Pascal's wager and Hinduism (are all religions of equal value?)

Pascal’s Wager is an argument used by the philosopher Blaise Pascal to justify the belief in God. Pascal argues that (following the beliefs of Christianity) :

  • If God exists and you believe in God you will go to heaven.
  • If God exists and you do not believe in God you will go to hell.
  • If God does not exist you will not go to heaven or hell whatever you believe.

Based on the above points, Pascal argued that it was better to believe in God, because not to do so risked going to hell, whereas belief in God carried no risks. A variation of this can be and has been used by Christians to convert members of other faiths, particularly those from non-exclusive faiths, such as Hinduism.

The argument goes:

  • If Christianity is correct and you are a Christian you will go to heaven.
  • If Christianity is correct and you are not a Christian (i.e. you follow your current faith) you will go to hell.
  • If your faith is correct and you follow your faith you will reach salvation
  • If your faith is correct and you follow Christianity then you will also reach salvation, because your faith claims that all religions can lead to God.
  • Therefore you have nothing to lose by converting to Christianity, but could lose by sticking with your religion, so the logical thing to do is to convert to Christianity.

When presented in those terms the argument may seem convincing, though in fact it has several weaknesses.

The assumption that there are only two options.

The argument assumes that Christianity is the one option that will avoid hell. In fact there are other religions making the same claim. For example Moslems may claim that their religion is the only way to avoid Hell. Also, as I pointed out in “The Christian Church is not one United Community” there are many denominations that claim that only they are saved. Bearing this in mind the argument becomes less convincing. You could pick a Christian or Islamic group, but it might be the wrong one.

This counter argument alone is not sufficient to make the argument completely useless. Someone could argue that you are still better off picking one of the denominations that claims to be the exclusive way to salvation, as there is still some small chance of it being correct. Its like being presented with hundreds of jars of medicine, some of them claiming that if you don’t take that particular medicine you will die. If you are only allowed to take one medicine you might feel that you are better off taking one that makes that claim just in case.

The assumption that God would condemn someone eternally for belief.

Hinduism gives us a chance to see God’s true nature, and see that it is good and merciful. Surprisingly the religions which claim to offer an exclusive path to salvation also make this claim. How can a good and merciful God condemn people for sincerely held beliefs, when a mere human can forgive ignorance? This self-contradictory claim again weakens the argument. It is as though the medicines that claimed that only taking them will save you had some contradictory information on the label, such as “reduces blood pressure by increasing blood pressure”. It would make you less inclined to believe their other claims!

The Assumption that Exclusive Religions Offer as much as Hinduism.

The argument makes the assumption that there will be no loss following an exclusive religion rather than Hinduism, claiming that non-exclusive religions say that all religions have equal value. This is not the case. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says:

Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.

Bhagavad Gita 9 vs25

Similarly the Himalayan Academy Guru says:

Saivites profoundly know that God Siva is the same Supreme Being in whom peoples of all faiths find solace, peace and liberation. Nonetheless, we realize that all religions are not the same.

Himalayan Academy

Adi Sankara said that Hinduism classifies religions into three groups: agach samayam which includes the six sects of Hinduism, agap pura samayam which includes religions born in India but denying the Vedas such as Buddhism. Jainism and Sikhism, and the third category is the pura samayam or alien religions, which includes Christianity and Islam. This is obviously a hierarchy, ranging from the purer religions to the less pure.

I believe that it is possible for people to advance spiritually in all faiths, but the Hinduism is unique in that

  • It believes that we are responsible for our own spiritual advancement, encouraging us to spirituality and knowledge of God.
  • In vedic knowledge it provides means to advance spiritually.
  • It acknowledges the goodness and love of God to all people.
  • It encourages non-harm and peaceful coexistence between all people, and with nature. Everyone has a divine spark in them.

By switching to another religion from Hinduism we are likely to progress less well in this life. We may even be lead to actions of hate and division, which is hinderous to our spiritual advancement and harmful to others.

Going back to our medicine bottle analogy, not only do the bottles claiming exclusivity have contradictions on the labels, but we have a medicine that we know helps us and who’se label makes sense.

The assumption that it is right to abandon your beliefs on a wager.

Though the above arguments have pretty well shown pascal’s wager to be false, I would question whether it is right to change beliefs on a wager, especially when we have evidence that the wager is false.

Imagine that someone said that they believed your father to be a violent man, and suggested that you should wear body armour when you visited him. I would imagine that for most of you this woul be a ridiculous suggestion. Imagine this person said “well you could be right, but there will be no harm in wearing the armour if you are. In the off chance you are wrong it could save you”. Most of us would tell him that we know and love our parents and would not insult our fathers by wearing armour. If anyone did begin to doubt, and war armour just in case they would be changing the way they saw their father. They would be seeing him as somebody who might not be kind and loving towards his children.

Knowing God as good and merciful, and that God’s spirit is in us all, how can we listen to anyone saying that we should change religion to defend against his violence. To do such would be denying God’s goodness, and that is wrong.

Likewise it would be wrong to change our view of God to one who may not love us all. It would also change our view of others, so we would no longer see everyone as beloved children of God with a divine spark of goodness in us all. We would be seeing some as good and saved, and others as wicked, condemned outsiders, not worthy of God’s love. This two would be wrong.

To change our view of God on a wager, even if it were valid, would be wrong to God, to others and ultimately to our own spirit. Pascal’s wager may have had some credence in Europe at a time when Christianity and Atheism were seen as the only options, but it provides no reason to switch from Hinduism to an exclusive sect.

6 responses to “Pascal's wager and Hinduism (are all religions of equal value?)

  1. Martin Pakalpati

    Im not sure how confident you are about your father/armour example. If your father is really a mental patient, you would be concerned about your own safety to a certain extent rather than offending him.

    Also you don’t have to make the armour visible, you may cover it up with a shirt/jacket.

  2. Martin Pakalpati Says:

    Im not sure how confident you are about your father/armour example. If your father is really a mental patient, you would be concerned about your own safety to a certain extent rather than offending him.

    Absolutely. If you think that God may be a “mental patient” or evil then you might want to join one of these exclusive religions just in case. Even if you admit the possibility of this you are souring your relationship with God.

  3. Hindus may wish to consider another objection to Pascal’s Wager deriving from the plurality inherent in Hinduism. Whilst I accept that many Hindus accept a monotheistic, or henotheistic, interpretation of deity one of the objections to Pascals Wager can be made from a Polytheistic stance. Pascals Wager often takes the form of trade-offs when the many gods objection is invoked. Pascalians will point out that their God is omnipotent whilst the many gods of other religions are finite and flawed. Whilst this may have been true in ancient paganism, the Gods of Hinduism especially Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are omnipotent. Clearly a plurality of omnipotent deities trumps Pascal’s single omnipotent God. A further consequence of Hindu plurality are the many heavens and hells in Hinduism which further trump Pascal’s single heaven and hell.

    The advantage of this pluralistic objection is that it takes the stick out of the hand of Pascalians, turns it against them and forces them to reconsider their postion, in short it takes the high ground.

  4. I know I’m addressing an old post, but I’m curious as to why you feel the need to debate with Christianity. You do it well, but I still wonder, why do it? Have you experienced a lot of negativity about your chosen religion? Or do you get people trying to convert you?

  5. People love to be right on the internet. I’m glad your real life experiences are better than online. I’m very much enjoying your blog.

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