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Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Conclusion

To conclude or perhaps start over, let me offer a personal reflection (as if the preceding ones were not!) that will expose my bias.

I am a church-going non-theist. I do not see or want a supernatural entity, a God, a transcendent being, who is the Meaning and End of it all. Nor do I need or want a religion that claims to be the exclusive or even the best way to Truth and Goodness. But I do need and want a congregation that helps me keep faith.

Spouse Bernie and I found and belong to All Souls Unitarian/Universalist Church--a wonderfully diverse congregation, with a gay white man and an African-American women as ministers, which is committed to no fixed doctrine and whose mission is to repair and rebuild the world starting in their own neighborhood of Columbia Heights DC. As universalists, we espouse tolerance and find value in all religious expressions, their teachings, rituals, and stories, while recognizing the limited and often harmfulness of those expressions including our own.  By unitarian we do not mean One God or One Person in God. We simply mean that we will continue to attempt to discover what will bring us, the whole human family, together, what is common to all of us, and what will give us all meaning personally and collectively.

In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, physicist, and Christian apologist, presented the wager--the most fundamental wager in life.

One interpretation of that wager (probably the accurate one) makes religious belief--including God, Church, Sacraments, and an afterlife of bliss or punishment--a reasonable choice.  Here is the introduction of game-theory as taught in business schools through which the risks and benefits of certain courses of action can be weighed.  Certainly it is more advantageous to bet on religious belief even if that means lessening a bit of the pleasure or happiness in this life rather than risking an eternity of loss and even pain in the next.

I remember many Christian retreats where the master would ask us to momento mori and compare an eternity of bliss with the temporality of worldly existence.  I know many of my relatives and friends in which the wager still operates. And using game-theory, it makes good sense. But not for me.

This position I think is based on the fear of death, loss, pain, or at least the unknown. Moreover I think it does withdraw at least a bit from the full engagement and enjoyment of this world, this time, this place, this existence. It is the position of all religions that promise heaven or paradise or everlasting life. And I simply reject these beliefs.

However, I advance an interpretation of Pascal's wager that I can support. As Pascal in his pensée 233 implies: we are in every moment of our lives at a point in which there is as much evidence for meaning as there is for non-meaning.  Reason by itself cannot overcome nihilism and the ultimate absurdity of our existence. (Some say Pascal was the first existentialist.) Not mathematics, nor science, nor philosophy, nor theology can dispel nihilism. Only faith--which is the choice for meaning and for continuing the search for knowledge, the decision to keep trying to repair what is broken in our lives, world, and society, the election to enjoy life to the fullest and, yes, to love in the present and hope in the future. It is that decision that tips the balance.

I also think that it is a decision which is revealed and heard as a call in the very in-tension of our human being--one that we can conveniently deny or happily affirm.  It is the most basic of options in everything that we think and do.

Now that's a wager I will make.