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Old 10-10-2004, 04:46 PM
Chairman Pow Chairman Pow is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: North Siiiiide
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Pascal's Gambit, the Prodigal Son and ethics of acting right

So, I trust we're all familiar with Pascal's Gambit. The cite brings up one of the thornier questions of the gambit, although doesn't really address the question of whether doing good things to get a reward is a sufficiently pure motivation in order to get into heaven.

I'd like to focus on that question with regard both to my understanding of Christian theology (rather limited, will need some help here) and how to get into heaven, especially considering the Prodigal Son and related stories.

For simplicity, let's say that "good" = things that when done will get you into heaven and "evil" = things that when done will prevent you from getting into heaven.

Pascal's Gambit assumes that getting into heaven is worth doing the good things, which are presumably not as much fun as the evil things or else everyone would do the good things and not even thing about doing evil.

However, we have Christian stories of "prodigals" who either renounce or do not believe Christianity and perform all manner of evil acts until one day when they see the light (as it were), repent and begin doing good. The Prodigal Son and Agustine are the two examples I am most familiar with.

So, if that's the case, it appears that I can still win Pascal's Gambit if I were to, at some point before I die, repent and begin doing good. Why should I bother to do good for my entire life then? The only reason I could think of is that I have no knowledge of when I will die and if it so happens that I die while still evil, the I will not go to heaven.

Perhaps the question will need to bring in the additional factors of God's will vs. free will and whether or not one is able to "believe" as easily as the Gambit supposes they can.

If God's will is paramount, that is everything is predestined, than I don't have to worry because what will be will be (of course, I get into the trap that my not caring is part of God's will, etc.). But, if there is free will, I believe that my original question is still valid.

The matter of belief is more difficult. How much belief is required? Is it simply enough to do good things because one believes that they should be done and pay lip service to Jesus?
Old 10-10-2004, 07:44 PM
Orbifold Orbifold is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Posts: 2,090
I think your first objection is answered by your second. If I spend most of my life doing wicked things, then make a show of repenting in the last years of my life just for the purpose of getting into Heaven, I should hope that God would be perceptive enough to say "Yeah, right, pull the other one." Doing good things just to "pay lip service to Jesus" as you put it should not give you a free pass, and expecting it to do so does not get you out of Pascal's wager.

Truly repenting would be a different story, but that doesn't strike me as the kind of thing you can plan for. ("What's on my appointment calendar for tomorrow...hmm, repent and become a truly good person just in case God exists. Glad I made a note of that.")

Of course, Pascal's wager has other problems, one of them being, how do you know you're praying to the right God? Rowan Atkinson has an oddly thought-provoking stand-up routine where he plays the part of the concierge in Hell, and says something like: "Christians? Where are the Christians? Ah yes, you'll be over here. And in case you were wondering, the Jews were right."
Old 10-10-2004, 08:57 PM
Aeschines Aeschines is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Posts: 6,649
First off, "prodigal" means spending a lot. The prodigal son was so called in the NT because he wasted all his money on his lousy friends. Prodigal doesn't mean "bad but then coming back to good." Also, the son in the parable wasn't particularly evil; he just wasn't very dutiful to his family and wise with his finances.

Second, Christianity doesn't have just one view of how to get into Heaven. Catholicism and the Orthodox churches require both faith and good works (or at least no mortal sin), whereas a slew of Protestant denominations say that you only need to be "saved": once you truly accept Christ, then you can sin all you want and still go to Heaven.

The predestination issue comes from Calvinism. Calvin taught that there was an elect that would go to Heaven no matter what, with the rest going to Hell no matter what. Although there is no denomination called "Calvinism" today, in theory Presbyterians believe in predestination (having come from the Calvinist line of Protestant churches).

So, all these churches disagree. If you'd like to know my own view, if you do bad things that karma stays with you, although repenting and making amends can greatly reduce the burden. If you are greatly destructive and hateful in life but think on your deathbed, "Geez, wish I hadna," it's pretty much too late. You'll go to a rather nasty zone of the Afterlife where you'll have to work off those bad old vibes.
Old 10-11-2004, 03:35 AM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: I'm coming back, now.
Posts: 7,419
Theologians are, as usual, of mixed views on the subject of how much contrition is enough, and how late is too late.

The thing is, there are a lot of Christians, including yours truly, who think you are looking in the wrong place entirely in your search for what it takes to get into heaven. It takes The Lord Jesus, and His love. That's it. Now, some of us are still deciding if He can save you in the face of your own contrary desires. It seems counter to human definitions of justice, and righteousness, but then those concepts are not binding on the Lord. It might well be that out of even so despicable a soul as Caligula, or Hitler, the power of divine love can bring a spark that can grow to love us one and all.

So, I will tell you how it looks to me, and you can add that to the opinions of lots of other Christians. What the Lord wants from you is your love. Your love for Him, and your love for each and every one of His beloved children. If you are doing good works because you want something for your self, it doesn't really have much to do with love. Now, I happen to think that the absence of your love is not punished by God, but is rather the absence of what could have saved you from the ordinary consequences of your mortality. Love makes it possible to change from what we are now, into what will live on forever. Divine love, of course might well be able to do that without your assistance.

I would also point out that love has rewards other than immortality. Love is a good choice, all by itself. Good is better than evil. Even in the intellectual exercise of considering what choice to make if there is no God, love is a fairly good choice in that case, too. And one more dearly needed in a lonely universe.

So, whatever the wager, choosing love is a winning choice.

Old 10-11-2004, 05:24 AM
Polerius Polerius is offline
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 3,892
Originally Posted by Chairman Pow
So, if that's the case, it appears that I can still win Pascal's Gambit if I were to, at some point before I die, repent and begin doing good. Why should I bother to do good for my entire life then? The only reason I could think of is that I have no knowledge of when I will die and if it so happens that I die while still evil, the I will not go to heaven.
The reason you give was also addressed by Jesus himself in a parable. Basically, you may be hit by a bus before you repent, and therefore go to hell. Jesus' point was: do you want to risk the chance of going to hell for all eternity? Just be good all the time and then you're safe.
(If of course you believe in hell, but that's another question)


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