The Ultimate Choice (Pascal’s Wager) and Why It Matters

In the course of human events…we, of the 21st century, are living in dark and troubled times. One ninety-year-old man told me recently, “I feel depressed about what is happening in the world, but only for eight days out of the week!”  Not only are serious sins being flaunted, but sin is now promoted as “good and normal.”  And so, perhaps it’s time to challenge those around us to take Pascal’s Wager.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Pascal’s Wager was a philosophical idea used to demonstrate that faith is better, and more reasonable, than unbelief. It was proposed by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century.

Pascal was a successful mathematician, inventor and penetrating thinker who lived during a time when the science was rising as the “new religion.” It was “in vogue” to be “reason-centered” and this was pitted against faith, as if the two were opposite poles. (Today our culture is “Me-centered”.)

The Wager is based on the idea that we have a deep concern about our mortality. It’s like this—if you were told you are dying and there is no hope except one experimental medicine, would you go for it? Would you risk maybe dying a few hours sooner, for the hope and the possibility, that this experiment could bring healing? Most would say, “Yes, I want to live.”

Faced with the truth that we will all eventually die, confronted by whatever comes in the afterlife, Pascal proposed this Wager:

If you make a choice to believe in God (and live your life accordingly), and God is really there waiting for you, then you win an eternal reward of everlasting happiness. If, on the other hand, you make that choice, and it should turn out that God didn’t exist, you have lost nothing.

But what happens if you choose to live life as if there is no God? If you turned out to be right, what do you gain? Nothing. But if you live without faith and it turns out you are wrong, because God exists, then your denial of Him will earn you eternal damnation!

Pascal felt that when phrased like that, there is only one logical/reasonable choice to make.

pascals wager

In our modern world everyone has heard stories about Near Death Experience. Science demonstrates that everything comes from something, which leads to an awareness that there must be an Ultimate Source.

We have available a lot of reasonable data to support belief in God. And we have Pascal’s Wager. So why would anyone live without faith?

Still, some people resist. They simply don’t want to believe because belief demands something from them. Believing is only a first step.  It is the lowest rung on the ladder. It implies a change of lifestyle. Yet, if eternal damnation is something folks would like to avoid, they might want to consider living a decent, moral life and believe in God. Believers who seek goodness and truth are special people who, beyond the graces from God and the gift of salvation, are also the ones who are remembered and cherished for generations after they die! 

But, sadly, if you Google the words “Pascal’s Wager” online you’ll find nearly three out of every four articles are by those who want to mock and dismiss the Wager. They prefer to turn their backs on God. 

Perhaps we could rename the Wager for moderns. What if we call it “The Ultimate Choice” or “The Final Leap”?  A t-shirt slogan perhaps best described this: “I Work for God: The Retirement Benefits are Amazing!” 

Copyright 2014 Judith Costello

One Comment
  1. January 10, 2014 | Reply

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