© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010.
You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like tocure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who havebeen bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These arepeople who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of
an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by
acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc…
One can argue that the core of his argument does not directly concern
belief but acting: one cannot decide to believe, one can only decide to act
AS IF one believes, with the hope that belief will arise by itself; perhaps,
this trust that, if you act as if you believe, belief will arise, is the wager.
Perhaps, the only way out of these impasses is what, in his unpublished“secret” writings, Denis Diderot elaborated under the title of the “mate
rialist’s credo.” In “Entretien d’un Philosophe avec la maréchale de ***,”
he concluded: “
Après tout, le plus court est de se conduire comme si le vieillardexistait… même quand on n’y croit pas
./After all, the most straightforward way is to behave as if the old guy exists…even if one doesn’t believe it./” Thismay appear to amount to the same as Pascal’s wager apropos the custom:even if you don’t believe in it, act as if you believe… However, Diderot’spoint is exactly the opposite one: the only way to be truly moral is toact morally without regard to God’s existence. In other words, Diderot
directly turns around Pascal’s wager (the advice to put your bets on theexistence of God): “
En un mot que la plupart ont tout a perdre et rien a gagner a nier un Dieu renumerateur et vengeur.
/In a word, it is that the majority of those who deny a remunerating and revenging God has all to lose andnothing to gain./”
In his denial of the remunerating and vengeful God,the atheist loses everything (if he is wrong: he will be damned forever)
and gains nothing (if he is right: there is no God, so nothing happens). It
is this attitude which expresses true condence in one’s belief, and makesme do good deeds without regard to the divine reward or punishment.Authentic belief is to be opposed to the reliance on (or reference to)
a(nother) subject supposed to believe: in an authentic act of belief, I
myself fully assume my belief, and thus have no need of any gure of theOther to guarantee my belief—to paraphrase Lacan, an authentic belief
ne s’authorise que de lui-meme
. In this precise sense, authentic belief not only does not presuppose any big Other (is not a belief in a big Other), but, onthe contrary, presupposes the destitution of the big Other, the full accep-tance of the inexistence of the big Other.This is also why a true atheist is at the opposite end of those who want to
save religion’s spiritual truth against its “external” dogmatic-institutional
2. Denis Diderot, “Observations sur Hemsterhuis”, in
, vol. I (Paris: RobertLaffont, 1994), 759.