Thursday, May 30, 2013

* God's Geico: Sky Insurance?

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”   Blaise Pascal, Pensées



Belief Is the Least Part of Faith

Published: May 29, 2013 
T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God,” is a guest columnist.

One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: “I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it. That’s my definition of faith.”
It was a flippant, off-the-cuff remark, but also a modern-day version of Pascal’s wager: in the face of her uncertainty about God’s existence, she decided that she was better off behaving as if God were real. She chose to foreground the practical issue of how to experience the world as if she was loved by a loving God and to put to one side her intellectual puzzling over whether and in what way the invisible agent was really there.

Celestial Certainty?

An article in the op-ed section of today’s New York Times by anthropologist T.M. Luhrman  refers to “Pascal’s wager” which turns faith into a kind of insurance policy:  Better “Believe”---just in case.

It reminds me of my Uncle Walter who was a heller most of his life and managed to be on-his-feet and out of a doctor’s care until 87 when suddenly diagnosed with stomach cancer, subsequently eviscerated at Yale-New Haven Hospital, then  shipped off to die at a rest-home in Cheshire five minutes from our home. 

I’d visit him there  and in one memorable encounter when he was in bed, a patient in her eighties stuck her head in his doorway and he shouted at her, “I know what you want; get out of here.”  (Even morphine couldn't mellow Uncle Walter.)

He was clearly not referring to the woman’s search for spiritual pleasure or a cribbage companion.

 It seemed kind of comical to me at age 18, fifty years ago, that these two wrinkle-bags in a rest-home were making (and rejecting) a pass at each other! 

Actually, my uncle, who had Native American blood in him, was remarkably wrinkle free and still had color in his hair at 87, probably the reason he was being hustled.

When Uncle Walter died a few weeks later my mother ( a black Protestant) told me that  a priest had come in and converted him---(a lifelong church hater) ---to Roman Catholicism. 

I can just imagine my Uncle Walter  mumbling to himself, "What the hell, I might as well."

My Uncle Walter as a young man. 

He'd made a last-minute version of Pascal’s Wager: Better Buy Sky Insurance.

I prefer a different  quote from Pascal blazing across the centuries:

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

So I graft my preferred Pascal quote to one by Voltaire in Candide (himself a lifelong doubter and scoffer) :   “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”  ---It is necessary to cultivate your garden.

That at least gets you outdoors. 

Or if the garden is metaphorical and represents one's talents, it at least involves you with other people.

So  try this as a motto for life:

Sit quietly in your “garden,” pulling weeds and enriching the soil, but involve others in your harvest.

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