Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (Pascal, Pensee)
A regurgitated rationale for belief in God and His Christ seems to be making the rounds in the form of Pascal’s Wager. Were it merely that this argument keeps cropping up on atheist web sites, one could simply dismiss the issue. It would be just one of those numinous, flawed to the point of dumb, assertions, which Christendom throughout the ages has posited. Atheists/agnostics have capitalized upon it with the full scorn that it deserves. However, as this argument manifested itself in one very close to me, obviously heard from some Christian ‘witness’; as I have Ravi Zacharias utilize it; it appears that this rationale still has significant play in Christian apologetics.
When I heard this argument as a basis for belief, for the first time in 2009, I certainly felt discomforted by it. Considering the horrid spiritual gauntlet and psychic hell underwent in my life, this justification must be the lamest foundation to draw strength from, as one perseveres through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’
The atheist critique of this argument is unequivocally valid. If we ought to believe in and pledge fealty to the Christian God because we have nothing to lose by doing so; then by the same logic, in order to cover all our bases, we ought to believe in and pledge fealty to every other entity that is claimed as a deity. That would include Bobby Henderson’s ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ or ‘The One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater.’ One must include the innumerable Hindu deities that one has been, tongue-in-cheek, estimated at hitting 330 million. Of course, in order for one to believe in them all, one must, at least, know all their names. In order to pledge fealty to them all, one is probably required to offer at least one oblation to each on a daily, or at least, weekly basis. Busy, busy, busy! One could hardly find time to labour for one’s (or one’s family’s) meat, for all that oblating.
However, this commentary’s purpose is not to outline all the atheistic criticisms. It is from a Biblical perspective, that all who trust in Christ and witness to others, that this specious argument should be abused.
One would wish to completely demolish, disembowel and stomp on its head to ensure that it is good and dead. However, as history attests, dumb ideas that were once thought totally decimated make habits of reincarnating.
Pledging allegiance to all deities, and thereby covering all bases, violates the exclusionist demands of many a Faith, particularly the Judeo-Christian variety. “You shall have no other gods besides me.” (Exodus 20:3)
“Salvation is found in no one else [than Christ Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These declarations ought to logically demolish all prospects of permitting a Christ-believer to spiritually philander with other gods.
Many a pagan religion exalts coitus and other erotic expressions as ultimate acts of spiritual temple worship. How does fealty to those gods square with the more circumscribed use of sexuality and rejection of sexual modes of worship in Christianity? Does one worship Ishtar with the left testicle and honour Jehovah with the right? How does one square the four-wife polygamy under Allah with the restriction to one spouse in the New Testament? Even within the Christian faith, regardless of the ecumenical urges of the times, there are innumerable doctrines, between Catholicism and historical Protestantism/Evangelicism that are logically mutually exclusive. One cannot logically uphold both sides of a foundational doctrinal dispute in order to cover all bases.
Christ does not permit a costless faith. It is patently false that “you lose nothing” in believing in Christ. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35) History attests that the cost of discipleship involves loss of reputation and alienation and often loss of livelihood, property, liberty, loved ones and even one’s very life. One may gain infinitely more by surrendering one’s self-interests for Christ’s cause in this life, if the Gospel is true. But if false, the little that one has in this life will have been sacrificed for a fabrication.
The definition of Biblical faith or trust corresponds to an expectationthat God will fulfill His stated promises. That definition screams a far cry from the calculated bet that Pascal enjoins. Indeed the level of belief that Pascal deems sufficient unto salvation suffers under the scorn and condemnation of James. (James 2:19)
Pascal’s Wager extends the shallowest of roots into the soil of faith. In isolation, it supplies little nourishment to the fledgling plant and provides insufficient entanglement with the soil to prevent that plant from being easily uprooted by the test of time, the storms of life and brutal spiritual warfare. Used as a foundation stone of Christian apologetics and basis for faith, it is but a marshmallow.
If Pascal inscribed the passage merely as rhetorical device in order to galvanize the beginnings of a spiritual search, he ought not to suggest that unsubstantiated belief in God should be a given, merely because of self-interest. Demonstrating a need for God doesn’t even begin to establish that God is. Neither ought Pascal to misdirect his interlocutors about the exclusivity of Christ’s claims, the extent of the cost nor the criteria of saving faith. Christ certainly didn’t keep such assertions under wraps. Indeed, Christ’s bold proclamations and demands often act as provocateurs to investigate Him further. For, what chutzpah has a man who should claim His divinity and demand our all!
Pascal’s Wager is somewhat dishonest and dissembling. It is akin to a politician, demanding of constituents, their presumption of his integrity, virtue and acumen and vote accordingly. It is a lazy witness; insulting the intelligence of the interlocutor; disrespecting the person to whom one wishes to woo to Christ.