Along our journeys through life – when discussing or studying religions, anyway – most of us have come across or have heard some sort of version of Pascal’s Wager. I’ve heard religious people use it and not even know that they were using it. They’ll attempt to present it as a valid argument as if they thought of it all on their own, too – meanwhile it’s really just a regurgitation of a regurgitation of what someone else said and regurgitated to someone else (much like the ideas I am writing about – is there really any such thing as an original idea?).
Anyway, for those that may be unfamiliar, I’ll present Pascal’s Wager in my most basic understanding:
If you are a believer and you die and then find out that there is no afterlife – no heaven – then you have lost nothing by believing.
On the other hand, if you are a non-believer and you die and you find out that there is a heaven but you don’t get to go there because you’re going to hell for being a non-believer, then you will have lost out on an eternity in paradise.
So, considering all of that, it is safer to believe and lose nothing than to not believe and lose everything. Make sense?
Why, yes, yes it does. On the surface, that is. Sure, why not? I suppose I could now list all the common rebuttals to this, and poke holes in the argument like so many of us do, but in an attempt to keep this as concise as possible, I’ll just go straight for the jugular.
If the option was between one religion and no religion, then sure – I would definitely say this wager would be something to strongly consider. If this wager was between believing in one god or no god, then same thing – this proposition would require some serious thought.
But the biggest problem with this proposition lies with the sheer amount of options of different religions and different gods – all of which are mutually incompatible, by the way – complete with their own versions of heaven and their own versions of hell in which they cast all the unbelievers. And since they all make truth claims about why things are the way they are with the cosmos, I’m sure we could all agree that they can’t all be right – but they could all be wrong.
Another big problem is that even if there was one true religion and one true god to worship, out of all the hundreds or even thousands of religions and gods we as humans have come up with throughout our history, what are the chances that you picked the right one? I’d say the chances of picking the wrong one would be far greater.
I mean, think about it. “If the Muslims have it right, then you have been fooled by Christianity, I have been fooled by science, and we will be burning in their version of hell – for eternity. But notice how little sleep we lose over this notion,” says Sam Harris in the God Debate II with William Craig at the University of Notre Dame in 2011.
And one more huge problem for this argument is the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, wise god. If this deity exists – with his or her infinite amounts of wisdom, far superior to the limited capacities of human brains – do you really think he or she will be fooled by people who “choose to believe” just to play it safe? I mean, really?
So anyway, I’m just going to go ahead and take this another step further. Let’s suppose there is one true religion, and for the sake of making this as easy an exercise as possible, let’s just go ahead and say it is, in fact, the religion that is the most popular amongst English-speaking humans: Christianity.
A literal interpretation of the bible would indicate the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. We all know it’s much older than that; some would say 4.5 Billion years old. But for the sake of human history, I would say there is too wide of a gap between 6,000 years and 4.5B years, so if we could, for the sake of this exercise, lets draw a line at maybe … 100K years.
Actually, that may be too much time, too (bear with me here).
Humans are a communicative species. We are tribal, we are social, and regardless of differences in beliefs and languages and cultures, we all have the same basic needs, i.e. food, water, shelter, air, we all want to feel safe and feel like we belong, etc. We also have the ability to reason, and we’re probably the only species on earth that is truly aware of its own demise – as opposed to other animals that really only care about having enough food to eat and reproducing as frequently as possible.
For the most part, we consider the future and, ultimately, we are aware of our own mortality – and it freaks us out. Our survival, in one way or another, is always on our minds. So, 100K years are not entirely necessary for this exercise. Considering everything discussed so far, I think we could easily agree upon a reasonable amount of time of say, shoot … this is actually kinda hard.
Let me hit on the communicative aspect one more time. Since the advent of the interweb and social media and smart phones and such, we could all easily agree that the speed of our communications has increased drastically over the past fifteen to twenty years or so, and it seems as if it will continue to increase (or at least never slow down).
There is simply no denying this – we communicate asynchronously but almost even in real-time most of the time. Often times, we have several conversations going on at the same time; the one with the persons immediately within our vicinity; the person we’re exchanging text messages with; the comments we’re leaving on Facebook posts; the emails we’re responding to that are actually work-related; our personal email accounts that we check sporadically throughout the day; the news sites we log onto every day to see what’s going on in the world; the comments on the news articles we check to see what other people are saying; I’m sure you get the point.
Every minute of every day, there are messages being exchanged all around the world via all of these channels of communications and convergence of technology has put it all literally right in our pockets.
So, let’s get back to the notion of the one true religion, with its one true, all-wise, all-powerful god who loves and cares for his followers, who listens and occasionally answers prayers, and we’ll even just go ahead and reiterate, for the sake of this exercise, that it’s Christianity.
If it were all true, then here are some things I think would be reasonable to expect: there would be obvious and undeniable benefits.
Believers of this religion would be undeniably happier in their lives than unbelievers because they would be truly blessed; they would pray, and their prayers would be answered because their god is listening and powerful and helps them with their personal matters.
They’d probably have more money and material things, nicer houses and better jobs; they would be healthier and perhaps even live longer. Their lives would be more meaningful and purposeful and they would suffer fewer tragedies because their god is powerful and protects them, guiding them with his love and mercy.
This means they would always show up to work on time because they would miraculously weave in and out of traffic accidents unscathed, and they would always find parking spots closest to the building. They would pray for their favorite sports teams to win, or for their candidate of choice to be elected, and the outcomes would be in their favor because their god is listening and he or she is powerful and he answers their prayers because he or she cares and takes an active interest in their day-to-day lives.
And then, they would brag about all this on Facebook and Twitter because humans are a communicative species who like to share all the wonderful things about their lives with others on social media. The benefits of belonging to this one true religion would be obvious and undeniable, and other people would want what they have.
So, after a while – and I’m not saying 10K years, or 100 years, or 30 years – I’m saying much, much faster than that (because of the speed in which we communicate nowadays), we would see humans, en masse, converting exponentially to this one true religion, which means all the false religions would rapidly die out in what would be a relatively short amount of time.
Think about it – why would anyone continue clinging to a false religion when they know there is this one true religion with its obvious and undeniable benefits? People talk, people communicate, people take pictures of their meals and put it on the interweb – we know what is going on out there in the world and in most cases, we know pretty much as soon as it happens.
But just look at the state of the world we live in. Do we see the members of any religion experiencing any of these sorts of obvious and undeniable benefits? Of course not.
All we see is humans slaughtering each other over bad ideas and money, claiming to be right, telling everyone else how wrong they are on the interweb and in real life; trying to tell people who they can and can’t marry; trying to tell women what they can’t do with their bodies; countries perpetually warring over money and resources and even more bad ideas; people literally starving; people who are physically broken or sick but can’t go to the doctors because they don’t have enough dollars to pay for it; people who are homeless, dirty, begging on pretty much every corner out there when we exit the freeways.
Nobody starves in America for lack of food, or is homeless for lack of homes, or goes without medical care for lack of available medicine or doctors and facilities.
It is F’d out there, and I don’t blame religions or gods. I’m not mad at any deity; we did this to ourselves with our pursuit of money and power. We, as humans, are responsible for our own actions and the conditions that we have created for ourselves, and there is something incredibly liberating about embracing this. Try it.
*But watch, someone will say something about how the obvious and undeniable benefits would take away our freewill. VOMIT.