An ignorant 19-year-old from a farming community, I found Pascal's Wager reasonable. "Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose."
If Christians are wrong (because there is no God) but you live "morally," then when the lights go out, they stay out. It's not as if living a moral life will lead you to unhappiness. Everyone wants to be a polygamist, but nobody wants to get herpes. Living "morally" is usually, at worst, a wash.
On the other hand, if you bet that there is no God but are wrong, you will burn in Hell for eternity. If you're going to make a bet, the smart money is on God.
Blaise Pascal was a Frenchman who lived in the 1600s. He didn't have exposure to world culture and world religions. Instead, he was a product of the Western World. In the Western World, there is but one God. Sure, Christians burned Lutherans at the stake and tortured Catholics due to disagreements over the True Nature of God. But most agreed that God was this white-looking guy who looked down upon all us.
Today's world is much larger than Pascal's. There are thousands of religions. Many religions, due to the need to terrify people into believing the unbelievable, have their own version of Hell. Pascal's Wager is thus much less reasonable. How can one decide which religion to choose? After all, many of them are mutually exclusive. You can't be a Christian and a Muslim. Who gets the golden streets, the 72 virgins, and the molten-hot pitch prostate massage?
In a big world, the choice is no so clear. Pascal's Wager thus no longer makes sense. There is no smart bet.
Yet thinking about Pascal's Wager has led me away from thinking about Pascal's Wager. Let's think more broadly - about the general bias we have by product of our Western living and Western mind.
Ken at Popehat has a post discussing
the French Solution to the Muslim Problem, namely, make women remove their garmets of oppression. Ken thinks that the French are being Orwellian: It does not make a woman more free by telling her she cannot be a slave. As a Western man, I would agree.
Leaving people free to make choices means that some will make choices we don’t like under pressures we deplore. Libertarians tend to advocate making drug use and prostitution legal, but that doesn’t mean we like to see women become prostitutes or people engage in heavy drug use — we just think that the alternative, letting the state treat us like children, is unacceptable. Some Muslim women will wear the burka under threat of pariah status at best and physical violence at worst.
Does it really make sense to speak of "free choices," though, when discussing Muslim women? As a Western man, I do indeed make many free choices that limit my freedom. Can we really say the same is true of Muslim women?
When we make Ken-like arguments, aren't we really just falling into Pascal's trap? To us, of course it makes sense to recognize that Muslim women have the right to make choices that limit their freedom. Are Muslim women really making a free choice? Or is that simply how it looks to those of us in the Western world?