“Eternity’s Sunrise”, Bill Douglas, from the album “Eternity’s Sunrise”, (2000).
Meditating on eternity and the implications for daily life. Why should we care about eternity? Thinking about “Pascal’s Wager” for probably the millionth time over the last 30 years.
“Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. [Remember that Pascal’s Wager is an argument for skeptics.] Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance [death] a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]. How will you wager?”
Why are we here? What is the point of life? At one point almost thirty years ago I found myself alone, sitting cross legged on my living room floor, holding my favorite Ruger Red Seal Over & Under and trying to decide whether to put the barrel in my mouth and pull the trigger, or wait until tomorrow and reconsider my future.
As “luck” would have it I waited, and never got around to revisiting that pit, and a few weeks later a friend of mine walked out into his back yard and put HIS shotgun barrel in his mouth and blew his brains out. I was cured of the suicide solution. So why ARE we here? What IS the point of life?
The years since that nadir have been spent in searching for Truth, finding faith, finding fatherhood, finding a purpose in life that transcends me, myself, and I.
The thing I like about Pascal’s Wager is that it appeals not to some high ideal, like faith, hope, love, or proof, but to a low one: the instinct for self-preservation, the desire to be happy and not unhappy. But on that low natural level, it has tremendous force. That instinct for self preservation is what keeps most folks from considering suicide seriously and it does in fact have tremendous power.
Today, all the classic arguments for the existence of God are no longer popularly believed in our culture. What can a Christian say to the skeptical mind of this modern age? A typical modern mind lacks both the gift of faith and any confidence in reason to prove God’s existence.
“I simply don’t care even one little bit for your facts, Joe, your logic, your beliefs, your faith, I just want to have a good time with my friends”. So I have been clearly told by some people I was once fairly close to. So is that all there is? A good time was had by all and then they died. Short pathetic lives spent in self indulgent gratification of appetites and desires. What’s the point?
I make my living by selling products to customers. I sell a variety products to people, many of whom are older than I, and many of whom are facing all the physical and mental crisis of our elder years. The good times are long gone and all that is left is the end game.
When one reaches the end game the bravado of our younger years is gone and folks are faced with stark reality. We are about to die. That’s permanent. Can’t ask for or expect a redo. Can’t get our money back and go to another hotel.
What we believe and what we face becomes important. The folks with a Faith life, that is those who choose to beleave,any without exception seem to do much better, all in all, physically, emotionally and intellectually, than all the folks who lived for the good times.
I think we were created for Faith, Love, Charity, and God. Absent those items the human animal doesn’t seem to end well no matter how well one did materially in life, or how much “fun” one had.
So what about pascal’s Wager? Suppose someone precious to you lay dying, and the doctor offered to try a new “miracle drug” that he could not guarantee but that seemed to have a 50-50 chance of saving your beloved’s life. Would it be reasonable to try it, even if it cost a little money? And suppose it were free—wouldn’t it be utterly reasonable to try it and unreasonable not to?
Suppose someone tells you that your house is on fire and your children are inside. You do not know whether the reports are true or false. What is the reasonable thing to do—to ignore them or to take the time to run home or at least phone home just in case the reports are true?
Suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million dollars, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing, and you are allowed to buy only one of the two tickets, at random. Would it be a good investment to spend a dollar on the good chance of winning a million?
No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases.
But deciding whether to believe in God is a case exactly like these, argues Pascal. It is therefore the height of folly, even insanity not to “bet” on God, not to bet on the “House”, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win.
Agnosticism is the state of “not-knowing”, of maintaining a skeptical, uncommitted attitude. Agnosticism seems to be the most reasonable option to the modern mind. The incontrovertible reality of the modern day is that most folks are Agnostics. The agnostic says, “The right thing is not to wager at all.”
But Pascal replies, “But you must wager. There is no choice. You are already committed [embarked].” We are not outside observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to get home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is our true home and our true happiness.
The ships are our own lives and the signs on the port say “God”. The agnostic says he will neither put in at that port (believe) nor turn away from it (disbelieve) but stay anchored a reasonable distance away until the weather clears and he can see better whether this is the true port or a fake (for there are a lot of fakes around).
Why is this attitude unreasonable, even impossible?
Because we are moving inexorably through life. The ship of life is moving along the waters of time, and there comes a point of no return, when our fuel runs out, when it is too late.
Pascal’s Wager works because of the fact of death. That rude, unavoidable, fact of death, which I face in many of my customers every day.
For many people it seems fairly easy to ignore the “possibility” of death in their daily lives. They manage to ignore it until they find themselves faced inescapably with the fact of their own death, the fact that they have been refusing to accept for their entire lives. At that point, “I don’t care about the facts” just doesn’t cut it any more.
There is an interesting “fact”, provable by simple observation, that serving members of the military and law enforcement, and veterans, all share some form of “Faith”, some denomination of religious belief, and have a Faith life. It is not just some statistical anomaly that the military, all branches, share the highest declared membership in religious communities of all the population.
The close proximity of death in one’s job, or the high possibility of death on any given day, makes it real. I have buried more people than I have friends and family. Trust me, death is a very real end to life, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but always unavoidable no matter what we would rather pretend.
“Suppose Romeo proposes to Juliet and Juliet says, “Give me some time to make up my mind.” Suppose Romeo keeps coming back day after day, and Juliet keeps saying the same thing day after day: “Perhaps tomorrow.”
In the words of a small, female, red-haired American philosopher, “Tomorrow is always a day away. And there comes a time when there are no more tomorrows. Then “maybe” becomes “no”. Romeo will die. Corpses do not marry.
Christianity is God’s marriage proposal to the soul. Saying “maybe” and “perhaps tomorrow” cannot continue indefinitely because life does not continue indefinitely.
The weather will never clear enough for the agnostic navigator to be sure whether the port is true home or false just by looking at it through binoculars from a distance.
He has to take a chance, on this port or some other, or he will never get home.” From “The Argument From Pascal’s Wager“.
You have to choose! It can’t be dodged. Everyone HAS to choose. YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE!