Wagering Your Life

Sometimes we make decisions on the basis of past experience, out of experiments we or others have conducted in the course of our lifetime. But we cannot conduct experiments that will prove either the existence or the absence of God. Our only alternative is to explore the future consequences of believing in God or rejecting God. Nor can we avert the issue, for by the mere act of living we are force to play this game.

Pascal explained that belief in God is not a decision. You cannot awaken one morning and declare “Today I think I will decide to believe in God. You believe or you do not believe. The decision, therefore, is whether to choose to act in a manner that will lead to believing in God, like living with pious people and following a life of “holy water and sacraments”. The person who follows these precepts is wagering that God is. The person who cannot be bothered with that kind of thing is wagering that God is not.

If God is not, whether you lead your life piously or sinfully is immaterial. But suppose that God is. Then if you bet against the existence of God by refusing to live a life of piety and sacraments you run the risk of eternal damnation; the winner of the bet that God exists has the possibility of salvation. As salvation is clearly preferable to external damnation, the correct decision is to act on the basis that God is. “Which way should we incline?” The answer was obvious to Pascal.

Peter L Bernstein, Against The Gods