Many have heard the popular simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, “If there is no God then I do not stand to lose anything but a small amount of fun for upholding a strict moral standard. However, if there is a God then I stand to gain everything if I adhere to His revelation while I stand to lose everything if I behave otherwise.”
While many are content to leave it at this, few understand that this is a minor point in Blaise Pascal‘s larger argument. His main point was that everyone is already making a wager, and that in light of the gravity of the wager, we should take great care in placing our bets.
And fewer still are familiar with Pascal’s brief but brilliant life enough to know that his wager was not made in a vacuum but was made to friends of his who were familiar with other arguments for God’s existence. Who were only prevented from belief in God because they rightly believed that after accepting God they would have to keep his commands. Who didn’t think that believing subsequently following God would make them happy.
It is quite sad that our present cultural emphasis on happiness (defined primarily as pleasure) has taken center stage. Pascal and others of his era would have been appalled as their understanding of happiness hearkened back to Socrates’s wise words that an unexamined life is not worth living.
So Pascal’s wager, in essence, is a challenge to find a more virtuous life than that of follower of Christ.
Read the full text of Pascal’s argument here. It is found in section 3, part 194.
Further resources regarding Pascal’s Wager: