Sunday, July 19, 2015

In his article “Belief” the author Donald S. Lopez, Jr. explores the idea of belief as it relates to religious studies. Specifically he explores the idea of whether belief is a Western, a Christian concept that is made to fit to the reality of other religions in a bid to fit the concept of world religions, or as an attempt to appease the religious scholars and anthropologists alike who insist of defining religion in terms of beliefs and practices. “Belief has become the most common term we use to describe religion (p21).”
What I would like to address in this brief essay is the concept that Lopez develops through the idea of Pascal’s wager, the famous apologetic defense, a philosophical justification of belief that Blaise Pascal made in the seventeenth century to defend Christian faith. “We may wish to explore the notion of belief as a wager, […] the contractual nature of belief.” What I am intrigued by is this idea that in the name of faith, or more probably religion, the believer “in a position of inferiority in relation to the object of belief […] gives something away in the hope of getting something back, not now, but sometime in the future.” (p28)
This contractual nature of belief brings the important unspoken concept of trust into the picture, a concept that is only possible to cultivate through religion it seems. In a business contract there are in fact many elements ensuring trust to the two parties that there is a time in the future when the two parties will in fact perform the contract: a contract, a lawyer, a signature, some laws and some penalties associated to the breach of contract. We learn through life that trust has to be earned, we learn that trust can only be reserved to few. And yet we are asked by religions around the globe to blindly trust in a future benefit that to this day remains scientifically unverifiable, and mentally is the only guarantee given to the believer. Pascal’s wager addresses that exact point of lack of tangible evidence and guarantees as we enter into a contract with the divine, regarding an unverifiable event that may or may not happen after death. What Pascal suggest is to trust not in the divine wager in fact, but rather to the tangible immediate amelioration of one’s life through the element of belief. There can only be an upside in the future, and if this upside is not to occur then we are to reap the present benefits. So in fact we do not need to trust, we do not need to have expectations, we simply can be absorbed in the present and our present life and let the future unfold as it may, since there is a clear lack of evidence as to the results of the contract.
It is interesting to address how it is that religions, in particular Judeo-Christian religions that seems to have a word dominance on this contractual nature, have managed to instill this belief in the minds of their members. It is also interesting to ponder what it is exactly that such a contract would give in the future as well as in the present to its members. The psychology of religion has concerned itself with the nature of belief. I would like to offer at least one explanation and that is the reason of the popularity of the account of miracles and mystical experiences that will be the topic of my next essay. It is through the repetition of miraculous stories, of mystical and magical experiences and of the message of the doctrine that religions are making a bid to earn the trust of their members. (Eliade) Yet it may just be that the answer lies in the idea of experience. If one has a mystical experience themselves and in fact has an intimate relationship with the out worldly and the superhuman, then the question of trust becomes unnecessary since the person can rely on their own experience. Of course then the question of what constitutes experience becomes relevant as well as the question of the believability of said experience. These are all valid and important questions that we may explore in a further investigation.


Eliade, Mircea (1954) The Myth of Eternal Return Princeton University Press.
Lopes, Donald S. “Belief” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (1998) edited by Taylor, Mark C. The University of Chicago Press.

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