“Faith, Evidence, and the Abundant Life”

Lake Zurich, etc.
Aerial view of Zurich and its suburbs (public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)

I taught the Sunday School class this morning (on Alma 5-7) in what I believe is the Västra Frölunda Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The ward meets in the building where we held the FAIR conference yesterday – although it is a different ward than the one we attended (and I provided a fireside) when we were here eight years for the last FAIR here. It still looks new and contemporary, but I was told this is the building where Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve—the G means Gunnar – went to church for several years as a teenager. It is also the home district of Per Gösta Malm, who served as a General Authority of the Church from 2010 until his death in 2016. His widow was there today.

After church, my wife and I went to the airport, from where we flew to Copenhagen, Denmark, and then to Zurich, Switzerland.

Where I translated for Elder Packer
This is the chapel I attended for about six months while serving at Switzerland Zurich Mission headquarters. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)

Fundamental to a long-term writing project of mine—or at least to its first chapter—is a famous argument that has come to be called “Pascal’s Wager.” As part of my thoughts on the bet, I read Michael Rota: Taking Pascal’s Bet: Faith, Evidence, and the Abundant Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016). At the time he published Taking Pascal’s betDr. Rota was an associate professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I try – rather inconsistently, I admit – to use this blog as a way to save and share notes on my reading, and I’m going to do that again in this case. Here are a few introductory quotes from Professor Rota about “the seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal” and his famous (and controversial) “bet”:

Pascal has made important contributions to the fields of mathematics, probability theory and physics. His work in fluid mechanics was instrumental in the later invention of the hydraulic press, and he himself designed and built one of the first mechanical calculators, an early precursor to the digital computer. (Interestingly, the principles used in the machine are still applied in many automobile odometers.) Pascal was an inventor, an intellectual, and a scientist. He was also a deeply religious man. At the age of thirty-one he had a powerful mystical experience of God. He described the experience in a note and sewed the note into his jacket and kept it close to him. He apparently transferred the paper note (along with a cleaner copy that he placed on parchment) from coat to coat for the rest of his life – as a servant found them there after his death. (22-23)

As noted, when Pascal was just over thirty-nine years old in 1662, his servant found a small piece of parchment sewn into his coat. Pascal had drawn a cross at the top of the paper. Below the cross were these words:

The Year of Grace 1654

Monday, November 23, day of Saint Clement, pope and martyr,
and others in martyrology.
Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus, martyr and others.
From about half past ten in the evening until about half an hour later
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
Not from the philosophers and scientists.
Certainty, certainty; feeling, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
Deum meum and Deum vestrum.
“Your God will be my God.”
Forgetting the world and everything but God. He is only found through the paths taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘Just Father, the world has not known you, but
I knew you.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I separated myself from him:Dereliquerent me fontem aquae vivae(They have left me the fountain of living water)
“My God, will you forsake me?”
May I not be separated from him forever.
“This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and
Him whom you have sent: Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I separated myself from him; I fled him, renounced him,
Crucified him.
May I never be separated from him!
He is kept only through the paths taught in the Gospel.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day of trial on earth.
Non-forgetful sermonstuos (I will not forget your words). Amen.

(quoted by Romano Guardini,Pascal for our time (Herder and Herder, 1966), 33-34)

This was Pascal’s memory of what had apparently been an intense and very personal two-hour religious experience. It happened when he was about thirty-one years old. The historical evidence suggests that he kept the event a secret until his death. Although we know few or no details about it, however, he clearly viewed it as an encounter with God, and as so personally important that it transformed him and changed the course of his life. He kept the record of it – what scholars today often call “The Memorial” – in the lining of his coat, close to his heart. During the next eight years of his life, he carefully transferred the document from one coat to another, sewing it into the lining each time he changed. Apparently the note preserved Pascal’s memory of a cherished experience, something he could return to again and again.

For me there is something very moving in Pascal’s story.

Here is an interpretive extension and reformulation of the “bet” given by Professor Rota:

If Christianity is indeed true, then committing to a Christian life brings one great joy to God and all others in heaven, increases the likelihood of being with God forever, increases the likelihood of helping others to attain union with God expresses gratitude to God and becomes more aware of God’s love and more receptive to his help in the course of one’s earthly life. On the other hand, if Christianity is false, the person who devotes his or her life to the teachings of Jesus has still lived a worthwhile life, striving for moral excellence and experiencing the benefits of religious community (benefits of which contemporary sociological research shows that they are significant). ). (23)

Here are some more comments from Rota, Taking Pascal’s bet, 33-34, on the advantages to be gained by taking Pascal’s wager as theism or Christianity – he has not yet attempted to make a precise distinction between the two, and (we shall see!) perhaps not – true appears to be. For the sake of verbal economy, Dr. Rotate as WC the joint proposal You take the gamble and Christianity is true:

  1. You will have “maximized your chance at eternal life.” (33)
  2. Because God presumably hopes that we will choose him and thereby accept his offer of eternal life, “by seeking nearness to God you will bring joy to God and to all others who are with God in heaven.” (33)
  3. People would have been grateful to God for his grace and his generous offer of eternal life and other blessings. This may look something like (2) above, but this time it is not viewed from God’s perspective, but from the perspective of the human person involved. For gratitude is a virtue, and cultivating virtue is a good thing.
  4. “Fourth, it is very plausible to think that you are more likely to benefit from divine help for moral and spiritual growth if you seek a relationship with God than if you do not. No doubt God would not leave you without mercy if you did not seek Him, but it is reasonable to think that if you are more open to God’s help in your life, you will ultimately be less resistant when God sends help your way. .” (33)
  5. “Fifth, you are more likely to be aware of God’s love during this earthly life. If Christianity is true, a close relationship with God can begin now.” (34)
  6. “Sixth, if Christianity is true and you have tried to live a Christian way of life, you are more likely to help others on their journey to God. Because people’s ultimate well-being will largely depend on their relationship with God, we can incorporate into the outcome of WC the idea that you are more likely to help others. in the most important way possible.” (34, italics in the original)

These six statements are neatly summarized in a simple diagram on page 34, which also alludes to “these worldly costs and benefits of WN (You take the gamble and Christianity does not WHERE)” without listing them yet.

The six goods just mentioned are all goods that are specific to the outcome WK; they are goods that will not be present if Christianity is false, and therefore they are goods that will not be included in the outcome WN. (34)

Posted from Zurich, Switzerland