his retirement, Archbishop Tutu has continued his activism.  In particular, Archbishop Tutu has been very vocal in support of LGBT people, especially in Africa.  Here is what he said in 2013.

"I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place," Archbishop Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.

"I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this."

At first, I was shocked by the Archbishop's statement, not for his support of LGBT people, but by his commitment.  Who would rather go to hell than go to heaven?  But as I thought about it, Tutu position makes perfect sense.  If you view, as the Archbishop clearly does, homophobia as fundamentally and thoroughly abhorrent, then it no longer matters whether God is homophobic.  Even if you are wrong about the will of God, and even if that wrongness is "outcome determinative," you are still OK, because you don't actually want to worship that God, anyway.  It's Huitzlopochtli all over again.

Now, of course, Archbishop Tutu doesn't believe that God is homophobic; that's the point of the quote.  But the wager part comes in when one is trying to decide between Tutu's vision of God and Christianity as compared to, say, that of the Westboro Baptist Church.  If you find the Westboro version of Christanity abhorrent, then you should cast it aside without a second thought and embrace Tutu's vision.  What do you have to lose?  An eternity with the kind of God who loves the ides of picketing the funerals of random people to make a tangential point about how you must "hate fags"?

The broader point of Tutu's Wager is that we can, and should, bring our moral sense to visions of God we find portrayed in the Bible, and, more often, in visions of God other people present that are derived from the Bible to a greater of lesser degree.  And we should feel free to reject those visions that we find morally abhorrent, and pay them no mind.  Some will no doubt say that we are imposing our sense of morality on God.  Perhaps, but I will take that chance, knowing that I want no part of the program that is a part of certain visions of God.  I may be wrong, but that's a risk I am willing to take.

To put it another way--we shouldn't be afraid to ask ourselves a bold and seemingly presumptuous question.  Is the God described here worthy of my devotion, veneration, and worship?  Would I want to spend an eternity under the care of this entity?  For me at least, for some visions of God presented within Christianity, the answer is no.  I would rather be an atheist and take my chances than believe in some of these visions of God.  Fortunately, there are visions of God that, in my judgment, are absolutely worth devotion and worship.  It is those that I concern myself with, and ignore the rest.

Maybe I'm wrong.  But, ultimately, I don't care.  That's Tutu's Wager.

Bonus:  Some clips from Archbishop Tutu.


a serious question said…
Is your concept of "God" omnipotent and omnipresent?
Michael Boyle said…
Omnipresent? Yes. Omnipotent? Truthfully, I'm not sure.
a serious question said…
Hmmm.. That sounds fairly heretical. Is 'god' a god if he's not omnipotent? If god cannot resurrect himself from the dead, Christianity doesn't have much of a basis...
Michael Boyle said…
I don't believe I ever said that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
a serious question said…
So if you believe in a god that can perform miracles like resurrection, surely this god could perform miracles on a regular basis.

Tying this into your original post, why would you want to be in heaven with a god who has the ability to prevent horrible human suffering (divine intervention into human affairs), is aware of this human suffering (by virtue of being omnipresent), but deliberately chooses to allow the worst of the human suffering? Is this any better than being in heaven with the Aztec human sacrifice god? Or the homosexual hating god Tutu refers to?

The callously indifferent god who CAN intervene, but chooses not to, is not who I would want to spend eternity with. He ain't getting my 10%.
a serious follow up said…
Nice job trying to pre-empt my "Book of Job- G-D is a callous, psychopathic comic book villian" Rant with your teaser in the most recent post:
"another one of those tough books of the Bible--the Book of Job."

I'm scalping tickets and buying popcorn to watch how you'll try to explain away your god being depicted as an amoral vegas pitboss, slinging godly wagers in satan's direction for his own amusement;

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Or maybe those sandbox dwellers who wrote this schlock just needed a better editor.

If I'm going to make the conscious choice to base my spiritual principles on an ancient text- it's gonna be the Illiad- or maybe Beowulf. Your Benjaminites ain't got shit on Grendel.
Michael Boyle said…
You might find this hard to believe, but I am not writing for the purpose of "pre-empting" or responding to your comments.

Glad you are enjoying the site!

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