I have been struggling with this question for quite some time, and it came up tonight, which rekindled my thinking on it:
How do you ask a man behind the counter for a soda when you don’t think there is a man there?
You could use Pascal’s wager on this and say that you can only gain by acting as though the man behind the counter exists. For example, if you act as though he exists, you have four possible outcomes: 1) he exists and you get a soda, 2) he does not exist and you get no soda. In either case, you either win (get a soda) or stay neutral. If you act as though he does not exist, however, you also have two outcomes: 1) he does exist, and you get no soda because you acted as though he does not, or 2) he does not exist, and therefor no soda, but you expected this. In this second situation, you either lose (not getting a soda when all you had to do was believe the man was there and ask) and stay neutral. Pascal would argue that I should act as though there is a man behind the counter and ask for the soda, because that situation is the only one where there is a positive outcome. He is exactly correct. (Plot it out on a matrix if you are having trouble understanding.)
There is a problem, however, if the man behind the counter can tell whether you actually believed he was there or not, and used that knowledge to determine when to give you a soda or not. In this case, he only gives soda to people who actually believe he is there and ask for the soda. So people who come up to the counter using Pascal’s wager (acting as though they believe and thus asking for a soda, but not truly believing) can never win. Either way they act, they lose–if the man behind the counter is there, that is (if he is not, people who do not believe he is there are no better or worse off).
You are probably wondering where I am going with this. I am going to be honest–I have been struggling to figure out what I believe, especially about God. I am unsure whether I believe in God or not, and I have been thinking about it A LOT lately. I have talked to many people about this, and a few have told me that I should ask God to help me, for faith is a gift that God gives you. One even cited Pascal’s wager (kind of as a joke, but he turned out to be serious) as to why I should ask God for help.
Well, apply what I wrote above to me asking God for guidance in sorting out my beliefs. In this case, from what I understand from listening to other people’s beliefs, motivation matters to God. So, if I were using Pascal’s wager, God would be like the man behind the counter who only gives you soda if you truly believe he is there, not if you are just using Pascal’s wager and do not believe. Therein lies my problem; I am still trying to figure it out, so I cannot definitively say that I believe. In fact, since I am trying to figure it out, one would have to say that I do not believe. Since I do not believe, I would only be using some sort of Pascal’s wager if I asked for guidance. Let’s say that God does exist. As far as I can gather from what people believe, my motivation for asking for guidance from him would be off. Since I have the wrong motivation in that situation, where would that get me? Most likely nowhere. If God does exist, would He want me to lie to myself and falsely address him when I do not believe? Would it not be better to be honest with myself?
I have another issue here: I cannot bring myself to earnestly talk to someone or something that I am unsure is there or not. It does not make sense to me. Let’s say there is a curtain that is in front of me, and I am unsure whether someone is behind it or not. I cannot move this curtain–all I can do is ask whether there is someone there or not. I would prefer to be able to ask and either 1) get a response, in which case I would know there is someone there, or 2) get no response and be able to know there is no one there. I tried this with God and got no response. One of my friends told me, however, that God does not work that way. He might not give an answer. My friend said that no answer did not mean that God was not there, and I had to have faith.
You could say I am pretty lacking in the faith-area. I guess I do not have it. If in fact it is a gift, it looks like I have not received it. (By the way, I think there is a difference in faith in God and faith that someone else will pay you back when you lend to them. In the second case, you most likely base that “faith” in how that person has acted in the past. If it is someone you have never met before, I would say that you probably don’t care whether that person pays you back or not. You probably take a quick guess on whether that person will pay you back or not if it is a large sum of money given their appearances and how sincere they seem. That was probably a bad example, but anyway, I think there is a difference between faith in God and other types of “faith”.)
What do I do? Does anyone have advice for me? Has anyone gone through something similar? I am struggling with this, and it is bothering me. If you do not want to leave your advice in the comments, email me. I will keep it confidential.