By Brandon Robbins –
The October/November 2005 issue of Free Inquiry was dedicated to the future of secularism. The question that the editors of Free Inquiry hoped to answer was: “Secularism, will it survive?” I began to look through this issue in hopes of finding some plausible argument for why one should chose a secular world view rather than a religious one (or even better, a Christian one). Throughout most of the magazine, I could find no such argument. What I did find was an abundance of rhetoric about how unthinking and illogical religious people are for holding their views. The consensus was that there was hope! One day people might come to their senses and stop all this religious mumbo jumbo.
Then it happened! I came upon a one-page article that gave an argument for choosing the secular world view. In “Real Christians—or, I’m Taking You with Me,” Arthur R. Miller provided reasons for accepting secularism over the Christian faith. What Miller did in this article was to offer a simple wager somewhat similar to Pascal’s famous wager for believing in God. But before proposing his wager, Miller explains that there are very few, if any, real Christians in the world anyway. Miller states: “I have certainly never met a Christian in my thirty years of teaching.” Miller makes his case by explaining how, out of the many people he has met that claim to be Christians, all but a very few (4) don’t meet the requirements.
What are these requirements? Miller states that he operates with “Jesus’ definition” of what it takes to be a Christian: “a person who (a) believes ‘all the right stuff’ and (b) does his/her best to conform to the moral dictates of the New Testament.” Miller claims to have known a lot of people who meet the first requirement but few that meet the second. He holds this view because most of the Christians he has ever known fail to live up to the ethical requirements of the Christian faith. Miller provides evidence for this by showing how materialistic the American Christian truly is. The following is part of the list he provides of the behaviors that would exclude one from being a Real Christian: “Those who spend money on BMWs, bungee jumps, and Botox; those concerned with school prayer instead of school excellence; those who own dozens of shoes, shirts, coats…” This list goes on and on and on. Miller basically claims that the “so called” Christians he comes into contact with are more worried about their wealth and comfort than caring for the “so called” sinners and the poor. Miller states: “Look, I know I’m going to hell, because I failed so miserably. And all of you not only believe, but claim to know, that you are going to heaven when, in truth, you won’t have a snowball’s chance.”
Therefore, the wager goes, even if the Bible is true just about everyone is going to hell anyway. Therefore you might as well live life to the fullest now and receive the greatest amount of joy and pleasure this life can offer. There are “two possibilities” according to Miller’s wager: “(1) God does exist, in which case you’re going to hell. So, you may as well grab all the gusto that one life has to offer; knowing or believing that God does exist and you will spend eternity in excruciating and intolerable pain, suffering and despair; (2) God does not exist. If that turns out to be the case, then you can go at it for all it’s worth at least for several decades knowing or believing that God does not exist, in which case that’s that!”
Miller would have us believe that this exhausts the possibilities. But there is a major flaw with his reasoning. There is a third option, namely, that God has provided a substitute for our own inability to meet the requirements of the moral law that we find in the Scriptures. The clear example of this is in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Miller simply fails to truly understand the Gospel! The Scripture does not teach that a person has to live up to the “moral standards” to earn a place in heaven. (This is what Miller is obviously trying to imply.) The Word of God is clear that Jesus Christ came and died on the cross to be a substitute for all those who believe. Yes, all Christians fail to do their very best at living up to the moral standards set forth in Scripture. That is the sad truth of my own life! But, that does not mean Hell is my eternal destiny. Miller’s article should bring conviction to the hearts of all Christians, but not skepticism. Miller highlights many of the failures in modern Christianity, but this is no reason for accepting a secular world view.
A far more plausible wager is that of Blaise Pascal who proposed that one would be better off wagering that there is indeed a God and therefore it is better to live the Christian life in hopes that eternal joy would be the reward. According to Pascal, it would be better to forgo a few earthly pleasures in hope for the infinite and eternal pleasures offered in scripture. Pascal also recognized that given the possibility of eternal damnation, it is too great a gamble not to believe in God.
Pascal’s Wager has seemed to some to be flawed because of the false impression it gives of the Gospel and of the nature of saving faith. Miller has picked up on this impression and taken it to a scary conclusion—that living the Christian life earns our place in heaven. But, says Miller, it is impossible to live the Christian life perfectly, therefore Hell awaits us all. This is not Christianity! What Christians are called to do is show people that they are lost and without hope in this world, that if they put their faith and trust in Christ alone for their salvation they WILL BE SAVED! As for me, I’m going “all in.” I trust in a heavenly reward not because of my perfect life, but because Christ lived a perfect life for me.
There are two things I think every Christian should learn from “Miller’s Wager.”
(1) People might be able to read the Bible to you, recite doctrines and be very philosophically astute, but that does not mean that they have a proper conception of what the Gospel really is. (2) That people are watching and wondering if you really believe what you are saying. In this materialistic age, when Christians are out there looking to have all the same “stuff” as the rest of the world, it is hard to see how Christians can be seen as fundamentally different from anybody else. Arthur Miller fails to provide a strong argument for secularism, but his pen is sharp with conviction.
Bandon Robbins is a student at Birmingham Theological Seminary and a contingent staff with the Apologetics Resource Center.