Skip to main content

The Parable of the Roller Coaster

A couple weeks ago I went to Six Flags with a friend.  It was not a busy day.  Most of the lines were very short.  We literally walked right onto one ride, without having to wait at all.  The last ride we went on, we waited for roughly an hour.  While I was in line, I thought of something.  A parable.

Waiting for an hour is a sacrifice.  Most people view waiting as a negative thing--and I agree with that.  I don't like waiting.  The times I wait are when I am forced to (such as in a traffic jam) or when I know there will be something valuable that comes from the waiting (such as a roller coaster).  I made a sacrifice in order to obtain something I wanted--namely a fun time riding the coaster.

While I was waiting in line, I drew a parallel with religion.  Many religious people will teach that rewards in the next life are worth the sacrifices they require in this life.  That is, they are telling us that (religiously speaking) it is worth waiting in line for an hour in order to enjoy the roller coaster that comes at the end of the queue.  I know I have heard similar arguments in my time as a believer, and I have heard people say similar things in the last few years as well.

So let us examine the differences.  I will explain why I am willing to wait for a roller coaster but not for the promises of eternal life.  First of all, I have ridden this particular coaster before, so I know how enjoyable it is.  I know it's fun.  I know it's real.  I've seen it with my own eyes, I've felt the wind rushing past my face, I've seen the world turn upside-down as I go through the loops.  I have experienced it first-hand and I can recommend it to other people based on my own experience.

But, for the sake of understanding all the differences, let us suppose that I have never been on this roller coaster.  How would I know whether it's worth one hour of my time to ride it?  Even though I have never been on it myself, I can see the cars rushing down the coaster while I'm waiting in line.  The track is built all around the queue, so I can see the track and I can see the people riding it and hear their screams as they rush by.  So, I have evidence that at least some people are riding the coaster.  If I pay close attention, I can see that some of the people on the coaster are people that I had previously seen ahead of me in the queue.  So I know that at least some of the people who were waiting in line are now riding the coaster.  All of this is evidence which leads me to believe that I will also be allowed to ride the coaster and that I will likely enjoy it when I do.

But, let us suppose that the queue were not in site of the ride.  Let us suppose that they were separate.  I cannot see the ride at all until you're actually at the end of the queue.  I can't hear the people riding it, I can't see them swoosh up and down and around and around.  I can only see people waiting in line with me.  How then would I be able to know whether waiting in line were worth my time?  I would be able to ask people who had ridden the coaster in the past.  I would need to take their word for it, since I wouldn't have seen them on the coaster with my own eyes.  However, they would be able to tell me about their experiences.   Perhaps I would find their stories too incredulous and believe they had made it all up.  However, if I were extremely skeptical and wanted to ascertain the truth of the matter, I could isolate several people who had claimed to have gone on the ride and ask them very detailed questions.  I could then determine the degree to which their stories matched and use that to make a decision on whether to believe them.  That is, if they all described having done a corkscrew then I might believe that it was part of the ride.  However, if one of them said there were only loop-the-loops, another had said that the coaster simply went up and down without twisting at all, and another said there were only corkscrews, then I would have to determine that they couldn't have been describing the same coaster.

So let us now turn to the religious argument.  Religious leaders and texts insist that we base our actions in this life on the promise of a great reward which will happen in the next life.  As I have demonstrated with the roller coaster example, I am more than willing to sacrifice something of some value to me in order to obtain something of greater value.  So, it is not an unreasonable thing to ask that people engage in a particular behavior now in order to gain some future benefit.  However, this is all based on blindly believing in the reward to come without any evidence for it whatsoever.

We cannot see the afterlife.  We cannot speak with the people who allegedly inhabit it.  We cannot interview people who have been there.  In fact, there are people who claim to have had visions about the afterlife, or to have actually been there during a near-death experience.  However, the accounts that these persons give are, as I mentioned above, discordant.  Some people describe one type of vision while others describe something wholly different.  Due to the discrepancies in the stories, a skeptical mind cannot believe that all the people who have had these experiences visited the same location.  (Yes, it can be argued that the afterlife is so vast and so diverse that, like the Earth, two people can both visit and see completely different things.  However, this does not fit doctrinally with any major religion, so it can easily be dismissed--or rather, the doctrine of any major religion can be easily dismissed if this argument is to be accepted.)

 So, religious leaders are expecting us to wait in line for a roller coaster that we cannot see or hear--we cannot see other people riding the coaster.  We can see people in line in front of us and behind us.  As soon as people get to the end of the queue, we cannot see them ever again.  We can never talk to them or observe them in any way after they complete their time waiting.  We cannot verify in any empirical way whether the roller coaster is real.  For all we know, there is an executioner at the end of the line killing every person who walks in.  Or, there's a philanthropist handing out a million dollars to each person.  There is no way to know.  We must accept on "faith" that the coaster story is real, that we will be allowed to ride it (and subsequently never speak about it with--or even be seen by--anyone who has not yet ridden it).  I would not be willing to do that.  If someone asked me to wait in line for a ride that I could not see, hear, or in any way know is real, I would laugh.  I would consider doing so a waste of my time.

I accept the possibility that I may well be wrong.  There may actually be a roller coaster at the end of the line, and I missed out on riding it because I refused to wait in line for an hour without seeing any evidence that it is real.  However, I would not regret having made my choice.  Because instead of waiting in line for an unseen roller coaster, I would likely be home in bed playing a video game--in other words, I would be enjoying my time rather than wasting it waiting in line.  And that is how I choose to live my life.  I choose to spend my time doing those things which I believe will be beneficial to myself and to others, in ways that I can measure and observe.  If a behavior improves my own life or the life of another person, I will engage in it.  If a behavior is said to guarantee a certain reward and yet the veracity of the claim cannot be verified in any empirical way, then I will dismiss the claim as invalid.  I will not wait in line for a roller coaster unless I know it's real and I know it's fun to ride.

Popular posts from this blog

What's a gainer?

If you haven't already done so, I would suggest reading my previous post before reading this one.  It's sort of an introduction and gives the motivation.  Also, by way of disclosure, this post is not sexually explicit but it does touch on the topic of sexuality and how that relates to the subject at hand.

So, what is a gainer?  I'll relate, as best I can, the experiences I have gone through myself to help answer the question.  I remember when I was a young boy--perhaps around 6 or 7--I would have various fantasies.  Not sexual fantasies, just daydreaming about hypothetical situations that I thought were interesting or entertaining.  I had many different fantasies.  Sometimes I would fantasize about becoming very muscular, sometimes about becoming very fat.  
These fantasies varied in degree of magnitude and the subject of the fantasy.  Sometimes I myself would change weight--I would become muscular or fat.  Other times, I would do something to make other people fat or musc…

The scientific method vs the religious method

I find it interesting when people cite the fact that science keeps changing as a reason to disbelieve it and to believe instead in the "eternal" doctrines taught by some church or other.  Let's examine why science keeps changing.  Here's the scientific method.

Develop a hypothesis (this means "have a belief").Design an experiment to test the hypothesis.Conduct the experiment.Determine whether the hypothesis is believable based on the results of the experiment. This is why science keeps changing--because people notice flaws in it and correct them.  People once thought the solar system was geocentric, but now know that it's heliocentric.  How did this happen?  By using the scientific method.  Scientists are willing to admit that they're wrong.  They're willing to give up a bad idea when they see evidence that it makes no sense.  Contrast this with the religious method (simplified version). Have a belief.Look for evidence to support that belief.Ignor…

Gymtimidation

Like many of my posts, this one has been floating around in my mind for a couple months.  I know many people avoid the gym because it is intimidating, so I'd like to share my thoughts about this phenomenon.  First of all, obviously going to the gym isn't the only intimidating thing in life, and many of these thoughts are things that easily translate to any other of these intimidating things.

So I'd like to share some of my personal experiences with gyms.  The first time I recall ever going into a weight room to use it was my first year of college.  I had PE classes all through K-12, but I don't remember ever using the weight room--just group sports, etc.  I recall being intimidated by all the machines.  Some of them I could figure out on my own, but many of them I just stared at and couldn't possibly conceive how it was meant to be used.  Fortunately, I occasionally went with friends and one friend was very familiar with all the equipment so he could help.  So, kn…