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.”
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.