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Zizek.wager

Zizek.wager

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Published by: AnthonyPaulSmith on Apr 11, 2010
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[
 PT 
11.1 (2010) 136-140]
 Political Theology
(print) ISSN 1462-317X doi:10.1558/poth.v11i1.136
 Political Theology
(online) ISSN 1473-1719
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010, 1 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, London SW3 5SR.
T
he
TheisT
 Ager
Slavoj Žižek 
Institute of Sociology University of LjubljanaLjubljana 1000Slovenia
 A 
bstrAct
This is a response to John Milbank that further unfolds our debate pub
-lished as
The Monstrosity of Christ
edited by Creston Davis and published by 
MIT Press, 2009. My response to Milbank takes its point of departure from
Pascal’s wager.
Keywords
:
 Bee Season
, God, Kaballah, Milbank, Blaise Pascal.
 When, at the beginning of his reply to my reply, Milbank claims that, inmy previous reply, I merely reiterated my main points, without properly engaging with his specic arguments, my reaction is that this, exactly,
is what he is doing in his second reply—a clear sign that our exchangeexhausted its potentials. So, since we are both reduced to reiterating our
positions, the only appropriate way for me to conclude the exchange isto add a footnote on Pascal’s notion of wager, confronting (Milbank’s)theist wager and (my) atheist wager.
1
The rst thing that strikes the eyeis that Pascal rejects all attempts to demonstrate the existence of God:he concedes that “we do not know if He is,” so he seeks to provide pru
-dential reasons for believing in God: we should wager that God existsbecause it is the best bet:
“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decidenothing here. There is an innite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this innite distance where heads or tails will turnup… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let
us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and
the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowl
-edge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error
and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than
1.http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/ . I rely here extensively on this entry.
 
Žižek 
The Atheist Wager 
137
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010.
the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us
 weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God.
Pascal appears to be aware of the immediate objection to this argument,for he imagines an opponent replying: “That is very ne. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” In short, if I put my wager onGod, and God does not exist, then I really do lose something—when one wagers for God, one does stake something, which presumably one loses if 
God does not exist: truth, the respect for one’s worldly life… (It is strange
how utilitarian-pragmatist Pascal’s reasoning is.) There is then a series of 
other objections:
Pascal assumes that the same matrix of decision and reward
1.applies to everybody—but what if the rewards are different for
different people? Perhaps, for example, there is a predestined in
-
nite reward for the Chosen, whatever they do, and nite utility for the rest?The matrix should have more rows: perhaps there is more than
2.one way to wager for God, and the rewards that God bestows vary 
accordingly. For instance, God might not reward innitely those who strive to believe in Him only for the utilitarian-pragmaticreasons that Pascal gives. One could also imagine distinguishing belief based on faith from belief based on evidential reasons, and
posit different rewards in each case.
Then there is the obvious many-Gods-objection: Pascal had in
3.
mind the Catholic God, but other theistic hypotheses are alsolive options, i.e., the “(Catholic) God does not exist” column
really subdivides into various other theistic hypotheses (…but the
Protestant God exists, Allah exists, there is no God). The obverseof this objection is the claim that Pascal’s argument proves toomuch: its logical conclusion is that rationality requires believing in various incompatible theistic hypotheses.Finally, one can argue that morality requires you to wager against
4.
God: wagering for God because of the promise of future prots violates the Kantian denition of moral act as an act accomplishedfor no “pathological” reasons. It was already Voltaire who, along 
these lines, suggested that Pascal’s calculations, and his appeal toself-interest, are unworthy of the gravity of the subject of theisticbelief.
Underlying all this is the basic paradox of belief as a matter of decision:as if to believe something or not is a matter of decision and not of aninsight. So, if we read Pascal’s wager together with his no-less-knowntopic of customs:
 
138
 Political Theology
© 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./”
2
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 condence 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
Oeuvres
, vol. I (Paris: RobertLaffont, 1994), 759.

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