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Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Pinoys, Pascal's Wager Means "Isama Na Natin"

Thanks to a quick chat in FaceBook with my old friend Grace, who gave me the idea for this post, and also got me into thinking how oddly - yet seamlessly - Pinoys have melded several belief systems and superstitions into a coherent, albeit somewhat jarring, whole.

I'm not also sure that most Pinoys have ever heard of Pascal's Wager - something I learned already in my college years, so here's a brief description, courtesy of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Pascal's Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal's Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity."  (

The "wager" in question can be summarized simply: If God exists, and you believe, you go to heaven, and if you don't, you go to hell; but if God does not exist, then whether you believe or not, the status quo remains (assuming your death is the end of all things where you are concerned). Therefore, it would be better to believe in God as a matter of pragmatism.

A common argument against this wager is the question, "Which 'God' are you referring to?"

And the Pinoy answer: "Lahat ng pwede!" ("Everything that is allowed!")

You see, Grace was mentioning that sales are down this month (she works in the financial services industry) because it is a "ghost month" in the Chinese calendar, and business deals are being put off until the "ghost month" has passed. Which got me to thinking of how inconsistent but accepted it is in our culture to have several "beliefs" in place, without finding any incongruence.

Most Pinoys identify themselves as "Catholics".

And yet, they will also consult a feng shui expert (the two words in Chinese literally mean "wind" "water") when they start a new house or business, something that is very Chinese in origin.

And in the building where this new business will house itself, there also isn't a 13th floor, which is considered a "bad luck" number (so we've heard).

That same Pinoy will also visit an arbularyo ("organic herb doctor") for any ailment that he s/he may encounter, and may even resort to "pranic healing".

While this Pinoy will show his or her faith with a deliberate wearing or using of a rosary, that same person will also buy "anting-anting" (charms/amulets) which can be found right outside the Catholic church where s/he just heard mass.

The rationale for all this? "Wala naman mawawala sayo kung manigurado ka." ("You won't lose anything if you get some assurance.")

As someone who was first indoctrinated with organized religion for half my life, and spent the other half (so far, but counting) disengaging from it (in all its' forms) and actively/publicly disagreeing with it, I cannot help but have a chuckle (actually, more than just a chuckle) about how nonsensical it seems to me, this "joining" of all these beliefs and superstitions, because of what was taught to me in my formative years about "God".

I was taught that God is all-knowing and all-powerful.

God is also a jealous deity, who is more than troubled when other gods are worshipped. (Anyone who wishes to deny this need only look at the Ten Commandments. Case closed.)

Surely you can understand why I find all of these "other beliefs", at the very least, funny. (To be clear, I'm not laughing at the "other beliefs", but at the fact that they exist side by side by (possibly infinite) side in one person, without that person finding anything "wrong" with it.)

You don't see it?

In simple terms - if the God you claim to faithfully and religiously cling to is as all-powerful and as all-knowing as we are all taught, and we're also taught - through the Ten Commandments, no less - that worshipping other gods/deities/belief systems is "jealousy-inducing", why then the need for assurance from all these other sources of faith or comfort?!?

Don't you think that a God that is all-powerful would find it disconcerting - to say the very least - that you needed an amulet from the proverbial "ilalim ng Quiapo" ("under the Quiapo bridge") in order to ensure your pregnancy would go through?

Or in order to pass your exam, you needed a "lucky pen"? Whatever happened to that faith that you professed to say is as strong as the biblical Samson?

In short, if everything is under God's control, why the trinkets?

You see, having all these "things" to ensure a business deal goes through, or that all house repairs will go smoothly, whilst claiming an unshakeable faith in God, seems to me to be a high form of faithlessness in God to "see you through". And this show of faithfulness, by the amount of prayer time or confessions you make, this is something, of course, you never let people forget.

Just like the Pharisees of the Biblical mythos, who proudly claim to one and all how devoted they are to God, yet do all sorts of despicable things after "The Faith Show" is over.

And spare me the crappy rationalization of "don't blame humans for what wrongs they do, they're not perfect", ad nauseum. Or - and this is something used a lot lately - "they're not REAL Catholics/Christians". If you saw the reactions from conservatives just recently, on how they immediately disengaged themselves from Anders Behring Breivik and the Norway killings, you'd think he contracted "the plague".

Whatever happened to "by their fruit you shall know them"? (Ironically, this is also from the same Bible.)

More than hypocrisy, I believe this is a situation of pragmatism and convenience on the part of Pinoys. I'm all for doing what you can to salvage a rotten situation or to ensure uninterrupted success. And if buying a little "bottled charm" or consulting a "geomancy expert" will make that happen, then it's all in the service of the goal, yes?

While I don't have to face that moral quagmire personally, the people who practice "multiple beliefs" also do not consider it a quagmire (for very different reasons from my own). But they should.

Before most everyone wakes up to the truth.

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