Monday, January 21, 2008

Blaise Pascal: Insight into Faith (Post III)

Continued from Insight into Faith (Post II).

Living in France where a favorite pass-time of the French was to gamble, Pascal plays with the idea of statistical gain and risks in his famous wager argument. Appealing to gamblers, Pascal shows how disbelief in God may risk more than any person would want to lose, the possibility for eternal happiness. This argument is not meant to justify belief in God but to show that belief in God is at least reasonable, and may be one of the most reasonable decisions a person will ever make. The point of this argument is to ready the heart for true faith. In other words, Pascal is taking up the banner of John the Baptist in hopes that a person may be prepared for humbling receiving grace. He does not believe that his argument in any way can provide that faith.

Reason alone, as great as it may seem, has limits and lacks the ability to judge definitively whether God exists or not. This is not to say that belief in God is not reasonable nor that an argument cannot be philosophically derived, but God is not merely an idea of the intellect. Any judgment would insinuate a conclusion that goes beyond the evidence available to the mind. Such a fact, regarding the existence of God as an objective and evident judgment, lies beyond and prior to the mind. Ultimately reason may aide the person in finding God, but the heart must first seek Him. Thus, we can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God based on reason alone. However, Pascal insists that every person must wager whether “God is, or He is not” (233). Since reason cannot speak and must remain neutral, the wager becomes a question of happiness rather than knowledge. Accordingly, Pascal sets the stakes on the fact that God is. “If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing” (233). Considering the possibility of the existence of God completely as a gamble and ignorant to the case in reality, there exist an equal chance of whether or not God exist, heads or tails. Betting that God exist when he does in fact exist, a person would hypothetically gain eternal happiness. If God does not exist that person has lost nothing. Following the nature of the gamble, the only way a person gains anything is if God does in fact exist. If God does not exist then a person neither gains nor loses in any of the scenarios. Therefore a person can reasonable gamble that God exists if they are remotely interested in the possibility of gaining eternal happiness. Since a person must gamble, belief becomes the most reasonable bet. The person sacrifices a finite chance in which nothing is gained for an infinite chance in which everything is to be gained.

Pascal realizes that belief from such a wager hardly seems like faith at all. In fact, he indicates that belief from a gamble is not true faith; but the wager only purposes to open a person up to the possibility of receiving faith. When struggling with faith, Pascal recommends that such a person live as if they did believe and follow the paths of those who have had similar struggles with atheism in finding their way to faith. By living as a believer a person is more inclined to believe and opens himself up to the supernatural grace of faith. Eventually, such a life may reveal the nothingness this life has to offer in comparison to the infinite happiness to be found in God.

Belief that God exist is not equal to faith in God. Where the mind may think of God, the heart experiences Him. Pascal says, “Knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him” (280). Both reason and the heart represent reality and know truth; only each tells us something different. Pascal says that the heart knows first principles such as “space, time, motion, [and] number” (282), and reason would be absurd to demand reasons for these intuitions of the heart. A person can only wait patiently for grace of faith when realizing the insufficiency of reason.

Next week will be the final post on this series of Blaise Pascal and his insight into faith. I will discuss the paradoxical nature of man’s greatness and wretchedness, the purpose of religion, and the primacy of humility.

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