Pascal says we should bet on Christianity because the rewards are infinite if the Christian God exists. If God is real and we have rejected Him, then we go to Hell and everything is lost. However, if He is untrue but you have believed in Him, at least you have led a good life and caused no harm. Pascal believes that whether God exists, believing in God is good for us, or is the right thing to do. If you believe in God only as insurance, something you can use in the case of hard times, your faith is neither mature nor genuine. The Wager appeals to the instinct of self-preservation, not to a high ideal, like faith or love. Yet because it is on such a low level of the rawest and greediest form of humans, it has the greatest force. This is why Pascal begins his argument with, “Let us now speak according to our natural lights” because we must start at the beginning and lowest level to build our story. It is something that resists atheism, which is essential to Pascal’s position. Pascal already believes in God and tries to bolster that belief among others with rational argument.
The Wager is an argument for belief in God. Pascal says: “Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. . . . . How will you wager?” And yet, Pascal goes on to convince us, with reason, why we should choose to believe.
Furthermore, Pascal forces us to live in a state of decision making. Many people choose to live by agnosticism. Agnosticism, not-knowing with an undeclared position seems to be a most reasonable option. The agnostic says, “The right thing is not to wager at all,” with which Pascal replies, “But you must wager. There is no choice. You are already committed.” We are active partakers in our own lives, and do not sit idly. According to Pascal, either you believe in God or you do not. He wants us to believe in something we cannot explain. “But by faith we know his existence”(pg 212). Faith is what allows us to know God. Pascal then goes on to assert why Christians need not provide reasons to justify their faith. If we believe in something or someone on faith, without a basis in worldly reasoning, we are exempt from worldly criticisms.
Nature can be explored through reason. Both nature and the mind are intellectual, but we cannot use them to assign meaning to life. That is why we as humans are miserable. This state leads us to a search for a higher power: God. Although Pascal uses this logical argument to persuade people, rationality does not create a genuine relationship with God. Pascal uses the instinct for self-preservation as just the starting point. Developing a true relationship through the heart rather than the mind is Pascal’s ultimate goal, which makes his use of probability theory and reason a bit ironic.
God is dead, but not religion. Nietzsche is not talking about the religious God we pray to, but rather the totality of moral values we hold in relation to God. He attacks Western culture for its lack of higher morality and its weakness of the human species. The death of God will reject not only the religious order, but also our moral principles and the way we once saw how the world worked. Christianity, in Nietzsche’s eyes moves humans away from focusing on the present, because we are so focused on the future promise of an afterlife. The things we think are good, like religion, are just in fact limiting us in understanding life. Nietzsche wants to put an end to this daily, nonsensical suffering we inflict upon ourselves. If we do not like the job we have chosen, change it. If we want to make a fool of ourselves in public, so be it. He wants us to learn that being ordinary and living boring lives gets us nowhere. This realization is power, according to Nietzsche, the power to exist and act according to our own guidance. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra implores his followers to create their own values as individuals. The Overhuman best exemplifies this rationale. Thinking of God as an anthropomorphized deity is the wrong approach. We should reject being concerned with the afterlife and live presently for its own sake, not because it will offer some reward later.
In extension, Nietzsche does not view power as a violent act. When Zarathustra is run out of town by the people, he does not summon an army and invade them. Rather, he decides to sing and dance, offering his knowledge to those who want it, the people who cultivate their will to power. This is the strongest person, because their meaning is individualized and not told through others. Maybe this is why Nietzsche does not like God because He feels contrived and something that Nietzsche cannot create himself. Nietzsche does not necessarily think that everyone is able to embody the Overhuman because some do not care enough to rule their own lives. He says, “For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred yes is needed: the spirit now wills his own will.” We are all our own Gods according to Nietzsche.
In A Confession, Tolstoy searches for the meaning of life in science, philosophy, and religion. However, he could not justify meaning in any of these areas. He grew up in a wealthier, aristocratic family. However, he decides to live amongst the peasants to find a higher value or power in his life. The peasants desire life through hard-work and humility. They accept their position in life because they believe that is how it is supposed to be. We must offer our lives to God in pursuit of him no matter how important our material and earthly items are. Tolstoy makes apparent that God’s love is never perfect, nor should it be, will never change when we need it most. Regardless of the pain and suffering we endure, God will be at the end of it all. Tolstoy is less concerned with God for God’s sake than he is with religion in the world. He is talking about what are we doing here on earth in the name of religion. Pascal highlights the aspects of the body and soul and its relationship to God rather than focusing on our mission here on earth. Tolstoy says we should follow the teachings of Jesus through non-violence and in an non-coercive manner. Those who go to war for religion are lower spiritually than atheists. So, according to Tolstoy we should not fight for religion. Tolstoy says:
“But when I approached the altar gates,and the priest made me say that I believed that what I was about to swallow was truly flesh and blood, I felt a pain in my heart: it was not merely a false note, it was a cruel demand made by someone or other who evidently had never known what faith is. I now permit myself to say that it was a cruel demand, but I did not then think so: only it was indescribably painful to me. I was no longer in the position in which I had been in youth when I thought all in life was clear; I had indeed come to faith because, apart from faith, I had found nothing, certainly nothing, except destruction; therefore to throw away that faith was impossible and I submitted. And I found in my soul a feeling which helped me to endure it. This was the feeling of self-abasement and humility. I humbled myself, swallowed that flesh and blood without any blasphemous feelings and with a wish to believe. But the blow had been struck and, knowing what awaited me, I could not go a second time”(Chapter 14).
Tolstoy says that these finite things, the blood and the flesh are things you don’t think about when you are young because you don’t have a clear understanding of what faith means. As a child you just accept what is being told to you, similar to how in sunday school you are told to read the parables and that if you understand them, you are a good Christian. However, as you grow older you understand that religion is a personal experience, and neither people nor the Church can tell you how religion is supposed to be. Tolstoy loses his faith in systematic religion, but wants that raw faith that is found through your own realizations and experiences rather than as something forced upon you. By the priest asking him to consume the flesh and blood, Tolstoy takes it to mean religion is not an option, but something that you must have in order to have salvation. In third world countries, faith to the people there is humbling and to them is part of their life. It’s not something that they just do on Sundays and act like they are Christian because they sit in Church once a week and pray to God only when they need something. Tolstoy feels as though religion is suffocating and because of that loses his faith in its ideals.
I find that Pascal’s notion of the mind (intellect) and nature (soul) reflects a gulf between how we are supposed to cultivate our relationship with God and how we formulate our reasons for wanting a relationship with God. If Pascal is using intellect to promote a belief in God, he is ultimately undermining his argument regarding the impotence of the mind in forming a relationship with God. From Pascal, I agree that humans need to wager. I think we need to be more decisive about what is we are looking for, stop saying the word “maybe”, and choose a direction. I liked how Pascal used the bare minimum to convince people to believe in God, rather than to prove God exists. I think Nietzsche has a good point about living in the present moment rather than being concerned about the future and what will happen after death. His religion is not revolving around the concept of God, but more the concept of the Ubermensch. We have the control to be the best versions of ourselves in that we can rise above those who do not care to better themselves. I feel as though I should mention something I like about Tolstoy, even though he was harder to understand in my opinion. I think that I wrestled with his encounter with the priest in Church. I grew up in a Presbyterian Church where communion happened once a month. I always accepted the bread as the body, wine as blood and did not think too much about it. Even when I was older, I never questioned what the bread and wine stood for, nor did it “gross me out” crudely put. I think Tolstoy’s questioning is really interesting and asked me to think of anytime in the Church I felt disconnected or not belonging.