All bets are off…and on

18 01 2011
Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (Wikipedia) - Like the long curls, Blaise.

“The ancient and popular (or vulgar) view that belief in God is the ‘best bet’, given its classic formulation in the Pensées of Pascal. Suppose that metaphysical argument leaves us knowing nothing about divine matters. Nevertheless, we can ask if it is better for us to believe in God. If God exists then it is clearly better: infinitely better, given the prospect of eternal bliss for believers, and eternal damnation for non-believers. If God does not exist, then we lose nothing, and may even gain in this life by losing ‘poisonous pleasures’. So belief is the dominant strategy. It can win, and cannot lose. The wager is ‘infini-rien’: infinity to nothing.”  Read more 
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That’s all a bit more than I bargained for with yesterday’s post.  I’m not betting about God’s existence; I  want to explore God’s way and live it, rather than have a “spiritual experience” that makes no difference to life.  I’m taking James’ wisdom* seriously – “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!”  So, Pascal’s wager – no; James’ wisdom – you bet!
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*James writes near the end of the Bible.  This quote is from The Message version by Eugene Peterson.
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One response

19 01 2011
Pete

Hum!
I wonder if the ‘James type’ wager is a subset of the “Pascal” type wager… or whether it redefines what real faith is? Maybe faith is nothing without action. I love this story – whether true or apocryphal:
In the 1800s, an acrobat named Blondin (Jean-Francois Gravlet) became famous for crossing Niagara Falls by tightrope many times, usually with no safety net. One day a crowd gathered at the falls to watch his most dangerous attempt yet. He planned to push a wheelbarrow loaded with a heavy sack of cement across the tightrope.
With that extra weight, the slightest miscalculation could tip the wheelbarrow and twist him off the wire, plunging him to death 160 feet below in the raging waters. Thousands watched breathlessly as he made his way across, placing one foot carefully in front of the other, quietly pushing the wheelbarrow across the spray-filled chasm, oblivious to the roar of the water beneath him. When he made it to the other side, the throng let out its collective breath and cheered. What a feat! Blondin crossing Niagara Falls.
After his crossing, Blondin challenged a nearby reporter: “Do you believe I can do anything on a tightrope?” “ Oh yes, Mr. Blondin,” said the reporter, “after what I’ve seen today, I believe it. You can do anything.” “ Do you believe, then,” said Blondin, “that instead of a sack of cement, I could put a man in this wheelbarrow—a man who has never been on a tightrope before–and wheel him, without a net, safely over to the other side?” “ Oh yes sir, Mr. Blondin,” said the reporter, “I believe it.” “ Good,” said Blondin. “Get in.”
The reporter paled and quickly disappeared into the crowd. It’s one thing to believe something, but quite another to have that kind of faith in someone. However, one person that day did have that kind of faith in Blondin. This brave volunteer agreed to get into the wheelbarrow and cross the falls with the master acrobat.
As Blondin tipped out the bag of cement and placed his passenger in the barrow, men on both sides of the falls quickly placed bets on the outcome. Then as the crowd cheered, Blondin made his way back across the falls, this time pushing a nervous passenger ahead of him.
It looked like another easy conquest for the daredevil. But when they were halfway across the 1,600-foot rope, a man with a heavy bet against them crept over and cut one of the guy wires. Suddenly, the tightrope pitched crazily back and forth, the force of the whipping motion gaining in intensity. As Blondin fought to keep his balance, he knew that they were seconds away from death.
When the rim of the wheelbarrow came off the wire, they would both be pitched headlong into the churning waters. Blondin spoke, cutting through the terror of his passenger in the wheelbarrow. “;Stand up!”; he commanded. “;Stand up and grab my shoulders!”; The man sat there paralyzed. “ Let go and stand up! Let go of the wheelbarrow! Do it or die!”
Somehow the man managed to stand up and step out of the swaying wheelbarrow. “;Your arms … put them round my neck! Now, your legs … round my waist!”; said Blondin. Again the man obeyed, clinging to Blondin. The empty wheelbarrow fell, disappearing into the frothy turmoil far below. The aerialist stood there, using all his years of experience and every trained muscle to stay on the wire until the pitching subsided a little. Then inch by inch, he made his way across, carrying the man like a child. Finally, he deposited him on the other side.
I’ve always thought ‘faith is a sweaty business’!

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