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Discussion 3 to Meditation 58
A Defense of Pascal’s Wager

John Kurt Jackson

re: Meditation 58 - Late Night Thoughts on Pascal's Wager

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Imagine that an old-time gunslinger road into a town of pacifists, who did not believe in violence, and were cut off from society so that they had not even seen guns before. This gunslinger has that “Clint Eastwood” kind of look, with cold, steely eyes that mean business, a cool hand, and a mien that appears to take in a much larger picture than what is present before him. “This gun can kill,” he tells a select group of townspeople. He shows them bullets, and chambering a few in the revolving cylinder, explains how when the hammer comes down, the powder is ignited and the bullet flies forth, its death to deal (though he performs no actual demonstrations). Just before leaving town he announces, “I’ll be back. Tell the others about me. Tell your children. At that time I will ask one question: ‘Do you believe in me, and my gun, or not?’ If people answer, ‘No,’ I am going to kill them.” Similarly, Jesus seemed to tell mankind that on His return, He would be condemning those who did not believe in Him to hell, and saving those who did believe. (If you accept Mark 16:16 literally, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” In my opinion Jesus died on the cross, and the resurrection was “manufactured” by the disciples to inspire the world to believe in Him, and believing in Him, to love Him and follow His commandments, thus making spiritual progress. I prefer the parable of the sheep and the goats, which I believe the Lord actually did say, and which does not condemn people on the basis of lack of belief, which the Lord would never do.) People accepting Pascal’s wager think, “There is no harm in believing, and potentially great harm in not believing, so I will believe out of a desire to save my soul, should the End Times occur in my lifetime.” Jesus is the “divine gunslinger.” He said He would return wielding great Power, and this is a direct threat against the evil among mankind. If you ignore Pascal’s wager, you take a chance that there may really be a Son of God, and that He may indeed have a gun, with which He will “blow you away,” perhaps throwing your soul into hell. If there is a real Creator who does visit earth, then there may be great danger in ignoring the things that He says, particularly when He makes threats, even though those threats were recorded second-hand, by witnesses, and may not be entirely accurate. Reasoning about it, a person can say, “Jesus demonstrated compassion through His death on a cross. Therefore, I doubt whether He really expected people to merely ‘believe’ in Him, but probably wanted something more, as He indicated in His parable saying those who did His commandments were building a house on solid ground, and those who failed to do them built on shifting sands. Therefore, I will do good to my neighbors, seeking to love them as myself, which is the happiest mode of existence in any case. It may be unlikely that Jesus will return, but if He does, I am safe, for the Lord will recognize my goodness, even though I have a hard time believing ancient stories of miraculous healings, turning water into wine, and feeding large numbers of people from a few fish and loaves of bread.” Still others may not pay any attention to Jesus at all. They may intuitively act out the Lord’s commandments, doing unto others as they would have these others do unto them, showing kindness, generosity, and consideration on all sides. All these three groups would likely be considered among the “elect” upon the Lord’s return, if we presume He is a rational, compassionate individual, and not a dictatorial, narrow-minded one. Pascal’s wager is thus just one door through which a person may travel to get on the Lord’s “good side,” should He return. It is a valid door, and cannot be refuted, because no one really knows whether Jesus has the Power to make good on His threat, or not. If He has this Power, you can see right away that those who laugh at Pascal’s wager, and then flout the commandments of God on this basis, are going to look like egregious fools, essentially throwing away their own souls to for all they know, eternal perdition! I say all three doors are open, though Christians would argue with me on this. I am agreed with the Christians, however, that the threat of the second coming could become a reality, and if it does, many will be saved because they reason as Pascal did, coming into the fold of “acceptable human behavior,” which accounts them righteous, before Judgment Day occurs. Does the gunslinger have a bullet in that gun, and does He intend to pull the hammer which as Jesus He seems to have cocked? The threat was real; the question is whether the threat is to be made good. You can try to trivialize it, or laugh at it, or even to reason it away, but in the end you may lose your soul. Pascal’s wager is a wager that he wins, and those who bet against him may lose. Is there a Creator, and does He have Power to Judge mankind? As they say, “You bet your head,” and face the consequences, terrible though they may be, or perhaps as you think, innocuous, tame and mild.

I would like to refute a few of the objections raised to Pascal’s wager on the Apathetic Agnostics website in “Meditation 58.” The person writes,

I have never understood the intellectual appeal of Pascal's wager. It only makes sense in an either / or situation: e.g. heads or tails; England or Argentina in a soccer game; Tyson or Lewis in boxing; Yankees or Red Sox in baseball; God or no god.

Jesus may not be dismissed so easily as this. A rational person looking at the phenomenon of the Christian religion will find it curious, to say the least. Here are some two billion people utterly convinced that this individual was the “Son of God,” though there is little evidence for this, there are contradictions in the Bible, there seem to have been no recent miracles performed, and faith instead of reason is upheld as the cardinal virtue. Isn’t it only rational to conclude that there may be some higher divine Agency at work here (i.e. the Holy Spirit), convincing these people of the divine Stature of Jesus, against all odds? It is not a foregone conclusion, but what a strange, inexplicable phenomenon religion is, without the existence of such a Force! Jesus should not be dismissed flippantly, out-of-hand. You may try to reason against Him, but if you do not take Him seriously, you should at least be given pause, and reason for reflection, at the utter conviction of His followers, in the face of what could be considered tremendous odds, including the advent of the age of reason, science, and technology, which throw into question many of the stories of the Bible, and many of the premises of the Christian religion. There stand the Christians, regardless, many of them highly rational, trained scientists and technicians; does this mean nothing to you? The intellectual appeal of Pascal’s wager is indeed marginal; it asks for faith, when reason is perhaps called for, particularly in modern times. However, belief in the divinity of Jesus leads to good actions, and as Jesus related, those who are kind to their neighbors are among the blessed. Thus you see there is an overriding intellectual appeal, though on a more visceral level it seems only to call for belief, which can be irrational at times. The idea that it is an “either/or” proposition is invalid, because such an attitude ignores the threats of the Lord. You may be trifling with a Deity, who is going to act. Imagine that a king sent a messenger to a far-flung village saying, “In seven days I am going to attack, and kill those who haven’t paid their taxes.” One villager says, “I haven’t seen this king, and whether or not he exists is an either/or proposition. I don’t see the intellectual appeal!” In seven days, the king comes dealing death, and then the villager discovers his foolishness, to his cost. You can ignore Jesus if you wish, but I think it would be wise for all people to follow His advice, doing good to others, showing kindness, and loving deeply and well. This is the best mode of life, in any case, and so besides being on the “safe side,” you are also on the “happy side.” Jesus was potentially the Father’s Messenger, as His huge following would suggest to an open mind, that can see and think clearly. Ignoring Jesus, you may be ignoring this Father, who may have awful Powers indeed, considering the Passover accounts given in the ancient texts. This person continues,

But as soon as you find out there are multiple variations of god, the decision becomes much more problematic. It's not a simple wager; it's a lottery.

Pascal’s wager appeared in a Christian context, and here I hold it, because in other religions belief is not held to be central, but rather good actions or right intent. This is a problem of an irrational mind, that is not able to focus on specifics. The Lord Jesus is the One who made the threat, and apparently asked folks to believe in Him, and discussion of Pascal’s wager should center around His testimony. Bringing in other religions is mere obfuscation and an attempt to dodge the issue. People seem to think that just by denying religion they are being rational, but this is not the case. Religion means the ascent of reason in a person. A person’s rational thinking capacity is proportional to his spirituality. Christians are “locked up” at present with unsupportable premises in modern times, though they still attempt to hold their ground. One of my purposes is to unleash their rational powers, showing them what the Lord was really saying in those days, which is harmonious, not disharmonious, with modern times, and with other religions as well. He goes on,

The odds of winning the grand prize in a 6/49 lottery are close to one in fourteen million. And given the number of religions in the world, and the number of denominations, sects, and cults within each of the religions, it is reasonable to assume the odds of picking the "right" god (if any god exists) are in the same order of magnitude.

Once you commit in a wrong direction, all reasoning derived from this commitment is similarly invalid. The lottery analogy is wholly inappropriate, and is as I say mere obfuscation. There is a rational way to understand Jesus’ apparent commandment to believe in Him, upholding good behavior as the primary qualifier for divine redemption, and so a person following most of the world’s various religions, if he or she is wholehearted, earnest, and truthful, will also meet Jesus’ criteria. Thus, in choosing any of these religions, you will win. This person possesses an ego, and supposes that a God will also be egoic, expecting people to pick the “right one” out of a menagerie of possibilities. A rational mind at once sees that this is ridiculous, because all that a person can get is a conception about God (until God-experience occurs in samadhi; but that’s another story). A real Creator, looking at the world, will say, “There is a group of people who conceive of the Primal Power as being named ‘Allah.’ There is another group of people who conceive of this Power as being named ‘YHWH.’ They both think of this Power as being good, compassionate, wise and loving, though perhaps seeking vengeance against evildoers when circumstances make it necessary. What’s the difference? They both look up, don’t they?” A living, loving, real God will accept the followers of all religions as “believers” of His, because all that such a God would want is that His creatures not harm one another, and that they learn to live in happiness and harmony on the planet He made and bestowed upon them. Reason should tell everyone that I speak nothing but the truth, here. So, go ahead and play the “religion lottery.” You are sure to win, if you “play nice,” and don’t go over the “foul line!” He continues,

And playing Pascal's lottery is in some ways like buying 6/49 tickets. You can use your parent's numbers, or go along with the choice of friends and neighbours. You can change your numbers each week, or play the same numbers over an extended period. You can study numerology to determine your best numbers, or let blind chance determine them. But you cannot change the extremely long odds against making a winning choice.

Again, the fault here is in thinking that God is so shallow and vacant-minded that He will use particular phrases, being present in people’s minds, as the qualification for salvation, rather than a more rounded and complete view of a person’s life, personality, and actions. See, God weighs the spirit, and words do not go very deep into a person’s soul. How much compassion is a person capable of experiencing, and does this compassion compel action at times of dire necessity? How careful is a person to avoid hurting others by deed or by word? How prone is the person to quarreling, bickering, and vain dispute? These are the types of questions a rational God asks, in gauging a person’s spirituality. Words are not “magic.” You can’t win God’s favor by reciting a particular creed, or memorizing certain scriptural passages. He wants to know what you are, in the depths, not what you may think about, in the shallows of your mind. This writer has a wrong view about God, and thus reveals his spirituality to be not very great, though of course on reading my rebuttal he may be moved to re-think things. I am not a Christian, you know. On the other hand, I suppose you could say I am the original Christian… I know that Jesus was God, but I also know this God to be rational and wise, not foolish and selfish. He isn’t looking for “fealty,” like a worldly general or king. He doesn’t expect each person to find the “one right religion.” He wants good people, who refrain from evil, on this planet of ours. Why else would anyone worship Him, if what I say is not true? Jesus is worshipable because He wants what is best for mankind; He wants man to become truly awesome in spirit, mighty in intellect, and formidable in reasoning. The Lord wants the incipient glory of man to become realized; there are many routes to achieving this, as revealed in different religions. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, just go, man, go! Go forward, go upward, go heavenward – find the truth of your own soul’s divine reality, and this truth shall make you free! Our friend continues,

But in other ways it is quite different. In Pascal's lottery, it is possible there are no winning choices, because there may be no god at all. And rather than just a dollar or two, you are betting significant time and money in this life. And rather than finding out whether you have won or lost in just a few days, you have to die to find out how you did in Pascal's lottery.

Well, this person brings out a solid point at last! Yes, it is indisputable that if there is no God, then religion is a waste of time. However, it is my submission that God does not require belief of His “children,” only that they behave while they are on the playground of life. See, a person who respects other people really worships what is good in those people, and thus pays indirect, but heartfelt, respect to the Being who created this goodness. This is practical religion, being a good person, who is kind, gentle, loving, generous, and friendly. People who act in this manner are highly spiritual, whether they adhere to a formal religion or not. In fact, a person could argue that in today’s world it is difficult to adhere to a formal religion, for most of them contain portions that are abhorrent to reason. Thus, if Jesus does return, the good people of earth (perhaps including this writer) need not fear that His gun is pointed at them, who understands these things, and values man’s reasoning ability most highly. People gather together in the Name of God because it is fun for them. They enjoy communicating with those of a like mind, and similar spiritual disposition. They don’t feel their worship services, or fun events like picnics and discussion groups, are a waste of time at all! Religion is a living thing. It is true that Christianity as currently practiced focuses too much on the state to be attained at death, but I am working to correct this misinterpretation, though few hear me at present. The religious life is the joyous life. Those who practice religion sincerely reap rich rewards as the divine Self within them heaps up spiritual treasures, like inner security, feelings of great joy and exuberance, mental and physical energy, increased concentration and a sense of real meaning in life. I saw a t-shirt the other day in a mall that read, “The journey is the destination.” This is a wonderful sentiment! The pursuit of the spiritual goal, enlightenment, was meant to be joyful, from the very first day it is assumed until the final day, when it is achieved, and divine bliss, freedom, awareness and wisdom are at last eternally attained. (I am sorry to go into “preacher” mode here, but you know, I have Good News to bring, to which a few, perhaps, may respond (see www.neochristians.com )) The writer goes on to say,

Really, this is not a good bet.

And Pascal's wager does not make very much sense.

Of course, this is a bald conclusion, presuming we have accepted his arguments. It doesn’t make sense, and isn’t a good bet, unless there is a real Lord, who comes “a-gunnin’” for the sinners among mankind. Then it makes perfect sense, that the Creator may give an early warning to the world, before coming and Judging mankind, perhaps establishing a righteous kingdom on earth after this, with only good souls, and few evil ones. Such indeed are the prophecies in all the world’s major religions, though who can believe such violence could ever come into play on this globe that man seems to control utterly, to that globe’s dismal cost in lost resources and long-term pollution? Will the Father ever act, or is He impotent? The world will soon know, for as I announce, the End Times prophecies were nothing other than the Son’s attempt to communicate the will of the Father, who is prepared to act in order to restore a balance to the ecosphere, and manage the planet’s resource use so that civilization extends for the five to ten billion years yet remaining to us here on earth, rather than a few hundred or at most thousand years, at the current rate of usage. Either these things happen in my lifetime, or they never will occur! If I leave this body and there are no End Times, then I will join you in my next life, laughing at Pascal, though I will still counsel good behavior, so that you can avoid the real hell which does exist, as the Father puts evil souls into animal bodies for extended periods, in order to protect the innocent from further malfeasance, and to provide long-lasting, indeed permanent correction of various deeply laid faults in a soul’s constituents. (Again I am in “preacher” mode; I apologize.) The footnote reads,

Suppose you go ahead and participate in Pascal's lottery anyway. You really have to be careful about your choices. For example, consider becoming a Jehovah's Witness. They claim to have seven million members - can that number of people be wrong? But the Witnesses believe (among other things) that in accordance with Revelations, only 256,000 will get into heaven. That means, even in the unlikely event they are right, only one in 27 will make it. By buying the Jehovah's Witness ticket, you've bought yourself a one in fourteen million chance of winning a ticket in another lottery that pays off one in 27.

This example from the Jehovah’s witnesses is an excellent case in point of the irrational elements present in the world’s religions. All of them have different varieties of this same thing, because when these religions originated, the scientific method was in the distant future, and superstitious man needs colorful, meaningful imagery and stories to which he may cling, in order to live rightly, which is to say avoiding harm of others, and learning the ways of kindness and graciousness. I reveal that enlightenment is required (more preaching, but then what am I?) for people to ascend to heaven, and so the 256,000 number may refer to those who make this ascension this solar cycle, the rest returning to continue their sadhanas in the next solar cycle, where again a similar number may ascend. Then again, perhaps this number is just a goad, to make people strive harder, since this would only be one person about every 20,000 years, assuming we last five billion more years. In any case, the fables of the Bible are going to be left far behind in the face of new and more relevant revelations, that are in tune with the modern age and all known exigencies. The writer here seems to show some spiritual perspicacity in that he acknowledges the strangeness of so many people holding an irrational belief, in the midst of a supposedly rational society. It would seem these people likely already “hold loosely” the revelations of the Bible, focusing instead on the teachings towards goodness which are present, which argues for my presentation, that they have discovered the keys to happiness, which religion has always declared, and will always proclaim. They each want to be “a good person,” and this is the meaning of human life and existence. Becoming good, a person becomes a god in enlightenment. This is the truth that I reveal, whether man be prepared for it, or sleeping and dreaming, calls me a heretic and fool! The footnote continues,

The lesson here is to either pick a version of god that has no limits on the number of winners, or pick a sect that has significantly fewer members than places in the afterlife. The other lesson is that 1 in 27 is a useful arguing point the next time the Witnesses knock on your door.

Truly, there are no limits on the number of “winners.” Everyone is going to win, in the last analysis, for enlightenment is an inevitability, though people may take roundabout, dangerous and slow routes to get there. The real purpose of religion is to declare those right modes of living which are in tune with the Creator’s wishes, and thus unlock the gates of happiness and radiant joy within, for man is essentially a spiritual entity in a physical body, who can never be satisfied with anything less than knowing his own infinite nature and potential. Genesis says that man was created in the image of God, and Jesus said that man could become perfect. The meaning is that the Creator has made man capable of becoming a divine being, which has occurred on our planet, and continues to occur. The experiences of the enlightened among us prove this, such as Da Free John, Osho, Eknath Easwaran and Andrew Cohen, all of whom seem to have access to a supernal source of knowledge, and all of whom seem to live in the light which knows no darkness. Their “eye is sound,” meaning the ego has been removed, and their whole bodies (souls) are therefore “full of light.” If you want to read about infinite bliss, read Da Free John. If you want to see practical wisdom in action, read Eknath Easwaran. If you want to see a person writing his own scripture, read Osho. If you want to see a person challenging the Son of God Himself (though ultimately failing), read Andrew Cohen. Man’s destiny is divinity. Those who feel this destiny, deep within, cling to religious beliefs and practices, thereby moving forward to the goal. The earth has seen a period when the ancient beliefs did not seem to keep up with changing times, but this period is over with the Lord’s latest Advent. Where is He, and who is He? If I knew, and told you, would you believe me? I don’t need you to believe me. All I want is for you to be kind to your neighbors. Is that such a hard lesson to learn? All I want is for you to avoid quarreling, fighting, and bickering. Is this such a difficult skill? All I want, is for you to find your own deepest happiness, though not allowing your search to impinge on the happiness of others. All I want, is “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all. Why then, do you find me so strange, and so different, who only want what you also want, in the end?