Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Pascal’s Wager

Evangelicals of every religion insist they know God’s will and they’re determined to discuss it with you. They read their holy texts and listen to their preachers and feel compelled to go forth and spread the good word to others. They suffer from the delusion that they know what’s best for everyone, that they alone possess the truth and that we can never be our fullest selves unless we accept their truth as our own.

One of the most common arguments they make is some version of Pascal’s Wager, which delineates four possibilities:

1 – If you believe in God and accept his teachings, and if God exists, you will go to heaven and live in his glorious presence for all eternity.

2 – If you believe in God and he doesn’t exist, you haven’t lost anything. You will live a full life and be a good person, but there will be no downside to your belief.

3 – If you don’t believe in God and refuse his teachings, and if God does exist, you will be eternally damned, condemned to an eternity outside his presence.

4 – If God doesn’t exist and you don’t believe in him, you haven’t lost anything. You get to live whatever kind of life you want.

So of the four possibilities, one provides the possibility of eternal life and happiness, one provides the threat of eternal damnation, and two (the two where God doesn’t exist) provide no real consequences. Why not just give yourself to God? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

But there’s a big flaw in their argument and that’s the assumption that you have nothing to lose by believing in God. That may not actually be true. For some people, believing in God means giving up everything you are. You might see the universe as ruled by physical laws, and now you’re being asked to surrender that belief and instead believe that an arbitrary being can change the rules as he sees fit.

Instead of being a self-actualized person, you must now be a sheep in God’s flock. You must become one of his many believers rather than the person you spent a lifetime becoming, overcoming numerous obstacles without any apparent assistance from a deity.

Now you have to believe that God is inserting himself into the world, influencing events and making magical things happen as part of his master plan for all of us. We think the world is going to be one way and then God intervenes and changes it in accordance with his will.

So the rules get changed in the middle of the game. You move through life under a certain set of guidelines, expecting consequences to follow from their causes. But according to these evangelicals, God can step in at any time and alter anything so that you can’t predict what’s going to happen even though you should be able to.

This doesn’t sound like you’re giving up nothing. It sounds to me like you’re giving up a lot. Self-respect, dignity, pride in accomplishment, freedom of thought and belief. All these things make up who you are, and you only have to give all of them away in order to accept religion into your life. What’s so hard about that?

Turn me into a sheep, please.

Of course, they don’t see it this way. They believe that they’ve found some divine meaning, some holy First Cause that created everything and everyone, and guides all of us if only we accept his leadership. They just want to help us be “better,” by which they mean they want us to be like them.

“We want you to join us in heaven. We’re only doing this for you.” Sorry, but what they really want is assurance that they’re right. If we just agree with them, if we all believe the same things, then we must be right. Right?

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

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