Pascal’s wager

Yesterday morning my body was in church while my brain was wondering what the ski conditions were like at Indianhead Mountain. This is very familiar territory for me going all the way back to my childhood.

My wife had volunteered to give the sermon and had agonized most of the week over the text. The topic for Lent was “Gods Love or why do we pray”. Taken on its face this topic is incomprehensible to the point that describing the perimeter of the universe might be less daunting. Never the less she soldiered on narrowing the scope down to a much more manageable level. She did this by asking the parishioners to each give a short description of why they prayed. They prayed for forgiveness, for enlightenment, for the salvation of others, etc. The list was long and predictable.

When my turn came I cited Pascal’s wager as my reason. The great French mathematician argued that, “it is in one’s own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise”. Pascal’s argument is purely logical and does not dwell on the method one might use to become a “believer”.

To help the reader understand my cynicism it’s probably enough to say that I was raised Catholic in small community where as a child I was exposed to a healthy, or some might say unhealthy fear of going to hell and by extension a fear of God who might send me there for something as simple as missing church on Sunday morning. So there I sat in church daydreaming about life beyond the church walls sometimes wondering if daydreaming in church might also send me to hell.


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