‘Hedging Your Bets’  


“Jesus, Buddha, Allah, I love you all!” Homer Simpson notoriously said
when praying for his life while being pursued by an angry rhinoceros.
We laugh at this; we don’t know why, except, if pressed, that it’s silly
of Homer to believe in all these deities at once, and that maybe he’s
only sucking up to them all in his hour of need just in case. Silly,
yes, but one could argue that all these gods are the same, at least in one
form or another.

“Our God is an Awesome God” is a song sung by Christian children in
Sunday school. It is probably telling that Sunday school teachers instill
the idea in their disciples that their god is an awesome god, and not,
say, “God is awesome,” communicating the idea that there were at least
two gods to choose from and they chose the awesome-er one. The
runners-up, perhaps Buddha and Allah, can be inferred to be less awesome
than the Christian god of this song.
All this points to the theme that religion as it is often seen today
is somewhat immature in concept. Freud believed that religion was an
expression of the superego and it represented an infantile relationship
between the individual and God, the parent-figure. As discredited as
Freud is, it seems hard to escape that he had a point. When we practice
religion, are we really that more advanced in thought than children with
their vague ideas of rewards and punishment?

Let’s go back to Homer covering his bases by praying (or sucking up,
perhaps) to several deities. Some people say that, while they cannot be
sure that there is a god, or who or what god is exactly, they are
playing it safe. “What would happen,” one young woman said to me, “If
there was a god, and I never believed in him, and then I died and he sent
me to hell?” A good point, one I suppose no one will ever be able to
completely disprove. Still, though, isn’t this idea somewhat childish?
Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame said the exact same thing about Santa
Claus: “I want presents. Lots of presents. Why risk them over a matter of
belief? Heck, I’ll believe anything they want.” I wrote before about the
god/Santa Claus dichotomy, which seems obvious to an outside observer,
but this concept of hedging one’s bets seems to carry over into
adulthood and apparently can determine all religious motivation, once you
get to the bottom of it. If you believe in God “just in case,” why not keep
kosher just to keep on the safe side? For that matter, why not follow
every religion that there is, and others that you have to conceive just
in case people all these years have missed it? What about the stuff
that conflicts with the other stuff, which, by the way, can easily occur
within one religion? And be prepared—there are a lot of contradictions
that will be hard to compromise.

Religion, of course, is designed to teach us to be good and kind, and
to keep the poor from killing the rich. The purpose of religion
shouldn’t be subdividing into sects, religious wars or arguing over minutiae.
If we want to grow up and not rely on Freud’s superego, isn’t it time
that we stopped hedging our bets and just followed our hearts, brains
and consciences?