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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Pascal's Wager!

Well, I had to quickly think of a suitable heading!! I had intended posting on a different topic, but having earlier got involved in a "Facebook Forum" on the page of a former pupil, and personal friend, I've decided to use some of the material published there - mostly from my own contributions!

My young friend (no names will be used!) had, somewhat vociferously, complained that she had not been successful in a particular job application because, although her qualifications and experience were acceptable, the fact that she is not (and, to give her credit, makes no pretense to be) a Christian! Well, that really started something!

My first foray was to state: "Sorry (Name), but you may be assured that an atheist organisation wouldn't employ me!! It works both ways. You have told us the kind of work involved, but still have avoided the direct question as to WHO you were applying to! I agree with (Name). Indeed, I wouldn't want to work in a place in which my personal viewpoint was diametrically opposed to the general ethos of the organisation!
You may well have been prepared to just do the job, but there are many who are concerned that some would "infiltrate" and endeavour to undermine the ethos from the inside. I would probably have said exactly the same in the same circumstances - but I hope that you don't think that I "... still live in the Middle Ages." :-)

However, it was some of the ensuing comments that really set me off in 'preaching mode'!! - as follows:
"I don't think that I know you, (Name), but may I suggest that you have a look at a site such as to learn something of the sort of people whom you appear to think "... ain't got the balls to believe in themselves"?! As far as your "... being better than everyone else." jibe is concerned; making such a statement merely demonstrates your personal ignorance (in the correct meaning of the word i.e. 'lack of knowledge') of true Christianity. It is my awareness of my own sinfulness, and my inability - even after the many years that I have been around - to do anything about it myself, that drives me to the One Who voluntarily gave His own life in my place. I'm not 'better than anyone else' - I'm just a sinner, saved by the overwhelming grace of God.
You may have heard of Blaise Pascal - the 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, and writer. He once posed a question that has become known as 'Pascal's wager'. It simply suggests that if someone like you (based on the evidence above!) is right and, when I die, there is nothingness, then what does it matter? I have led a contented, fulfilled and, I would claim, useful life. I would not even be aware that I had been "wrong"! However if, when you die, you discover that I - and millions like me - am right, it is too late, according to the teaching of the Bible (one of the best-attested books in the world, btw) for you to do anything about it.
I had to leave my computer rather abruptly earlier, but (Name) has already made some of the points that I was going to make.
(Name) - if I was to apply for a job with an overtly atheistic organisation, whilst revealing my personal Christian committment, you may be certain that they would find some way to ensure that I did not come in as a possible 'troublemaker'!
(Name) - please don't judge Christianity by the nominality that is so prevalent in a country like this one! Check out the site mentioned above; do a Google search on 'the persecuted church'; check on the figures for church growth in other parts of the world! The Gospel has been progressing for nigh on 2,000 years
- in spite of the efforts of people like Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania (to give just one example!).
(Name) - I wish that you had asked me to be a referee for you for that post. I might have advised you not to go aead with the application!
Apologies for my own rant (but, hey, (Name) and (Name) know that, once I start, I'm hard to stop!!)"

So why share all of this here? Simply because I believe it highlights much of the misunderstanding about the Christian faith, that is so prevalent in our 'sophisticated' western, materialistic, culture. Now, I know that some of the blame may be laid at the feet of the Emperor Constantine for making Christianity "respectable" - and thus setting in motion that nominality that has plagued the true Church (every disciple of Jesus) down through the centuries. This is one of my reasons for this blog - that I might endeavour to demonstrate that the true Christian message is relevant to even 21st-century men and women. How good a job am I doing? Well, that is for others to judge! Thankfully, I will not be judged by the Lord on my success, but on my faithfulness.

By the way, I have just rejected a comment on an earlier post - because it came from that weak, cowardly, character who signs him/herself as "Anonymous". If you haven't got the guts to use your name - or a pseudonym of which I am already aware, and that does instantly identify you to me - then don't waste your time leaving a comment. It will also be rejected!


no_limits_ said...

Firstly I think the very fact that a Christian organisation refusing a persons right to work based on their religious belief is contradictory and against civil rights. I was raised a Roman Catholic and through education and experience I have come to my own open ended conclusion about religion. Generally it has always been used to control people and segregate members of society which completely opposes the entire core values of religions like christianity. I would love to see a generation whereby religion is used as a way to bring people together rather than push them apart but it just seems like too many people take the bible, which to me is nothing more than fiction, too literal and apply it how they see fit.

Brian Ross said...

Hi Graeme,
Sorry about the confusion re. Anonymous!
I suspect that I have already dealt with much of wht you say in the ongoing discussion on Facebook. However, to pick up one or two of your statements:
1. True, Biblical, Christianity is not a religion (I would accept that religions are 'man-made' and divisive), but a relationship with Almighty God, through the second Person of the Trinity (no room here to go into that, but I refer you to the audio message at ).
2. You are fully entitled to your opinion that the Bible "... is nothing more than fiction, ...", but the fact is that it is the best-attested piece of ancient literature known to mankind. Did you know, for example, that archaeologists have recently discovered a 1st century AD house in Nazareth - when secular critics have denied that the area was inhabited at all in Jesus' time; or that on the site of what is to be a new 122-room hotel, one of the oldest synagogues in Northern Israel has been found - a synagogue in which Jesus almost certainly taught?
When one examines the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, using the same criteria as are used for examining any other ancient literature, it comes through with flying colours.
The basic problem, I would suggest (without, I trust, appearing to be patronising!) is that no other piece of literature makes the sort of claims that the Bible does - claims about me (my inability to maintain the standards I set myself, let alone those set by my Creator); claims about God; claims about life and death that touch each one of us.
I don't know where you live, but if you wish to tell me (in a comment that will NOT be published!) I will try to direct you to a nearby group of Bible-believing disciples of Jesus, where you might see the difference between 'organised religion' and 'faith'.

Lawrence said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but after you went into 'preaching mode', you employed Pascal's wager in an attempt to convince this person that it makes sense to believe in Christianity because "hey, what have you got to lose, right!?".
In doing so, you have joined an elite club of people consisting of you and Pascal himself who have understood the argument in such shallow terms.

If you had done any amount of research into the wager, (which by the way, is not a question as you suggest, but is surprisingly, a wager, instead.) you would have realised that it is largely philosophically refuted as evidence that one ought to believe in God, but instead should be taken as a statement on the rationality of belief; namely that one cannot simply choose to believe something purely because it is prudential for them to do so. Rather, one can only bring oneself to believe something they have a reason for and not merely a motive.

In this sense, it actually works against your overall argument argument, as -from an agnostic standpoint- I see a lot of _motives_ for believing in God, but very few actual reasons. If you probed a little deeper into the surrounding literature, you'd have realised that in employing that particular argument, what you're doing is arguing that it is irrational to believe in God, which I'm reasonably sure wasn't your original intention...

C.Brian Ross said...

Hi Lawrence.
Thank you for your comment. I don't believe that I was attempting to 'convince' anyone with Pascal's Wager - merely pointing out what I perceive as its basic logic. Mind you, I have said and written an awful lot in the past year, so am unable to be absolutely certain as to precisely what I was thinking almost 12 months ago!
At least you put forward a polite and reasoned argument, and I am always prepared to publish such comments. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that many will read it when it refers to a post from so long ago!
Kind regards.