Pascal’s Wager And The Immorality of Christianity

With my eyes still not being what they should be, I have been spending more time than usual cruising YouTube and in particular episodes of the Atheist Experience, a public access TV show out of Austin, Texas.  One of the interesting things about the show is that the self described atheist hosts of the show take calls from, if not all comers, certainly a wide variety.

One question that comes up again and again is basically, “Aren’t you guys afraid of what will happen if you are wrong?”  Usually at that point, the hosts sigh and say, “Pascal’s Wager.”

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And it is not just every day Christians on a call in show, Christian apologist Peter Kreeft offers the following story on his webpage about Pascal’s Wager:

An atheist visited the great rabbi and philosopher Martin Buber and demanded that Buber prove the existence of God to him. Buber refused, and the atheist got up to leave in anger. As he left, Buber called after him, “But can you be sure there is no God?” That atheist wrote, forty years later, “I am still an atheist. But Buber’s question has haunted me every day of my life.” The Wager has just that haunting power.

Haunting power?  This just points up to me how immoral the “Christian” view of the world really is.

If god really is an all benevolent creature, it seems to me that the response of Christians to us atheists should not be, “Are you afraid of being wrong,” But rather, “You’ll be overjoyed when you find out you are wrong!”

I was a believer back in high school and have kept in contact with a very close friend from that period.  She is a very devout theist and we have discussed our positions many times.  I have often said that she has the advantage in our “argument.

If I am ultimately right, death ends our consciousness and neither of us experiences anything, I get no “I told you so!”  On the other hand if there is an afterlife, she gets the ultimate “I told you so!”  But to her credit, I am sure that deep in her heart she is not looking forward to that day so I get my comeuppance by a trip to Hell — and not back.

Without dealing with the philosophical weaknesses of the wager, I find it morally repugnant, on several levels.  First of all, I am supposed to predicate my belief in god on the results that will accrue to me — the cosmic carrot and stick.

Even worse the wager is about a thought crime.  The wager doesn’t say, “You should be a good person” to get the reward, but rather you have to believe in something.  And Christians, for the most part, are OK with this.

It never ceases to amaze me that people pretty consistently throw this at the folks at the Athiest Experience.  Seems to me that they are probably no worse, sin-wise than most Christians, they seem like very nice folks, but because of their thought crime, they are going to suffer the consequences.  This is morally repugnant to me.

The idea of a hell, for someone like Hitler, perhaps certainly has some emotional appeal, although the idea of infinite punishment for finite crimes is still a bit problematic.  But at least there is some idea of justice.  But Pascal’s Wager makes god out, pretty literally to be some kind of mafia boss.

If you kiss my ring and don’t speak ill of me, God seems to say in the wager, I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.    Not only is the god of the wager immoral, but he is also petty.  You mean to tell me that the infinite creator of a universe with contains 100 billion galaxies is going to mete out infinite punishment to me because of what I didn’t do Sunday morning?  That I wasn’t a member of his little club?  Really?  And you are OK worshipping that kind of god?

Now, there are lots of logical problems with Pascal’s Wager, not the least of which that it seems to present a false dilemma, or, as Homer Simpson famously put it, “What if we are worshipping the wrong god and every time we go to church we are making him madder and madder?”

But logical problems aside, theists and especially Christians should stop using the wager as it makes god into an immoral monster.

And personally, I am not “haunted” by the thought that I might be wrong.  If god is as he is depicted by the wager, I wouldn’t worship him or even give him the time of day and would be happy to go to hell to get away from him.

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38 thoughts on “Pascal’s Wager And The Immorality of Christianity

  1. I think Peter Kreeft must have invented that story out of thin air. Because that “haunting power” sounds like something only a theist would say. I’ve never heard an atheist ever say they found that question “haunting”.

    How much time do apologists spend being “haunted” by the possibility that they are wrong and the Muslims are right? Muslim hell is said to be really awful, yet the apologists don’t lose any sleep over the question of whether they might wind up there.

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  2. Pascal’s Wager fails at several levels. For it to work, we must assume that this God (who might not exists) cares about us (not a given), and that It wants us to do certain tasks (not a given), and that we know what those tasks are (again, not a given). Who said that God wants belief, or worship? Who said that this form of worship is the right one?

    And another thing: how do we know that there is a hell? Or a heaven? What if there is a God, but there isn’t an afterlife? The Old Testament seems to think so (see this book excerpt). Isn’t it possible that our hopes are entirely in vain?

    And why are we saying that God might not exist? The sacred texts that I’m familiar with all preach a highly visible God, raining fire down from the sky and bringing the dead back to life and so on. To say that we can’t be sure that God exists is a rejection of those texts, including the Bible. Blaise, you naughty boy, are you saying the Bible isn’t true?

    The Wager is a sucker’s bet. No one should take it.

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  3. Jim Jones says:

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

    ― Marcus Aurelius (attributed)

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  4. The problem with the wager is they don’t specify which god we might be wrong about. My response is that it’s not that I don’t believe in god, I don’t believe in the idea of an all powerful supernatural being.

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  5. Agellius says:

    ‘If god is as he is depicted by the wager, I wouldn’t worship him or even give him the time of day and would be happy to go to hell to get away from him.’

    Precisely! People who go to hell are like you: They go there because they want to get away from God.

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      • I don’t think you actually believe that people really get what they want in the afterlife. I would be perfectly happy with idea non-existence and would certainly choose that if I could.
        But I am pretty sure that what you believe is that I will suffer eternal torment and torture for my thought crime of non-belief. I am going to assume that in our day to day lives we make pretty similar decisions on most things, whether to stop and help someone, whether to choose a career that is provides a benefit to others and so on. If so, the only real difference between us is our belief in god.
        And you seem to be OK that said god will infinitely punish me for that thought crime. Because I “chose” that. If that is, in fact, what you believe, then that is morally repugnant.

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  6. You should realise that most modern Christians are Universalist’s and do not believe in hell as a place of eternal punishment, so I doubt many people still use Pascal’s wager as an argument, Jews do not believe in eternal Hell, so neither did early Christians, it is only when the Bible was translated, that aeons came to mean eternal and the Catholic church promoted that view to scare people, just as Islam later did. Some of the things some organised religionists believe can be pretty stupid, that does not mean all belief is stupid.

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    • I agree with you that many liberal Christians are pretty much (closeted) Universalists. I know that I was, when I was a believer. But on the other hand, evenagelicals and the Catholic church still believe in a literal hell and the devil.
      Believing in things without adequate evidence and reason is probably never a good thing.

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  7. Agellius says:

    I didn’t say they get whatever they want, I said they choose whether to go to heaven or hell.

    I don’t have a specific belief that you, personally, will suffer eternal torment for unbelief. You may or may not suffer eternal torment, but I don’t think it will be for unbelief per se. If you suffer eternal torment, it will be for your unrepentant sins. Unrepentant sin is the manner in which you choose hell rather than heaven, that is, in choosing to continue sinning rather than repent, you choose to live apart from God.

    I’m sure you have heard of John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. … Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Most people (particularly Evangelical Protestants) stop there, thereby making it solely a matter of belief or unbelief.

    But it goes on: “The judgment in question is this: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (Jn. 3:19-21.)

    Yes, faith in Christ saves you — provided you repent of your sins. Failure to believe condemns you, but the condemnation is due to your sins, not your unbelief per se. Someone who believes in Christ but does *not* repent of his sins, is in no better position than someone who doesn’t believe at all; in fact he may be even worse off on the ground that he should know better:

    “For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22.)

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  8. Agellius says:

    There’s no need to indulge in attacking strawmen. You can state the faith in its most reasonable-sounding terms, and still disagree with it.

    No, there are no magic mojo words. There is only repentance and faith in Christ. It’s not a good idea to plan on sinning all you want and then being saved on your death bed, because, unfortunately, your repentance and faith must be sincere. There’s no guarantee, indeed it’s not even very likely, that after habitually sinning for years and years, you will suddenly acquire a deep and abiding sorrow for your sins at the last moment. This is not to say that it can’t happen, only that you can’t count on it.

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    • I am not seeing the strawman part. You can call it deep and abiding sorrow or whatever you want, but the fact of the matter is you and I could live exactly the same life of debauchery and at some moment you get the “deep and abiding sorrow” even for a minute, I suppose and I miss that part. You go to heaven. I go to hell. And that is fair? You are OK with that?

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  9. Agellius says:

    Of course! What could be fairer?

    Suppose my family are planning a trip to Disneyland. I have two kids, both of whom have misbehaved in the same way. One of them expresses sorrow and apologizes and makes amends, the other obstinately refuses to apologize, and indeed threatens to continue misbehaving. Is it unfair of me to take the one to Disneyland, while leaving the other to sit home and pout and fume?

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      • Agellius says:

        As I said before, the unrepentant one punishes himself. He knows he can go to Disneyland if he promises to behave himself. He chooses not to go because it’s more important to him to have his own way. Obviously he’ll make himself out to be the victim, and make me out to be the bad guy, since that’s what sulky children do. I’ll be as patient as I can with him, and give him every chance to change his mind, but in the end the choice is his and he must live with the consequences.

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  10. Agellius says:

    I’m not sure where that comes from. Are you saying that if he died for all our sins, then repentance should not be necessary?

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  11. Agellius says:

    To let some people into heaven. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, the choice of heaven would not be a live option. In basic terms, no one can get into heaven without Jesus because everyone is bad. People have some good in them, but are not good enough to merit heaven. But those who are sorry for being bad, and resolved to stop being bad, can get into heaven through partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice, which also helps them be good, that is, helps them to merit heaven. Those who are not sorry for being bad can have no part in his sacrifice and therefore can never merit heaven (but also don’t particularly want to).

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  12. Agellius says:

    I think you must be conflating what I’m saying with things that you have heard other Christians say. I never said that we deserve hell “just by being human”.

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  13. Agellius says:

    I didn’t say we can’t get to heaven because we’re human, I said we can’t get to heaven because we’re bad — “But those who are sorry for being bad, and resolved to stop being bad, can get into heaven through partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice….”

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  14. Agellius says:

    I would not say humans were created that way. They were created in a state of “original justice” (the opposite of original sin), but fell into sin of their own accord.

    But even granting that humans are born too bad to get into heaven, nevertheless I also said that “those who are sorry for being bad, and resolved to stop being bad, can get into heaven through partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice, which also helps them be good, that is, helps them to merit heaven.” So, a remedy has been provided.

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  15. Agellius says:

    I have already explained that the choice of heaven would not be available to us without Jesus’ sacrifice, and that we get to heaven by not only repenting of our sins but also “through partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice”.

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