First of all, this is a post that is meant to be read by Christians. I rarely, and I do mean RARELY write posts that I want Christians to read, but I feel the need to do so today. I’d love your input on this post, independent of what you happen to believe, but I am writing this post for Christians to read and for them to think about. Especially if they are the sort of Christian who enjoys debating with atheists. Today’s topic: Pascal’s Wager and what Christians stand to lose if they are wrong.
Let’s start with a basic summary of Pascal’s Wager. This part of the post is specifically for people who are unaware of the “Wager”, and want a simplistic explanation as to what it is. Blaise Pascal was a philosopher (among a variety of other things) who came up with what at the time was considered a solid reason to believe in (not FOR the existence of God and this is important to note, but not super relevant to this specific blog post/article) God. The argument was basically a primitive “pro-con” list where Pascal considered the consequences of being “right” or “wrong” as a believer vs being “right” or “wrong” as a non-believer. It incorrectly stated that if a believer was wrong they lost nothing (some versions have stated that they lost very little, also incorrect) and if a non-believer was wrong they lost everything (debatable at best). This is an argument frequently employed by believers even today. It’s also… really bad. Honestly one of the worst arguments I’ve heard to believe and one even the Bible dislikes (One of the most well known verses used to counter what the Bible calls “lukewarm believers” is Revelation 3:14-16). But if you are convinced that this is a solid foundation to try and get people to believe, let’s actually talk about the consequences of Christianity in a world where Christians are wrong about the existence of God.
What if you’re wrong? Listen, I understand that this will be difficult to consider. I get it. As a former Christian, I too once considered the consequences of being wrong. I came to a different conclusion than many who will read this post will come too. I know. But if you can stomach it, let’s seriously talk about the consequences of a world where God doesn’t exist but Christians do.
Let’s pretend for a second that God isn’t god. If we assume that another deity (or deities) controls the world, the afterlife could be gigantically different. If we choose to use Norse mythology (due to it being somewhat well-known by western society), it is somewhat common knowledge that Valhalla is a location where the dead could end up (not the ONLY location in Norse beliefs). This isn’t Heaven. Or Hell. Or Purgatory. It’s a place where warriors duke it out perpetually. A battle ground where bloodthirsty individuals get to satisfy their urges for combat for an indeterminate (as far as I know) amount of time. Many older mythologies have multiple locations for the dead, not just one or two but many and where the dead go depends on a variety of factors, not always whichever deities someone happened to believe in, but based off of one’s social class, actions in life, certain rituals being performed both before and after death to help one gain social standing in the afterlife. Of course there is always an important option if it just so happens that another deity(ies) happen to rule the universe; that the deity was not at all known to mankind, or even forgotten because men and women aware of it were wiped out. In that case the afterlife could be something totally unknown. Frankly, a god could exist and the afterlife could still be a fantasy made up by people who don’t want to contemplate that the world could and will continue to exist once they are dead. And it wouldn’t just be Christians who are guilty of this if this turns out to be reality, it would be thousands of religions worshipping multiple thousands of deities.
The consequences facing Christians in this scenario are VERY real. If it is another deity who has similar conditions to that of God and Jesus, then Christians will go to that deity’s version of Hell. Or one who admires reason, skepticism, and a desire to understand the world around it and thus welcomes scientists, philosophers, historians, writers, artists, and all sorts of people regardless of religious stance. But even if that is the case, it still means that Christianity would be wrong. It would still mean that God isn’t the creator, and doesn’t deserve to be worshiped, because God might not even exist in this possibility, or have been deliberately misleading people. In this scenario, there could even be evidence pointing towards that deity as the true creator of the universe, and Christians (and atheists as well) could be deliberately ignoring that evidence in favor of Christ.
Here and Now:
The Wager was made for Christianity. But what if Christians are wrong, and atheists and other godless people are correct in their skepticism? So Christians just die (I know some nonbelievers discuss the possibility of a godless afterlife, but I know of no reason to believe that that is worth considering, especially not here, so I’ll just use my position which is when we die, we are dead and that is the end of our time as beings who can directly and consciously impact our surroundings and have any level of awareness), what consequences are there for Christianity, and for Christians who decided to live their beliefs but are wrong? Plenty.
Christianity was used to justify taking away the rights of members of the LGTB community. It was used by many as justification for slavery in the early United States and in colonial Latin America (and early post-colonial Latin America). It was used as justification to expand into the lands of Indigenous peoples worldwide and attempt to force them to convert all the while stealing their resources. Even now it is used as justification to deny women the right to control their bodies (birth control) and some adults make very serious decisions based off of their faith which very directly affect the lives of others, especially their own children. Some Christian parents make the choice to deny their children technologically advanced and scientific healthcare which could help them get over otherwise treatable illnesses (which are normally treated and overcome by adults and children). One specific example that comes to mind is David Hickman, who was a victim of faith-healing and a mere infant. He died. He is not at all alone.
If Christianity is wrong, those who believed it unconditionally (both literally and figuratively) are wrong as well. And the consequences of that, even now are very serious. If Christianity is wrong, that means infants like David who die due to faith-healing (and it’s lack of effectiveness, not that it isn’t occasionally credited with “miraculous” recoveries) died because people trusted an ancient religion over modern science.
If Christians are wrong, that means many of them have brought up their children with an incorrect understanding of the universe. Of morality. Of history. That will have a very long lasting impact on society at large and the individual life of that child, or of those children (not to mention the impact it will have and has had on the life of the parent). That is not a position where nothing is lost.
If you are a Christian reading this, you have a lot to lose if you are wrong. And that isn’t just in the “afterlife”. It is here and now. The consequences are very real. If you ever doubt that, remember David.
Stop using Pascal’s Wager.
It’s a bad argument. Any form of it. It makes Christians who use it look like “lukewarm” believers who decided to be Christian solely to avoid Hell. That isn’t a stereotype Christians should be happily applying to themselves. Yet many do. This is a bad argument, and not just because it’s main premise is wrong. It makes those who invoke it look like they haven’t studied other religions and beliefs in gods that supposedly existed throughout history. I know that at least some of the people who invoke it haven’t studied other religions and other gods, but not all of the people who use this argument are like that.
I want you (“you” being Christians) to seriously consider this argument, and what it would mean if your religion were untrue (both for you, and for society at large). I want you to see that if you are wrong, you do stand to lose something (and potentially you stand to “lose” just as much as atheists stand to “lose” if we happen to be wrong). I want to see a day and an age where Christians no longer use this argument. It is bad. It’s not a compelling argument, and if it is invoked in debates/discussions/conversations it makes many atheists (myself included) face temptation to immediately stop listening to everything else you want to say. Don’t do that to us. Many of us genuinely want to see evidence which makes Christians become Christians.
This is the weakest argument I am aware which seeks to encourage people to at least act like believers, which is commonly used by Christians. If you are a Christian and you want to reach out to atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, or whichever kind of godless individual you are conversing with, do not use this argument. Seriously.
In my personal opinion this argument demonstrates arrogance in those who use it, and can hint that they haven’t seriously studied non-Abrahamic religions. I hope to see Christians stop other Christians from using this argument as well, because it can hint that some Christians became Christians solely to avoid the potential possibility of going to Hell, and I doubt God would view that as good-enough to get out of Hell. I believe if someone is going to be a Christian, they should be seriously Christian, and as a bare minimum that should mean more than just fearing eternal punishment.
I’d love to hear what you think! If you are a Christian and you use this argument, especially if you believe it is a “true” argument, I think we should chat. If you want to learn about other afterlives, we should chat as well. I think this is an important conversation to have, and one well worth having with a variety of people. If you have any experience with this argument, from any point of view, or religious belief or lack thereof, we should chat.
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