What is the Value of Pascal’s Wager? (Defending Pascal)

 

To win you must pick, and pick wisely

 

“You can bet your life,” so the saying goes.  We are all forced to place this bet when it comes to matters of faith and expectations of what goes on beyond the grave.  It doesn’t matter which side of the “God debate” you are on; you must play this hand. Atheism rolls snake eyes

 

The Wager 

Blaise Pascal, mathematical genius, and Wager winner. Blaise Pascal was a philosopher and mathematician in 17th century France.  His famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) Wager is contained in Pensées, a collection of his writings published after he died. 

Typically, people tend to view Pascal’s Wager as a “last ditch” argument to defend Christianity, and admittedly Pascal himself seemed to frame it in this fashion.  I wish to offer a different perspective in that I think it beneficial to consider the Wager first.   Of course the Wager would still be available for reconsideration if one is still not persuaded outright by the weight of numerous arguments, evidence and testimony for God.

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What would Jesus Really Cut from the Budget?

U.S. CapitolJim Wallis of Sojourners asks the question, “What would Jesus Cut?” His campaign to criticize the proposed Republican budget borrows its rallying cry from the bumper sticker phrase, “What would Jesus do?”—and thus attempts to hijack the moral high ground in the policy debate.

Wallis is one of the leading evangelical left activists whose political views cut against the grain of typical evangelicals who generally side with conservatives. Tony Campolo is another familiar evangelical aligned with Wallis and liberal Democrats on economic issues.

These men are true Christian evangelicals regarding the Gospel and have a commendable concern for the needy. I’ve heard both Wallis and Campolo in radio interviews (by conservative hosts) and must note that they conduct themselves as fine gentlemen. Nevertheless, they are misguided in their application of Biblical teaching to political policy—at least in the eyes of The Common Sense Drummer. So hopefully your cuddly drummer boy will lay down the proper groove.

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Do Christians Defend Their Faith Effectively?

Tank

Battleground

 

The number of “ex” Christians is disconcerting to me if not downright alarming.  Note that this article is not concerned with the debate over whether or not it is truly possible to be an ex-Christian.

When I was younger it was rare to encounter people who completely rejected their faith in Christ, but now it seems that 90% of the atheists and agnostics I encounter on Internet forums claim a prior faith in Jesus.  There are several factors beyond the sheer numbers that are particularly disturbing:

1. The apostasy is not always based upon the person’s desire to live in “sin” (sex, drugs and partying), but often they are persuaded to “jump ship” by intellectual arguments and scientific facts.  This runs counter to what Christians tell each other.  For years I was taught that no believer would fall away unless they are being seduced by the “pleasures of the world”–and my experience seemed to support this belief; but this “hedge” is no longer valid–and merely offers a false sense of security.

2. Atheism has become increasingly more aggressive against Christianity (and other forms of theism).  I’m not saying that atheists have become more “mean and nasty”, but many are not so content to “mind their own business” until Christians attempt to evangelize them.  Actually, atheists are often more “kind and gentle” than the Christians they encounter–and they have creatively adopted the internet and media to capture unsuspecting (and unprepared) Christians.  They have re-tooled their arguments; and even on the Christian forum where I engage with them, the skeptics outnumber the Christians.  This ratio seems even bleaker when you count only the Christians who are thoughtful and loving in their approach.  Far too many would-be apologists merely drop “drive-by” snarky remarks which do not reflect positively on Christianity.

3. Ex-Christian sites actually provide moral support and comfort to “de-converted” individuals distraught over the loss of their previously held trust in God (and expectation of eternal life).  They are also eager to “minister” to Christians seriously struggling with doubts about their faith. They are genuinely motivated by compassion for the loss of fellowship, betrayal, emptiness and other negative emotions that new de-converts often feel.

4. The majority of Christians seem oblivious to the reality and darkness of this battle–and the importance of winning it. We tend to “preach to the choir” or converse among ourselves–providing ourselves answers that are only able to convince the already convinced. Even those answers may only be effective so long as they are unchallenged. What should we expect when one of us is thrust alone into an environment that is hostile to our faith?—for example when our youth leave home to enter the university. Some statistics say that 75% of them de-convert before day 1 expires.

Caveat–Ok, let me qualify point #1.  Even so-called “honest investigation” de-conversions are rooted in sin–it’s just more subtle–and arguably more “deadly”.  In fact, in the “old” days when people understood the true nature of human frailty they listed it as one of “the seven deadly sins”–(have you guessed it yet?)–pride.  In this case pride manifests itself by leading you to think you are “better” than others who seem not so motivated to investigate “truth” as meticulously as do you.  Pride is sneaky, pervasive, and virtually impossible to banish.  It is a certain hazard for any would-be apologist. Like gluttony (another of the seven-deadly fame) where we can’t just quit eating altogether, pride lurks ready to bite you in the butt at every turn of human endeavor.  We either laugh at the bite marks or more often fail to notice them altogether–either way the poison makes its silent march toward the heart.

 

Reality

 
Nevertheless, Christians bear a responsibility to face all the facts as they are and not as we wish them to be.  Otherwise, how can we be genuinely “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope we have?” (1 Peter 3:15) This process is hazardous because counter-Christian arguments can be persuasive and even seem insurmountable to those not prepared to deal with them.

We will talk further about dealing with doubts and how to properly question your faith so stay in contact.  For now, suffice it to say I urge Christians to seek solid confirmation of what you believe–i.e. seek something that is based on more than just a good feeling or wishful thinking.  Fortunately for me, the Lord has blessed me with some empirical experiences (quite inconvenient for the voices claiming natural existence only) that insulate me against clever arguments and even scientific data that might seem to call Scripture into question.

Therefore, it is safer (than it would otherwise be) for me to tread through the “valley of the shadow of death” (facing tough challenges to my belief) where I can digest and scrutinize the enemy’s current tactics. As you can imagine it is not a pleasant process to view volumes of material promoting darkness and despair. It is dirty (and hazardous) work, but some of us have to do the “recon”. Otherwise Christians will only be able to persuade the choir and will be providing outdated answers to those who do get caught in the enemy’s trap and find their faith being stripped away. Armed with fresh knowledge seasoned with wisdom, we can offer insight, encouragement and testimony to help those whom the enemy wants to devour.

 

Verdict

gavel

So, have I answered the title question? (Do Christians defend their faith effectively?)  You be the judge.  Perhaps the better question to ask is “How well do you defend your faith?  Well, do ya. . . !??   (a little “Dirty Harry” lingo) :-)    Together we can all help one another hone our skills–like iron sharpening iron. This is what we must do.

Let’s get crackin’,

Gary Plavidal 

 

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What is Common Sense?

clip_image002Yeah, just what are we talking about? Before we can appeal to this mysterious common sense we have to know what it is—that’s just common sense. :) True of course, but my circular reasoning for a bit of levity doesn’t quite define what it is. One thing common sense is not would be popular opinion–or masses of people parroting the droning messages fed to them by mindless TV, political slogans, and news broadcasts. All of these sources regularly release their material without running the “logic checker” along with the spell checker.

Enough of what does not constitute common sense so let’s cut to the chase. We can consider similar terms such as horse sense and good sense, which imply an instinctive good choice in response to a dangerous situation or perhaps a personal moral crisis. These are great qualities to have, but I like this short definition for common sense which would apply equally to routine decisions:

“. . . Sound practical judgment. . .” from Princeton University WordNet

Although common sense needs no specialized training, performing sound judgment requires adequate and pertinent facts; and the decision maker must prioritize them properly (the knee-bone connects to the leg-bone—not the shoulder-bone). If your computer won’t start—what now?  Dig into your bank account or your credit card for $1500 to buy a new one?  First, check if it’s got power from the wall.  Common sense—Right?

That’s pretty simple. We can apply the same trouble shooting methods to auto repair, plumbing problems, and similar challenges we all face at home and at work. What about the big stuff? Do our politicians apply the same logic to their policies—say for example—the so called fix to our (also so called) healthcare crisisclip_image004? (Yikes! Many of you are fetching your pitch forks right now) :)

Of course, I had to mention something controversial to prevent boring you.  But I think it’s fair to ask whether or not our leaders attempted to enact reform measures that would leverage inexpensive steps to reduce healthcare costs; or did they do something that was more akin to buying a new computer without even checking to see if the dead one was plugged in?  Remember, there are cures worse than the disease—and you can bet that our political-media-complex is set by default to inflict those “anti-cures” upon us.  The real checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution aren’t the three branches of government. Look in the mirror to find that–if you are a citizen.

Now it’s not the purpose of this article to solve the healthcare debate (that’s for other articles sure to appear soon), so after having started the brawl, I’m making a hasty exit from the bar (for now). Still, just for the fun of it, I’ll pick another fight in the bar across the street:

Does God exist? (Imagine the Geico commercial guy asking “Is the Pope Catholic?”) ;)

Common sense says emphatically YES! (certainly The Common Sense Drummer says so) and God does plenty besides merely existing.  Again, I’m only offering a teaser at this point because volumes have been written on the topic (on both sides) and the debate rages on.

Suffice it for now to note that common sense tells me that the “stuff” that exists just didn’t pull itself into being by its own bootstraps (which ironically, also would have been non-existent). Furthermore, the Creator would not be some impersonal (Star Wars like) force, but would have to be more intelligent than the most intelligent created being.

Therefore David wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Ps 53:1) Again, I hear the sound of pitchforks; but I’m not trying to insult atheism by proxy. We all fall prey to foolishness, so it is prudent to ask whether or not one’s world view is rooted in common sense.

One Wordclip_image006

Remember the three words: “sound practical judgment.” This is a nice, tight nutshell that appeals to the “Spock” (the Vulcan side—“Beam me up, Scotty!”) in me, but why use three words when a single word will do?—particularly when that word also inspires the heart and penetrates deep into the soul: wisdom. Common sense is wisdom. There is a book I highly recommend to immerse one’s self in wisdom—written of course by the great wise king, Solomon; (naturally, I also recommend the composite book that contains Proverbs) but if you go there, perhaps you won’t need me. But Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)—apparently we still need each other.

Solomon also wrote “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov. 1:7)  Now that’s common sense.

Blessings,

Gary Plavidal

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Hello world!

Hi! Gary here.  Welcome to The Common Sense Drummer.  This site is under construction while I figure out how to make WordPress obey my commands :)

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