So there’s a big hullaballoo about the Rapture happening on May 21st, 2011 at six o’clock P.M., according to your time zone or something like that. Amongst this hullaballoo is a lot of mocking of people who sincerely believe this is going to happen (and have thus either abandoned society or are preaching the word out in the streets about it). There have been Rapture dinners and parties planned for the night and everyone and their mother has gone out on Twitter or Facebook and made at least one Rapture joke (myself included). How could anyone believe that the Rapture is actually going to happen? Christians zapping up into the sky? The unbelieving left to roam the zombie-infested streets, abandoned by a justly wrathful and vengeful God? Poppycock. Saturday will come and go and we will be left to go back to school and work on Monday while the “believing” will come back home, their tails sheepishly tucked between their legs.
However, the joke is on us, and good old mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal is here to explain with his famous Pascal’s Wager.
In a gross dumbed-down version of Pascal’s Wager, Christianity is kind of a zero sum game. You believe in Him and gain all the rewards of heaven, and if you disbelieve him, you gain all the horrors of Hell. It’s just how the game is played. Unfortunately, Pascal says, we can’t know for absolute surety that God is out there, silently and quietly judging us until the time is right to steal away His chosen and punish the rejected. We have to, essentially, make a wager. And so, what’s the best decision to make?
If you believe in God and God is there, you gain everything, but if it turns out that God isn’t there, well, that’s that. You die and nothing happens. Your life has no meaning. If you don’t believe in God and God is there, you lose everything, but if it turns out that God isn’t there, well, that’s that. You die and nothing happens. Your life has no meaning.
Therefore, Pascal reasons, in the end, you’re better off believing in God. You have everything to gain and very little to lose because honestly, life on this planet can suck a lot of the time.
Consider if the Rapture did happen. All of those guys out there preaching and waving signs and stocking up on canned beans or whatever you do to prepare for the Rapture, they’re gonna get caught up and float up into the sky to hang out with Jesus forever, and that sounds pretty awesome. Meanwhile, we’re on the Earth, duking it out with insectoids with female heads breathing fire while a beast with seven heads and seven tails and seven horns or something bursts out of the Pacific Ocean and starts ravaging Hollywood, eating liberal actors and journalists alike. That’s gonna suck if you’re not one of the believers shooting up into the sky.
Consider if the Rapture doesn’t happen. All of those guys out there preaching and waving signs and stocking up on canned beans or whatever you do to prepare for the Rapture will poke their heads out, notice that they have not, in fact, been clothed in golden robes and given harps to play the hymns of God for all time everlasting, and they will return to their homes and endure some heckling and teasing. They’ll probably move out of state to get away from it, start their lives over, and just blush and look away whenever someone at a dinner party says, “Remember that May 21st rapture thing?”
And us smug guys? We’ll go through life as usual, trudging back to our responsibilities over the weekend, battling with that gnawing uncertainty that there is nothing after this life but the void, that our lives hold no meaning, and that perhaps all there is to life is to futilely endure the slow, demoralizing grind of life until we die as husks, shells of our former selves, our youth and ambition and idealism ground to dust and scattered across the winds like the ashes that once held our consciousness before that final neuron gave up the ghost in a silent scream of forfeit.
For a split second in their lives, these rapture guys are really worked up and passionate and believing in something. Yeah, maybe this whole thing won’t pan out and they’ll go home major disappointed, but if, for some miracle, it does happen? They won the lottery a million billion hojillion times over. And if they’re wrong? They’ll go home to their boring, boring lives and endure a lot of mockery, but it’s not like these types of people aren’t used to mockery. In the end, they’ve really lost not a lot.
Maybe, just maybe, they’re the sane ones.