Clark mentioned Pascal’s wager in a comment, and that reminded me of a thought I’ve had for some time: Pascal’s wager seems like a bad deal for Mormons.
In case anyone is unfamiliar with Pascal’s wager, the basic idea is that God can either exist or not. If he does exist, then believers go to heaven. If he doesn’t, then it really doesn’t matter whether one believes. The smart money says to believe in God and take the x% chance of infinite happiness.
How does this apply to Mormonism? Well, we have the added wrinkle of some pretty good second-best destinations. Thus, if one’s options are to either be a believing Mormon or a believing Catholic, and the two possibilities are that either Mormonism or Catholicism is true, the resulting chart of possibilities would look like this:
|—-||Mormonism Correct||Catholicism Correct|
|Believing Mormon||Celestial Kingdom||Hell|
|Believing Catholic||Terrestrial Kingdom||Heaven|
The relatively positive second-best solution of ending up in a Kingdom of glory means that Pascal’s wager will tend to work against Mormonism. In fact, it will work against any religion with a good second-best solution. It makes Unitarian Universalism look terrible. Why be a UU, when you can get all of the eternal benefits of UUism– plus potential benefits of another church — by believing in another church?
Of course, problems arise in choosing between options that do not give a second-best alternative. How does one choose between Catholicism and Islam, or Evangelicism and Jehovah’s Witnesses? Yikes.
In addition, we can see the moral problem here. To perform best on the Pascal’s wager matrix, it behooves a religion to up the stakes as much as possible. But how to up the stakes more than they already are (infinite punishment, infinite happiness)? It can be done.
Consider this — I’ll start a new church and call it Kaimi-ism. You can be a Kaimi-ist, and you and your entire family will have infinite happiness. Or you can reject Kaimi-ism for some other church, and everyone in your family will go straight to hell. (Um, we’ll set aside for now the question of what happens if one family member is a Kaimi-ist and the others aren’t). How’s that for a religion built to thrive on Pascal’s wager?
Or one can consider whether an infinitely loving God is the type to “up the stakes” and inflict infinite punishment on so many people. Personally, I like the idea of a God who has prepared pretty good second-best places for sincere believers in other faiths. Anything else seems foreign. So maybe I’m betting against the odds here, but I’m doing so because it’s the bet that makes sense. I realize that the bookmakers disagree, but I’ve seen the horses, and I think that my particular bet is the best.