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Monday, June 4, 2012

Pascal's Wager and Gambling with Sobriety - Part 1

I have never pretended to be an intellectual.  Simply put, I grew up in a working-class family that had respect for 'sciences' and saw the 'arts' as silly.  We had little music, only school-mandated literature, and theater was for 'homos.'  When I try to fake being erudite, it usually just comes off as obnoxious.

That means with half of my 'life-expectancy' behind me, I am still learning new things.  Here's one of them.

Have you heard of Pascal's Wager?  In summary, his estimation was that it was better to believe in God than not, because belief in God and an afterlife was potentially rewarded whether it was true or not, whereas atheism and passing into non-existence at death has no rewards true or not.

Pascal's Wager is an effective means to get die-hard atheists who are struggling with sobriety to look at the problem from a different perspective.  As one of my mentors once admonished a fellow who would not go to AA meetings because they were not Orthodox, "Yes, they are not Orthodox, but they are sober... and you aren't."

Atheists and agnostics tend to examine the problem from God's perspective, rather than from their own.  How does belief or unbelief actually benefit you?

A quick reminder: most people are 'agnostic.'  There are very few atheists in the world.  Let me show you why I say this.  Here's a quick chart:

'Belief' here is how much the perception of God influences the daily life of a person.  On the one hand we have a saint who is utterly yielded to the moment-to-moment experience of God.  This type of belief effects everything he does in a consistent way.  On the other extreme we have an 'atheist' who not only does not believe in God, but the thought never crosses his mind.  When God is mentioned, he harbors no emotions either way.  The concept of God has no effect on him.

There is a lot of territory in between.  Again, this is a quick explanation, so bear with the brief descriptions.

Below the saint is the ascetic, who struggles between fleeting moments of perceiving the divine and the realization what he forgets God rather quickly.  God effects most things that he does, be he does fail on a regular basis to remember and slips into sin.

Below the ascetic is the penitent, who has realized that virtually everything he has done has been apart from God, but has come to a realization that God exists and that he needs to change.  He lives primarily in reference to his past, whereas the ascetic has cleaned up his past and struggles in the moment.

Surprisingly for some, the next level is the antitheist.  He will call himself an atheist, but is not.  He hates God.  The word alone brings him an emotional episode, and so the belief in God is somehow very real to him.  This is why modern societies like France and Russia, when undergoing a 'revolution' that was supposedly atheistic, engaged in horrible persecutions conducted by the same people that were in church the week before.  It is a type of belief, though an unpleasant one.

Next comes the agnostic, who is unsure what to believe.  He may avoid the topic or actively seek, but he is unsure which message to believe.  Many people fall into this category.

Moving in this direction represents an obscuring of God's personhood.  The agnostic moving in this direction is passing away from God and into areas where the truth about God are gradually eclipsed by other ideas.

Below agnosticism comes the superstitious, who believes in God, but in a more depersonalized and eclectic way. He believes in a multiplicity of forces in the world, all of which must be appeased.

Then we have the fundamentalist, whose belief in God is largely defined by a series of rules.  Keep the rules, and you don't have to worry much about God.  God loses His personhood and becomes a series of principles.  Collect them all!

Next comes the gnostic.  Unlike the fundamentalist who pays lip-service to God's personhood, the gnostic believes in a generalized 'force' which is governed by rules one must know in order to have success.

Finally, the atheist, who simply does not believe.  He harbors no resentment or judgment of others, and so there is nothing pathological in his denial.  he will often admire believers who bear fruits just as easily as he will spurn antitheists with their wild-eyed rhetoric.

What are the benefits of unbelief and moving down the line?  That's for the next post.

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