A visitor commented in my last thread, preferring that I talk more about God than ways to reform our child support regime, claiming that at least it matters whether or not God exists. Well, does it matter?
I would argue that it doesn't, or rather, that it shouldn't matter to us in how we live our lives. That is, we may care very much whether or not God exists, and we may very much want Him to exist (or not to), but our behaviour should not be affected one way or the other. I approach this question from a moral perspective, and then an aesthetic one.
I have always been deeply troubled by the idea that God or the promise of an afterlife should be a factor in one's moral deliberations at all. Ultimately, it subverts morality in a profoundly diabolical way. I mean that very seriously: the form of "Christianity" (or Islam or any afterlife-oriented consequentialism) that emphasizes eternal reward or punishment as a reason for moral conduct is genuinely satanic.
Consider: Suppose Satan were to appear and offer you a similar deal. Everlasting pleasure, in exchange for some earthly act. Perhaps some horribly evil genocidal deed, or perhaps some simple, benign consideration. (Wearing a t-shirt praising Satan for an hour? And you could even say you were wearing it ironically. Doesn't matter.)
Obviously, if you consider yourself a Christian, you'd say no. After all, Satan's supposed to be the Deceiver, the Prince of Lies, the bad guy, so either he'd be tricking you into doing something much worse than you expected, or he'd not deliver on the reward, or both. No way could you trust such an offer.
But the same problem applies to promises that purport to be from God. Remember, this Satan fellow is not just a trickster, but the trickster; if anyone can fool you about something, he's the one. And his greatest trick, according to Baudelaire (and The Usual Suspects), is convincing you he doesn't exist, or more generally that he's not the one you're making your deal with. Why could he not, for example, dress himself up as a holy man, pretending to preach the Word of God? Lots of mortals, without divine superpowers, have done so and successfully led people astray; why would this be difficult for Satan himself?
So, disguised as piety, Satan makes an offer: "Buy into this worldview, ignoring its logical inconsistencies and moral perils, and receive everlasting life." And of course, when you buy into a worldview, you take everything that comes with it, such as (for example) the idea that you'll be rewarded in Heaven for carrying out this or that mission in the name of the church/temple/mosque/etc. You will go along willingly, since you have accepted the premises and believe you're doing the right thing because God commands it, and after all, isn't everlasting reward worth it, even if you've got some apprehension about it?
I've argued this point with truebelievers before, and the usual claim is that Satan is somehow prevented from uttering certain magic words, so he could never pretend to be God or misrepresent God's truth. Really? That sounds to me like the Greatest Trick. The possibility of Satan posing as true religion doesn't exist, so pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
The problem isn't with the identity of the person making the deal. It's the deal itself. When you base your actions on consideration of reward or punishment, rather than the good or evil nature of the act itself, you're making what is morally equivalent to a deal with the devil, regardless of who you're actually bargaining with, including if you think you're bargaining with God. A promise of eternal life, and all you have to do is believe? No thanks. The only reason you should need to believe something is that it's likely to be true, and no bribe or threat can or should change that.
The aesthetic argument is inspired by my thinking about fiction and drama. If God exists and is our Creator, it seems reasonable to think of Him as the author of the novel or play in which we are all characters. The setting He's created appears to have been painstakingly crafted to make obvious evidence of His involvement ambiguous at best. As an actor on this stage, I feel obliged to work with the scene I've been given, and it seems to me tremendously tacky for me to break the fourth wall by addressing or even acknowledging the Author while the play is going on. I'm here, I'm in costume, I'm on this magnificently believable set. I'm not going to second-guess the role I've been given; I'm going to play it. I will follow my conscience, I will engage in dialogue (inner and outer), I will strive to be worthy of treading these boards, but for me, even if the Author does exist, I would not be paying my role authentically if I were to seek a "personal relationship" with Him while the curtain's still up.