Pascals Wager and Deathbed Conversions


It would be fatuous to argue that every argument for Christianity can find its most fundamental basis in fear; however, two of the more pernicious and frivolous of these arguments certainly do rely on fear as a supporting framework. First, the well-known Pascal’s Wager is, at its core, an appeal to fear. The argument goes something like this: if God does not exist, a Christian loses nothing by believing in Him; both atheists and Christians simply cease to be at the moment of death. If, however, God does exist, then atheists have an awful lot to lose, with an eternity of hell stretching ominously before them. Christians, of course, can look forward to a wonderful eternity in heaven.

Christianity is superior to atheism

Therefore, game theory kicks in, and Christianity is superior to atheism because it risks the least. At worst, a Christian and an atheist will both end up in a state of nonexistence. However, the atheist could only have a much worse lot than this, and a Christian’s position can only get better from this starting point, so it makes sense to believe in God.

No God SignIn essence, Pascal’s Wager uses the threat and fear of eternal damnation and torture to threaten atheists into hedging their bets and throwing in with Christianity. Beyond the simple fear-mongering of this, there are several problems with the proposition. First, it asks people not to pursue the mysteries of the universe courageously or honestly. It teaches that because one might have a better shot at enjoying the time they spend dead, they should cease any evidentiary or rational inquiry into the universe and merely “take the offer of the highest bidder.” This is no more a portal to the truth than is pointing randomly at a spot on the globe and calling it Africa is a portal to understanding geography. The other major problem is that it assumes a remarkably stupid deity. What sort of omniscient being would fail to see through the veil of someone who “believes” merely to procure a proffered reward? Either a foolish one or one who just doesn’t care about real honesty.

The other major fear-based argument for Christianity involves the deathbeds of atheists.

Oftentimes, when a nonbeliever is severely ill, the faithful will begin to circle like vultures around a corpse. They disturb the final, often uncomfortable or even terror-stricken, hours of their victims to entreat them to “see the light.” They threaten the horror and fear of eternal hell, and they generally do their (perhaps unintended) best to terrify the sick into turning their backs on the reasoned beliefs of a lifetime.

An analogy will shed some light on what a despicable sort of action this is. Imagine an atheist visiting the sickbeds of Christians and making sure that they hear that their final comforts and hopes for eternal life are nothing but fantasy. What a cruelty that would be! And what a cruelty it is when the opposite is done to atheists by Christians. The final, scared hours are no time for debate of theology. That’s what life is for, not death.

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