I am fascinated by how smart some people are. Take for example Blaise Pascal. He was born in 1623, and only lived to 39 years. Yet in this time he did so much! What really blows me away is what he was doing as a teenager. At the age of 16 he was developing new concepts in math(conic sections), and while still a teenager is credited with inventing the mechanical calculator. I don’t know about you lovely readers, but when I was 16 I was busy chasing girls and listening to the devil’s music.
Pascal went on to invent the hydraulic press (used today to stop your car with hydraulic breaks) and the syringe. There is a unit of pressure named for him, and I used Pascal’s law in school to calculate the pressure distribution of an incompressible fluid. He was also very much into the mathematics of probability.
In later life Pascal became religious, and using his background in probability, came up with what is called Pascal’s Wager. Here he argues that it is better to believe and live your life such that God exists. He reasons that if God does not exist, and you have lived a religious life, your only loss is a finite loss of some earthy pleasures and luxury. But if God does exist, your gain is infinite (Eternal Life with God), while if you chose not to believe and there really is a God, your loss is infinite (eternity in Hell)
What are your thoughts on this wager? How does it apply to a Mormon theology? To make it work for Mormons, since we don’t teach that simple belief in God will save (exalt) you, we would need to change the word “believe” to “doing all the requisite ordinances for exaltation”, and all the accompanying time and resources throughout your life to “endure to the end”. If you did not believe, we teach you will not rot in Hell, but live in a kingdom of glory, just not as well as the believers.
What do you give up if you chose to believe in God and follow all the requirements of the LDS church, and then there is no God? Is it just a few “earthly pleasures”? What if we chose to follow the LDS church and all its requirements, and then discover there is a God, but he is not the Mormon God? What is the loss then? Is it less than if there is no God at all?
Pascal’s Wager kept me in the church for many years. But eventually I came to this conclusion: If the LDS church IS true and I live a perfect LDS life, my reward as a woman will be eternal anonymity, pregnancy, polygamy, and servitude. If that is the case, then this life is my only respite from a heaven made by men for men. If the church is NOT true, why show up every week and be disappointed and angry for two hours (and pay for the privilege)? Once I realized there wasn’t a noticeable difference between exaltation and damnation for LDS women, it was a whole lot easier to walk away.
I try to live my personal life assuming God exists, but support public policies that assume this is the only life we get. In both cases, I assume the most important values is to help all people living now and future generations to live happy and fulfilling lives.
I just listen3d to a podcast that stated “as a mormon you are living, waiting to die”
As mormons, we do not live in the present.
If it’s about living by basic values shared by the majority of the world’s religions, I’m all in. I still think the golden rule is, well, golden.
It gets more complicated when it comes to beliefs and practices specific to different religions and denominations though. Which one do you bet on? Catholic sacraments or the Mormon endowment? Muslim or Jewish orthodoxy? It’s not at all clear to me that Pascal’s Wager is any safer than just trying to be the best person I can be, which means treating others with kindness and dignity, alleviating suffering if possible but at least not contributing to it. And then hoping (betting?) that if there is a god, that that will be enough.
I was going to compose a long comment – and maybe will later – but Dot and Faith just succinctly stated my two biggest points, and JLM hit on another. What I will add now is a mention of the mind-blowing experience I had upon seeing a meme that stated “I believe in life before death” – mind-blowing because I realized I had lived 40 years only believing in life AFTER death and thus had missed the present entirely. Ouch! Followed by faith shift.
@JLM: I love that.
Read Matthew 25.
I came up with my own wager: if there is a God and he really loves me, he can read my heart and know why I no longer believe in the COJCOLDS. And even if I’m now wrong, he’ll know my motives are sound. He’ll understand that as a validity Mormon, I stopped believing due to valid concerns over truth claims, not because I’m just a lazy learner. I’m counting on this just in case I’m now wrong and just in case I was right as a TBM previously.
How about: Love your neighbor because it’s the right thing to do. Not because you expect a reward in some future life.
I discovered long ago that the standards imposed by the Church pale into insignificance when compared with the standards I imposed on myself when I simply asked the question “What does God want me to be?” I’m still working through the Sermon on the Mount.
When Jesus said “follow me” I’m sure it had nothing to do with Freemasonry.
Pascal’s Wager is problematic because, since there’s no objective evidence of a god who would send you to hell (or sad heaven), it invites you to invest everything you actually have on an astronomical improbablility. God seemed like a surer bet in Pascal’s day. Roko’s basilisk is a much surer bet in 2022 (look it up at the peril of your own soul lol). You’ve got to live your life according to how things are rather than how things might be. Otherwise, how many gods will we have to appease and where does the anxiety stop?
The price of doing all the things the Church tells us to do in the hopes of some afterlife is self-betrayal and betrayal of friends and family. Too high a cost.
I still do a lot of things Church asks of me, but only the ones that are rooted in living a good life. Not purity or loyalty tests that don’t improve quality of life or relationships.
As an avid gambler, I know a thing or two about good bets and bad bets. In poker, you have pot odds that is basically how much is the potential reward for the amount you have to pay to stay in the game. Betting $100 dollars for a pot that has $200 in it is a lot different than betting a $100 for a $1000 pot. Betting on sports is very similar. There are some good odds and bad odds. As this relates to religion there are monks, nuns, and extremists who give their whole life and even sacrifice their life in hopes of some eternal reward. At the other end of the spectrum you have people who profess Jesus and step in a church once a year. They are betting very little in the hopes of a huge reward. I do not know Pascals worship habits or his devotion, but we are looking through this wager coming from a very high demand religion.
The wager changes drastically based off perceived reward and the sacrifice that is demanded to achieve that reward. Mormon reward is Godhood and the cost to achieve that honor is not drink coffee, stay on the covenant path, gather Israel on both sides of the veil and say how much we adore Russell M Neltson on a regular basis. Seems like a pretty decent wager to me.
People who subscribe to a creed or belief system without enjoying its lifestyle are scrupulous. Sin is sin because of the effect it has on others. A man and woman marooned in a tropical island do not need an ordained minister’s permission or blessing in order to bring forth children in righteousness.
“Sin” is a social construct: the greater population density, the greater necessity for rules and laws. Were the Israelites lawless in the wilderness? Did Moses give Ten Commandments because Israelites didn’t know better? Moses brought the law so Israel could inherit land and work together in closer proximity.
Kingdoms of glory are not separate places, they are degrees of resurrection. There is nothing substantiated in doctrine that separates the spirits who inherit resurrection: atonement (“at-one-ment”), and temple ordinances aim to unify us as a world family. Resurrection orders spirits by proximity–those who love others are closer to the Saviour, and those who love themselves are a bit further from the source–just like in mortality.
“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
I would say that it depends on how you think God wants you to live. If God demands that I live in such a way that I am unhappy now, then it isn’t worth the chance that God actually exists. But if God asks that I be a decent human being, love my neighbor as myself, then that is how I want to live anyway, so I am not losing a lot by making the wager. For example, Mormonism asked that I believe in a God who loves his sons more than his daughters, who need secret signs and passwords to recognize his children, and live with an institution where I am second class as a woman, and wear underwear that gave me rashes, was uncomfortably hot in humid climates and I hated. Nope, I don’t want to live that way and believe things that make God a jerk. So, the wager has too high of a price, even if logically it looked “true”. But if I liked the life of a Catholic Nun, and I admit that I was actually very tempted by it and I was raised Mormon, then that would not have been too high of a price.
As it is, I think that any fair God would ask that I be honest in my beliefs, kind to my fellow humans, and just do the best I can with what I am given. I don’t want to worship a God who wouldn’t be fair, say and condemn children who died young for not being baptized, or who expected us to believe a person was a prophet when that person was not someone who lived up to our standards, or believe things that we just couldn’t understand or twist our brain around, or judged us more on our beliefs than on our behavior toward our fellow humans. I can’t accept this life as a test where people are all held to the same standards, because what we are given in life is so different as to render such a test unfair.
Good grief. I put Neltson so people would know I was being sarcastic in that last paragraph. I was trying to poke fun of how other religions don’t even offer the same reward that Mormonism offers. Joseph made the carrot being an actual God. You have to love his audacity.
I started with all my chips on the COJCOLDS and its god. The one and only true church, and therefore, its god was the one true god.
At some point, I thought that was a bad bet. I took my chips and dropped them on protestant Christianity (I was biased against evangelism because it’s icky and Catholicism probably because of LDS denigration and I did not see the value in “high church” traditions for me personally). I spent a year with the Presbyterians as a representation of ecumenical Christianity. I took a 9-month course in Christian origins and spiritual formation.
I ended up taking most of my chips back, thinking there may be wagers to be placed on other religious/spiritual traditions and their respective visions of deity. I didn’t find a compelling position
I now am holding all my chips, with an open eye for good wagers. In the vastness of the universe, the existence of highly advanced, god-like beings is more likely than not. Is such a being a creator (ala Marvel’s “The Eternals”)? I don’t know. Is it interested in me at all? Does this being like looking down at his little human ant farm, sometimes dropping sugar and other times zapping us with a magnifying glass? Is its ego so fragile that it craves my teensy adoration and worship? Does it convey its wishes through the queen ant (oops, patriarchy)? I don’t know.
All I know is, that in all this not knowing, I still want to be good and to do good – and enjoy my morning coffee. That seems to align with the best of what any credible god would expect of me. If there are specific performances and rituals to curry favor, then this being needs to find a better way to convey and justify them beyond my own inner moral compass.
So, I’m all-in on me. I’ll do my part to help my neighbor and humanity with their problems. I strive to do no harm. I’ll lift where I stand. And I’ll fall short and try to still manage to love myself. I hope there is another plane of existence where I can hold my boys again and continue the beautiful relationships I now enjoy. And, hopefully, meet you all.
In 1979 I was in a near fatal car accident caused by a blizzard. I was thrown part way through the windshield on the front passenger side when the dead tree that we’d struck split in two pinning me under. When the EMTs arrived they had to use the jaws of life to pry me out of the car and then pronounced me dead. Meanwhile I was having the most glorious spiritual experience of my life. And, yes, my life DID flash before my eyes. What I saw in places really disturbed me because I realized that I’d been so focused on all of the wrong things such as getting good grades, pleasing my parents and ecclesiastical leaders at BYU, being judgmental of people whom I’d never bothered to get to know or understand, obeying all of the church’s rules scrupulously but deriving no joy or meaning from it, saying that I believed in God and Jesus but never taking the time to cultivate a real relationship with Them and so forth. I vowed that if I had the opportunity to live I would focus on the important aspects of life such as showing respect for all people and not just the ones that my parents and the church deemed worthy of my respect, giving others the benefit of the doubt, loving more unconditionally-even the difficult people in my life, and, most importantly I feel, living in the moment rather than being so focused on life after death. This was a radical and profound change in my way of living my life! There was nothing in that sacred experience that focused on obeying the rules more scrupulously. Happily for me I “resurrected” on the table in the ER of a tiny hospital in the middle of nowhere while the doctor on call was signing my death certificate.
Since that time I’ve tried to focus on the important things that I was taught during this experience. For the most part I feel that I have done a much better job than if I hadn’t had that experience. There are times though when I catch myself reverting to the old ways even now 43 years later. What has helped me the most is to remind myself that the most important parts of the gospel deal with right and loving relationships between ourselves and God and everyone we deal with. With right relationships we are then drawn to living the gospel as a demonstration of that deep and all encompassing love. In my opinion the church has it backwards. Many of our leaders preach that if we follow all of the rules in order to win God’s approval (and to receive the approval of others) this makes us righteous. I’ve known too many people who scrupulously obey all of the rules and who are touted by church leaders at all levels of the church as “good examples” but end up being the most spiritually bankrupt people that I’ve ever known because they’ve never bothered to engage in having a real, true and honest relationship with the Father and the Son.
In her book, “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke (professional poker player and psychologist), Annie visits Pacal’s wager, and determines that it is a wager worth making. Eternity is an unfathomably long time, so the risk-reward ratio is better than any bet that you’ll find on Earth. If that’s how you’re looking at it.
Like many of you, I don’t think it’s that simple. We know very little about what the bet actually entails and what the reward would even be. Plus, staying in the church/keeping commandments solely for the purpose of getting the reward is probably going to miss the point of the gospel entirely, and may be more damning than living true to yourself and sticking to your convictions, even if they don’t align with church policy.
I tend to agree with Josh H’s perspective- God will be able to read our hearts. If we are living true to our values, and the way we sincerely believe we should be living and acting, it will be well with us. If we abandon our values (and treat people poorly for our own gain) then we won’t be in such good shape, (even if we have a temple recommend). -I don’t really understand it, but my view of the resurrection aligns a bit with Travis’. It’s not so much “where” we’ll be (since we may still all be together), but “How” we will be- The type of individual that we have become will be the reward. I don’t actually know, that’s just what I’m betting on.
I really like Vajra2’s Marcus Aurelius quote. Too bad it’s not what RMN teaches because apparently even the people who live exemplary lives serving others but don’t accept the covenant path just won’t cut it. Guess I’m doubly screwed, as I do my best to care for others – but I’m no Mother Teresa – and I’m not on the covenant path. I did attend the temple last night tho.
At second thought I realize that the term “spiritually impoverished” is a much better way to express my thought than “spiritually bankrupt”. My apologies for any offense I may have given to any of the
It feels like everything I hear lately that our leaders ask us to do ends up serving the Institution more than God (as defined in 1 John 4:8). The Institution is God, or might as well be.
For example, on my IG feed yesterday was a clip of RMN which began something like “if I could meet with each of our youth individually…”
And I was interested. What a great premise! Youth are going through some hard times. If I had a pastoral role like his, and I could somehow meet with each individual, I’d hug them, listen to them, affirm they’re doing so much better than they think they are, thank them… but what do I know, I’m just Sister Margie who sat with her upset kid in Primary today. Surely a man of RMN’s experience and stature has better ideas than me…
What would he do? He’d “plead with them to find a partner with whom they can be sealed in the temple.” (Not verbatim, but that was the substance.) Now there’s nothing wrong with being sealed in the temple. Mr Margie and I were sealed in the temple. But there are an awful lot of women my age (pushing 40) who are missing their chance of wonderful families because they’ve been told “temple marriage or nothing.” And of course for the by no means insignificant number of queer youth among us, this “plea” over and above anything else he could say is just… wow
But RMN is a smart man. He knows what the data say about what happens when couples marry in the temple. While things can and do go south for individual couples (and boy can they ever), temple marriage is a huge predictor of continued activity, tithing dollars, and raising kids who’ll be active, future tithe-payers.
And lest you think “Oh Margie, you’re such a cynic, always seeing nefarious motives everywhere!,” I am sure RMN feels total confidence he is pleading for the right thing. As he sees it, this how people will be safe and happy throughout their lives and in the life to come.
And this for me has become the problem. I’m not wagering on the existence of God; I’m wagering that the Institution is God (or has exclusive access to God as determined by, among other things, what I drink at breakfast and how much of my money I give to said Institution).
And that’s not a wager I’m willing to stake very much on anymore. I don’t mind refraining from coffee; I’m happy to donate 10% and more of my money; I am not cool with an Institution that seems, everywhere I turn, to do the opposite of the kind, loving thing.
I think the wager the church most concerns itself with is the one on its unique truth claims. Conference talks are mostly about staying in this particular boat loaded with all its history, scripture, doctrines, and prophets.
Pascal’s wager isn’t enough from an orthodox Mormon point of view. It’s why I feel so estranged at church in spite of my strong belief in God and Christ.
Pascal’s wager is great if it’s the mormon god, or even a generic Christian god that is real. But what it’s the Muslim god that is the real god? No amount of Christian devotion will appease that god. What if it’s neither of them and an entirely different god altogether? The problem with Pascal’s wager is it doesn’t factor in all the possible gods and what they supposedly require into the equation, and therefore is a flawed wager from the get go. It assumes only two possibilities when there are many others. One simply cannot live a life that would appease all the gods of all the world’s religions.
Furthermore, the wager also assumes a relatively small cost to living a christian life and being wrong. Is it a small cost to the gay mormon who chooses a life of celibacy in order to make that wager? If this is his one shot at life, that is too high a cost indeed.
No, Pascal’s wager is flawed because it grossly underestimates the number of possible gods to consider and it minimizes the cost to some individuals in living in a way that would appease that god. Cis white heternormative males? Sure, very little cost to live mormonism, especially if raised that way. But to a member of a marginalized group, the cost can possibly be unfathomable in the church as it currently exists.
The best bet is to live according to what we can confirm to be real and to be open to that changing. To live by what ifs and possibilities is irrational.
There are many, many different concepts of God, and many of these gods demand contradicting versions of morality. By following Jesus and accepting him as a son of God, we’re rejecting Allah and committing the gravest of all sins in Islam, which is called shirk, which means to associate something with Allah, such as having a son.
We all take the God risk. By accepting one God, in so doing we reject hundreds of other concepts of God.
My philosophy is to try to develop a morality system through reason and borrowing, wherein we arrive at moral positions by thought, experiment, and the lessons of other people and cultures.
“All I know is, that in all this not knowing, I still want to be good and to do good – and enjoy my morning coffee. ” IThis is one of the best descriptions of a good life I have ever read. ‘m putting this in my Daybook.
One problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it only recognizes two options, when in fact there are innumerable religions (and divisions thereof). Since we don’t have prior probabilities for any of them, the logical thing to do would be to pick (a) the most intolerant religion, with (b) the best heaven and the worst hell.
Why would you pick the most intolerant religion? Let’s say that some liberal New Age church thinks that everybody goes to heaven, while some strange fundamentalist sect says that everybody goes to hell except members of their group. Obviously you should join the fundamentalist sect. Think about it–if the New Agers turn out to be right, but you joined the fundamentalists instead, you won’t have lost anything, you’ll go to heaven regardless. But if the fundamentalists are right, and you join the New Agers (or anybody else), then you are damned forever.
Why the best heaven / worst hell? Because the expected payout would be higher if you joined (and the loss higher if you didn’t join). So if Religion A teaches that hell is eternal, while Religion B teaches that hell is temporary (or eternal, but less painful) you should pick Religion A, ceteris paribus. (This makes religions that teach reincarnation far less competitive.)
Beyond that, the whole project assumes that religion is basically a matter of belief (many religions disagree), and that belief is entirely a matter of personal choice (but surely there are limits–examples of things you could not possibly believe no matter how hard you tried, or alternatively, things you could not stop believing no matter how hard you tried).
In conclusion, everybody should join the Church of the SubGenius–the only religion that offers salvation guaranteed, or triple your money back!
I am late to the game, but I have been thinking about this post since I read it. I like to eat my cake and have it too and I recently had the thought. Is it possible to live in a way, that if the church is 100% made up and false, I’d still be happy with the way I lived my life (no regrets), and at the same time still be ready for the next life if the church is 100% true?
And I think the answer is Yes. I feel like being a member of the church has helped me to live a good life. I think the way that I’ve been living, if it were 100% false i’d think (well I wish i had or hadn’t done this or that), but I feel like I can change those things and just live true to myself, trying to be my best self, and at the end of my life I’ll be at peace with myself whether or not the church is true or if there is /isn’t an afterlife.
If anyone is still reading this, any thoughts on if this is reasonable/possible?
Cosmo (the Cat),
Whether the Church (or any denomination) is true or false to any degree is not the question in my life. Christ said, “I am the way the truth and the life.” What then is my journey with Him?
Denominations should be vehicles to facilitating the work of the Holy Ghost. To whatever degree they do so is the measuring rod.
Disclaimer: I am not LDS, but still I think I can give my thoughts. I think the wager is useful, provided you don’t expect too much of it. Pascal was a Jansenist, which means he probably did not really believe in free will, which makes his argumentation interesting.
Still, from my perspective, I think it does work. Yes, it does not deal with important issues such as which God you should follow, but even so, acting as one who believes in God will likely lead to a greater level of virtue than one who does not. It also can rule out atheism pretty easily, which does narrow one’s choices to whichever religious claim has the most credibility. So if someone is on the fence between Christianity and atheism, it can help, I think, but the wager should not be overused. And yes, no amount of earthly pleasure can outweigh what God offers us for an eternity.