21 May 2007

Blaise Pascal and Christianity

Regarding Christianity, Pascal said something to the effect (paraphrase ahead) that if you come to the end of your life, and you were wrong, you haven’t lost anything. This may feel lovely when you live in Christendom (and by that, I mean a world in which Christianity is popular and has influence by political or economical means), but it’s not true and it shouldn’t be true. I’m sorry, but Christianity is neither a crutch or a stuffed animal to hold tightly during the thunder and lightening (although I do love thunder and lightening and I do love my stuffed animal, Big Foot, much to the chagrin of my husband, but I’ve had Big Foot since before I was born, so what can I do?).
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if not for the resurrection, meaning both Christ’s and our future resurrection (without one, the other does not exist), our faith would be one big joke (which some of you out there believe it to be—and some of us live as the straight man for that joke). This same Paul was imprisoned many a time, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, beaten, and eventually killed for his belief. Um, if he were wrong in the end, I don’t think he would simply shrug his shoulders and say, “Ah, well.”
Christ told us to expect hatred from the world, and then he was killed. Crucified, to be exact, a painful and humiliating death. Of course, he was resurrected, and those of us who depend on him will be someday, as well, which is my point. A survey of the other apostles: crucified (upside down), exiled, beaten to death, beheaded, other sundry deaths including a combination of the above. Others? Well, Steven was stoned, others were speared. There was Jan Huss and Wycliffe and Joan of Arc and Jim Elliot (and his crew). More people have been killed for the Christian faith in the twentieth century than all other previous centuries combined. Of course, sitting in our recliners flipping through TBN and other such channels, we don’t remember that. We go to church to make business contacts or shelter our children (more on that one later).
Personally, I’m not so okay with the idea. I’m not saying Chris and I are martyrs or persecuted, but we have made choices based on our Christianity. Given up things that we’d rather have. I would love to travel. See the world. But when you work in ministry, the budget doesn’t support those desires. And you know what? I’d rather explore the new earth. But if that new earth doesn’t exist, man, I’m kicking myself for these missed opportunities. Sure, we have Christ’s peace and joy now, but the root of that peace and joy is the hope of a future with him in a harmonious community and perfect nature.
This whole thing shouldn’t be a half-hearted why-not decision. It shouldn’t be some heck-it-feels-good thinking. It’s deciding to serve a kingdom now that is underground and will eventually win. It would be like shuttling slaves through the underground railroad before the Civil War.
Just so you know.


David A. Zimmerman said...

I can appreciate your frustration; I'm reminded of Peter's question to Jesus: "We've given up everything for you. What do we get?" to which Jesus responded "You get mansions of glory and blessings a hundredfold--along with persecutions.

That being said, Pascal was writing in a very different era of the church from Paul's. Christendom is a much more comfortable climate than Christianity among the oppressed.

Mike Duran said...

I think you're referring to Pascal's Wager, Heather. I've always thought it was an ingenious way to rationalize with the secular mind. If Christians are right, you've more to lose by not accepting Christianity. If they're wrong, you still get the benefit of living a righteous life and the, however temporal, perks that go along with it. Pascal was extremely concerned with the logic and evidence of Christianity. The Wager was not an attempt to compromise the faith or minimize Christianity, but logically appeal to a secularist. Pascal is one of my favorite "old guys" to read and his "Pensees" is really worth holding on to during the "thunder and lightening.".

willowtree said...

I reject Pascal's Wager completely. "If you're wrong at least you've lead a righteous life" what a complete load of garbage. Try leading a humane life instead! Righteousness depends on highlighting others as not being righteous, which is precisely why I'm not christian.

Further, given that islam (which I'm not either) has numbers approaching christianity these days, that means that statistically you now only have a 50% chance of being on the right team.

I'm of the Richard Dawkins school of thought that believes that religion is the root of all evil.

Heather said...

Mike - what perks? All the perks I know of are related to the future. If the future don't got that swing, the perks don't mean a thing.
WT - I disagree with your definition of righteousness. I belief righteousness to live a life that extends God's good on earth, which means living humanely. After all - first greatest command is to love God. Second is to love your neighbor (which Jesus happens to define as whoever is hurting). Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for playing out a role of righteousness that you've defined, and he has many a right to give us a good scolding with his finger a'shaking for the same reason, which leads me to my final concession.
How we live matches your definition more often than what I believe to be the correct definition.

L.L. Barkat said...

Funny, but in a way it really doesn't matter if it's not true. What I mean by that is... if this is the only life we live and all is forgotten afterward, then what we experience now is just a blip in the universe. Without a meaning beyond this blip, without consciousness, either our pain or our ecstasy simply disappears and matters not. But IF IT's TRUE, well, then everything is at stake.

Mike Duran said...

Hey Willowtree, I'd really encourage you to understand Pascal's argument before you call it a "load of garbage." Furthermore, asserting that "religion is the root of all evil" is to issue a blanket on all the religious. Hear that Mother Theresa? You're whack! As Camus suggested, the greatest question facing the atheist is whether or not he should commit suicide...

Heather, even Scripture says that "godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come " (I Tim. 4:8). Our rewards are not strictly future tense. The person that pursues righteous is rewarded both here and now, and then. Must one be a believer to partake of the fruit of goodness?

Heather said...

Mike, I certainly understand that bringing good into this world is a good thing (acting humane, as Willowtree puts it). You don't have to be a believer to bring good into this world. The imago dei, although corrupt, is present in all human beings. And you don't have to be a believer to reap the benefits. Hopefully my love toward my unbelieving neighbor will bring good to them.
My point is, without the resurrection, Christianity is foolish. Even in the verse you quoted, Paul continues his thought with "In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers" (NET). He's pointing to living (which Paul always means as eternal) and Savior (saved from death and evil, again, an immortal concept). If it weren't for the end, sure, I may act good or try and be humane, but I wouldn't be a Christian. My life would be a joke and wasted in many ways, even if it still held good in other ways.

Mirtika said...

I've never liked Pascal's wager on the face of it, though I suppose as a discussion topic, it might let a person see the merit of investigating "truth", to make sure his or her life is not a bad wager. ; )

But yeah, a "hedging bets" thing doesn't save.

And I do understand that there are benefits to obedience...and drawbacks in terms of loss of certain freedoms and pleasures. I also can't wait for The New Earth, the Kingdom, Paradise, whatever. I know it's going to be beyond anything even the best SF writers can imagine. Stimulating, creative, fulfilling, blissful, awe-full.

Where I think the idea of living a righteous life helps is that if you REALLY follow the commands (aside from any real, deep love of God), you are more likely to be a person with good relationships, with fewer regrets about hurting others, with less chance of having 1. unwanted pregnancies 2. venereal diseases 3. lung cancer or 4. obesity (well, if you heed the anti-gluttony message and fast a lot. :) 5. won't add to the misery of your society by murdering, raping, robbing, etc. and won't add to your own misery by being imprisoned for murdering, raping, robbing,etc.

Righteousness behavior has benefits on its own. And I suspect that anyone who searches the Sc ripture to "hedge their bets" has a greater chance of seeing the power and truth therein than someone who ignores it altogether.