Photography and image editing:  H.J. McEnroe

Author’s note:  This is the second of a three-part series on the intersection of mortality and faith.
“I used to think the time would come
When man would rise above the beast,
I gave up thinkin’ that way long ago
In conversation with a priest.”
                - Tears for Fears, Secrets  

Once, I approached a parish priest, engaged him in conversation regarding my personal fall from grace.  Explaining to him how loss of health, loss of employment, family struggles and a loved one near death had left me bereft of hope, I said, “Father, I think I have lost my faith.”  Tearfully, I implored him, “Please, help me…tell me how to regain it?!”
The blank stare, absent any balm of healing words, finally compelled me, after more than fifteen minutes of diversionary chatter, to observe, “Thought you might have some perspective you could share…guess not?  So, I suppose the only option left me is to ‘fake it ‘til I make it…?’”  He said…nothing.  I exited his office, into the purifying blaze of the midday sun, sitting in my car for a long time, numb.
Every time I think of that exchange, I’m reminded of the lyrics from that Tears for Fears song.

​It would be tempting to blame him for my lapse; the days turned to months, and the months to years, before a miraculous event (for which “miracle” seems the only word at my avail) would forever change my perspective regarding faith.  In the years since, I’ve often reflected on that moment, realizing…perhaps we expect too much of our clergy?  Indeed, for much of their lives of priesthood, these fellows (and, in certain Christian denominations, ladies) labor in the vineyard, hoping to bring souls back to God.  Yet, they themselves are mortal, encumbered by their own doubts and a world of disappointments and temptations that may corrode their own faith.
Into the fray eagerly steps the atheist philosopher, primed to supply us with scientific logic and reason enough to doubt God’s existence.  In recent years, one such philosopher became a giant among orators of the early twenty-first century:
“PRAYER:  Interesting contradictions at the expense of those who offer it – too
            easy a Pascalian escape-hatch, with me on the right side of the wager this time: 
            what god could ignore such supplications?  Same token – those who say I am
            being punished are saying that god can’t think of anything more vengeful than
            cancer for a heavy smoker.”
                                                                               - Christopher Hitchens  

Those words of noted essayist, philosopher and author, Christopher Hitchens, were among his random notes collected during the waning days of his life, preceding posthumous publication of his final book, Mortality, in 2012.  Mr. Hitchens was referring to something known as, “Pascal’s Wager,” and feeling the terrible gravity that comes to claim us all.
But why would this noted and notorious atheist dare make reference to such a “Pascalian escape-hatch”?  After all, he’d spent much of his life denouncing Christians as delusional, misguided by an evil-empire whose starship is dubbed, “The Vatican.”  He reveled in point-counterpoint debate with modern day Christian philosophers and apologists over the folly of putting stock in the potential existence of a supreme deity, often claiming (legitimately, I might add) victory in an ongoing debate.  He was, indeed, the archetype of a “devil’s advocate” in his prime.
The late twentieth century, however, was hardly the infancy of atheism.  The scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries obliterated European medieval philosophy and theology; new intellectuals of the revolution posited notions that science and cold reason could effectively reveal the folly of faith in a supreme deity.   Michel de Montaigne, prominent Catholic scholar and one of the most significant philosophers and essayists of the French Renaissance, argued ardently, if cryptically, against atheism.  His many scholarly contemporaries lauded his brilliance, but excoriated his belief in “the truth” of Christian teachings.
Into this new “age of reason” was born Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and philosopher-turned-theologian, who wrestled with these same doubts; he once wrote:
“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
Think about this…he argues that we are an irrational species regarding matters of faith.  True, we have no tangible mathematical or logical proof for the existence of God, just as we have no proof that God does not exist.  Yet, he contends that we bring a predisposition…whether to believe in, or to negate, the existence of a supreme deity.  He seems to suggest that something innate within us argues for one side over the other.  Why…?
Indeed, Pascal was one of the most skeptical philosophers ever to tackle the issue of faith in God.  Relatively late in life, he decided – based on suffering that brought him to religious conversion – to set about proving the argument for consciously choosing faith in God.  Unlike his contemporaries, however, he based his wager not on high ideals, such as hope, altruistic love, or mathematical “proof.”  Instead, he appealed to a primal human instinct:  the desire for self-preservation and happiness. 
“Pascal’s Wager” argues NOT for the absolute existence of God; rather, he merely suggests – given that God either DOES or DOES NOT exist – that it would be folly not to bet on God, considering the choices and their respective consequences.  Pascal says belief is a conscious, deliberate choice…like a coin-toss:  either God exists or He does not.  How we choose will dictate our eternity!

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