The Millennials: A New Take on Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.


It’s the “nothing to lose” part of Pascal’s wager that always bothered me. Anyone who has sat through an interminable, pointless sermon, listened to a choir singing flat, or an entire congregation droning through “Onward Christian Solders” or the Nicene Creed would argue that he has a lot to lose, namely time that could be used more productively: watching football, playing golf, drinking, sleeping.

I think people today are making Pascal’s Wager with a subtle change. Pascal said that one should live his life as if God exists. Today’s generation has taken a pragmatic tack: Just in case, claim that you believe in God but don’t bother doing anything that takes any real effort, like going to church (except maybe Christmas eve) or giving them money for building funds or bailing out indicted priests.

No need to take my word for it. Take a look at the research recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.  I really like these guys. They seem to have no axe to grind. Their data-gathering and statistical methods are rigorous. You can check out Religion Among the Millennials or just trust my summary.

The Millennials are the generation born after 1980. The oldest among them are just turning 30.

First, 25% of them claim no religious affiliation whatsoever. This is the highest percentage of religiously unaffiliated youth in the history of polling in this country.

Oddly, however, 45% of Millennials claim to pray daily. This is higher than their parents’ generation (40%).

Millennials are leaving their parents’ churches. Eighteen percent of the unaffiliated Millennials come from families that are religiously affiliated.

Only 37% of Millennials who are affiliated with a religion consider their affiliation to be “strong.”

Only 33% of Millennials attend church regularly. Interestingly the percentage of Millennials who regularly attend historically black protestant churches is 55%.

Only 53% of Millennials say they know God exists, with no doubts.

But here are the really surprising findings. Belief in:

Life after death — Millennials – 75%; Total Population – 74%
Heaven — Millennials – 74%; Total Population – 74%
Hell — Millennials – 62%; Total Population 59%
Miracles — Millennials – 78%; Total Population 79%
Angels and Demons — Millennials – 67%; Total Population 68%

I think it works this way: there are a lot fewer believers out there than any of the polls show. BUT, when asked questions about their religious beliefs, people figure, just in case there is a god, I’m going to give an answer that makes me appear to be a believer. But I’m not going to waste my time acting like one.


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