Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher offered a defense of Christianity called Pascal’s wager:
“If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).”
Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, but was working off a few flawed assumptions, and blind to a few of his own. Pascal, as a Christian, accepted a few fundamental assumptions without thinking that left deep flaws in the argument. One of the assumptions accepted by Pascal is that the only two choices available were belief in Jehova, and atheism. As Heathen, we accept that there are other gods than Jehova and his corpse child. The second fundamental assumption is actually more important, and more insidious; the acceptance of meta-ethics. Meta-ethics is the acceptance that right or wrong is not determined by the deed itself, but by how it agrees with the will of god (Jehova). What might be viewed as an immoral act on its own, can become moral, if it represents god’s will. The classic examples are the parable of Issac. Abraham was ordered by god to sacrifice his only begotten son. He bent his child over the alter, as he did his sacrificial lambs, and began the killing stroke when god stopped him. This is described as a wonderful thing in Christianity, the great good of the proof of Abraham’s perfect submission to the will of god. In meta-ethics, conformation to the will of god defines good, and violating the will of god defines sin. In ethics, a good is right or wrong by its nature; by its intent and effect. Killing your child because someone asked you to is wrong for heathens, and for atheists. To us, killing a child is killing a child; and there is no god, no state authority, that can make a wrong action correct.
Heathens understanding of worth is based on frith, or behaving appropriately to honour our relationships. For us doing the right thing is honouring our duties to our family, our job, our community, our environment. Our worth is built by the choices we make, by our deeds. We offer to the gods, and our ancestors, offering the gift of praise in return for the gifts we ask guidance and instruction. We don’t receive rules to obey from them, we are left to chose for ourselves, for reasons of our own relationships and duties. From our understandings flow our choices, not from external rules, but from our understanding of our responsibilities.
If you erroneously believe in god(s) you lose nothing by obeying anyway, as you still end up dead.
Heathen: You will still have lived an honourable life, and leave behind a legacy to be proud of. You followed the dictates of your own conscience, and would change none of your decisions knowing now that you were wrong.
Christian: You have done many times things that you felt were wrong because you were told god demanded it. You have chosen obedience over your own personal ethics. At the moment of death, you will know you chose to do wrong to please a lie. You will go down into the dark with that knowledge.
If you disbelieve in god(s) and are right
Heathen: Your worth will depend on your actions, death holds only an ending.
Christian: You did what you thought was right, death holds only an ending.
If you believe in god(s) and are right
Heathen: You have chosen to do what you felt was right as best you could. You have built your worth through your deeds. When you die, you will get to find out if there is anything else. Will you rejoin your ancestors in Hel? Does Valhalla await the chosen? Who knows, the gods promised us only that:
“Cattle die, kinsmen die
You too will die,
One thing alone will not die
The fame of a good man’s deeds.”
What we do in life is eternal, is fixed in time, will have effects that last far beyond our own span when our choices, decisions, and accomplishments have touched and changed the lives of others. This alone we are promised. The rest we really will have to wait until death to discover.
Christian: You have done what was the will of god, even when you felt it wrong. You will get to live in eternity for the price of submitting to the will of another instead of choosing for yourself.
For a Heathen, the wager is a safe bet. We choose for ourselves, and if we chose as we know we should our legacy will be a bright one that benefits our family, our community, and our name. If the gods exist, we have won honour in their eyes, as well as the communities. If the gods do not exist, we have won honour in the eyes of the community, and left our name and our world brighter than we found it. There is no way for a Heathen to lose this wager.
For a Christian the wager is dangerous. If they do what god wants instead of what they feel is right, if god doesn’t exist, they did evil out of fear of death. They died anyway. If they do what god wants, and not what they feel is right, out of fear of death, and are right, they spend an eternity in submission to a god that demanded they do what they knew was wrong, or be punished forever for choosing morality over obedience. It seems hard for a Christian to win and remain worthy.
Our ancestors did not live their lives as the Egyptians, Jews, or contemporary Christians and Muslims do; attempting to secure a theoretical afterlife. Rather than spending an entire life that is real, making choices to purchase a place in an afterlife which is a theory at best, our ancestors chose to embrace this life, to do with every moment the very best they could.
I am alive now, I have choices to make today that will affect real people. It is my responsibility to do the best that I can that those choices are good ones. I do this not to buy a place in Valhalla; honestly my family have been soldiers for many generations and focus strongly on letting the other side do the dying for their country. I do this because real people benefit or lose on my decisions, and my own personal worth depends on making the best of the possible choices open to me. This is real, this is testable concrete reality. This also agrees with the world accepting teachings of my heathen faith. If the gods exist, they expect me to make the best possible choices for those who depend on me. If the gods do not exist, I still have people depending on my making good choices. I will do my best, and the gods will have to be happy, or not with that. If I can be said to have faith, it is that my gods did not teach me what my responsibilities are, if they expected me to neglect them. For this reason, even should Jehova appear in smoldering shrubbery, or shattering thunder, he is still cordially invited to pound sand. I would not trade my honour in this life for an eternity forsworn and enslaved. Our own gods and goddesses only need to point out what we mortals miss, and trust us to figure the rest out for ourselves (or not). That I can work with.