First objection to the Pascal's wager

What kind of bets should be put on the table?

The bet is our Christian commitment

Pascal suggests that the player can participate in the wager by not putting any bets on the table. Does he mean that "Believing does not commit you to anything"? The stake is our life, our conscience, our freedom; it is infinitely precious to us; we don't want to play dice with that.

In most religions, the clergy plays a facilitating role in the relationship between the faithful and God, a kind of "religious coaching", considered useful but auxiliary. From this point of view, Catholicism is a singular religion: on the one hand, the clergy exercises a necessary and inescapable role through the sacraments; on the other hand, through the Magisterium of the Church, it exercises supreme authority over personal consciences. The relationship with God passes through the mediation of the clergy, who introduce their own demands, to which the faithful are obliged to submit.

Religious indoctrination

«The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are "authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice." The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for. The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed. The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God. The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. the faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. In the work of teaching and applying Christian morality, the Church needs the dedication of pastors, the knowledge of theologians, and the contribution of all Christians and men of good will. Faith and the practice of the Gospel provide each person with an experience of life "in Christ," who enlightens him and makes him able to evaluate the divine and human realities according to the Spirit of God. Thus the Holy Spirit can use the humblest to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions. Ministries should be exercised in a spirit of fraternal service and dedication to the Church, in the name of the Lord. At the same time the conscience of each person should avoid confining itself to individualistic considerations in its moral judgments of the person's own acts. As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions. Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.»

Let us beware of a religion that sanctifies obedience: believing will make us captives. When I realised that I had to align my opinions with all the positions taken by the Church's Magisterium, it seemed unacceptable to me to renounce the principle of free examination. While even prisoners retain their freedom of thought, Catholics are deprived of it.

With obedience, the doctrinal background to be taken over is excessively heavy. We can legitimately refuse to submit to religious indoctrination, to chain ourselves to precepts, to practice rituals, to say prayers, to let ourselves be guided by the clergy, to take on a ready-made attitude, and to be constantly pursued by haunting preoccupations. In short, not all of us have the vocation to behave like sheep under the guidance of good shepherds.

To be saved, believing in God is not enough. God vomits up the lukewarm ones 1. A docile and total commitment is required. In particular, the following people are in an irregular situation and have to worry about their eternal salvation:

  • those who deliberately miss Mass or the Sunday Eucharist 2 ;
  • the divorced and remarried 3 ;
  • homosexuals ;
  • people living with a partner ;
  • couples using artificial means of contraception.

One understands why "many are called, but few are chosen4.

Whoever asserts that in Pascal's wager there is nothing to engage - this is the Church's interpretation - would deserve to have his nose lengthened like that of Pinocchio.

To overcome the constraints, many contemporaries chose to be believers, but to keep their freedom from dogmas and their independence from the clergy. This state of partial emancipation is generally not enough to free them from the guilt of living in disobedience. They spend a lot of energy convincing themselves that they can still obtain eternal salvation.

1  Revelation 3:16 «So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.»

2  Those who deliberately fail to attend Mass or the Sunday Eucharist commit a grave, i.e. mortal, sin.

3  Divorce is a serious offence against natural law. The fact of contracting a new union, even if it is recognised by civil law, adds to the seriousness of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery. Adultery is a mortal sin.

4  Matthew 22:14

5  See document On the likelihood that a given religion is true

What should be optimised? The example of the game of the 10 farms

For all good, a farmer owns a farm that allows him to feed his family. He is offered the chance to flip a coin on his farm. If he wins, he will receive 10 farms similar to his own in the region where he lives. If he loses, he must give up his farm.

Although the expected benefit is clearly favourable, it would be foolish to accept this game : if we are offered to bet something irreplaceable, we are not looking for a maximum winning, but for minimum losses !

Do you have to wager?

Each culture builds the divinity or deities that symbolize its aspirations 5. Is it worth sacrificing one's life for a hypothetical reward ? Popular wisdom has created the aphorism:

One "This is for you" is, it is said, better than two "I will give it to you". One is sure, the other is not.

[La Fontaine, Fables, The Little Fish and the Fisherman]

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