There is an email flying across the Internet listing famous people who denounced God and shortly thereafter met an “untimely death.” The implication, in case you didn’t catch it, is that they met said death because of their atheist declaration. Three problems:
- It contains several untruths and half-truths. Click here for the details.
- A philosopher would call this the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: “After it, therefore because of it.” Just because one thing followed another doesn’t mean it was caused by it. Sunday morning, you wake up, get dressed, make coffee, read the paper, go to church, watch the football games, eat dinner, and go to sleep. Monday morning, you wake up with a terrible cold. Did you get sick because you had coffee the day before? Or maybe because you watched football all afternoon? Or why not blame it on church? Chronology doesn’t prove causation, but this mistake does provide fodder for many great comedy sketches.
- A statistician would call it “selection bias.” Anyone could easily conjure an equally convincing list of devout Christians who died terrible deaths after declaring their belief in Jesus.
The theology is more interesting. It quotes the Epistle to the Galatians, which was written at a time when Jews and Christians were locked in a bitter struggle over the “true” Judaism. Paul used this particular letter to address the application of Torah Law to Christianity. Chapter 6 is especially thought-provoking:
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
And if a politician said both those quotes, we’d call him a hypocrite. Was Saint Paul the first post-partisan? Something to think about the next time we listen to a speech by President Obama…