It’s an odd question, but one that’s been in my head for a few years thanks to this picture:
Funny, right? However, if you stop to think about it, it’s actually a bit chilling.
A 17th century philosopher named Blaise Pascal came up with “Pascal’s Wager” in which he approached religion from the standpoint of odds and outcomes:
- If I believe in God and there is no God, I lose nothing.
- If I don’t believe in God and there is a God, I suffer eternal damnation.
Logically speaking, everyone would believe in God just to avoid hellfire and suffering, right? Religion is a good “safety net”. We’re hedging our bets against what actually happens after we die, even if we have NO idea what happens or even if anything happens.
But is that actually a good reason to believe? Is that even true belief? Heck, from that standpoint, is there one belief that’s “safer” than others? Is Islam safer than Buddhism, or is Protestantism a better choice than Orthodoxy? Approaching it from this angle, you’re looking at a “numbers game” rather than true faith.
I wish I could have some simple, reductionist answer to this question. However, given that it’s stumped philosophers and theologians for centuries, I’m okay not having “the answer”.
Instead, I’m going to use an example that has stuck with me for decades, courtesy of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
At the end of the series, one of the minor characters is in “Heaven”, but he’s freaking out because he served Tash, the antithesis of the God-esque Aslan. This is what happens:
“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.”
“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?”
“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”
That little scene blew my teenaged mind in a way no Bible verse or religious text ever had. It gave me the simple answer that I still hold onto today:
- Good deeds are to the credit of the positive force in the universe, by whatever name you call Him/Her
- Bad deeds are to the credit of the negative force in the universe, by whatever name you call Him/Her
Actions = consequences, good or bad. The deity/spiritual entity you’re doing them for is far less important than the fact that you’re doing them. I believe that is the “safety net” that will serve you best in the afterlife or next life. The name you use is far less important!