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Thought for the Day: Making a Rational Choice to Embrace Orthodox Judaism

I once had a very enlightening conversation with a self-proclaimed atheist.  We were discussing "Pascal's Wager"; a straightforward cost/benefit analysis.  Pascal argued that belief in G-d (and following His directives) was logical from a simple cost/benefit analysis.  If the atheist is correct, then he will end up with a finite gain (the pleasure that the theist eschewed), and the theist will end up with a finite loss (all that crab).  If the theist, on the other hand, is correct, then he ends up with an infinite reward and the atheist is doomed to nothingness (or worse) for all eternity.  Since one cannot know until the game (ie, life) is over which path is correct, any reasonable person will choose to be a theist.  Straightforward, no?  (There is lots of discussion and analysis, but it boils down to this.)

The enlightening part of the conversation for me was the atheist's argument.  "Well, you see, that's nonsense.  If I chose to believe just because it was expedient, this G-d would see right through that and I wouldn't gain anything."  I was astounded that someone would create something he didn't believe in, then give it features designed to let him uncreate it.  (Pretty clever, in a warped sort of way.)  Most conversations with atheists end up that way, so I have mostly given up.  By the way, you may have noticed that Pascal's Wager doesn't help you choose which religion (another "reason" that atheists dismiss it... sigh...).  Don't worry, that can be worked out using a similar cost/benefit/risk analysis; as follows.

George has been diagnosed with a fatal disease.  If he does nothing he will be dead within the year.  His doctor informs him, however, that there are three courses of treatment (call them A, B, and C) that claim to offer a cure.  The problem is that there is not enough data to know with certainty which is the right treatment for George's condition.  Here is what is known:
  • The treatments are mutually contradictory; only one treatment can be chosen.
  • Choosing the wrong course of treatment will not affect the prognosis, except perhaps some improvement in quality of life.
  • Each course of treatment requires some change to lifestyle; some more, some less.
Given those choices, George can:
  1. Do nothing; live out his year and be done with it.
  2. Pick one treatment at random, based on how he feels about the of the treatment.
  3. Investigate the available evidence (of which there is an abundance) in collaboration with experts, provisionally choose one course as soon as possible, and then continue to investigate for new/changed evidence
Obviously (3) is the most prudent.  (That's an understatement, of course.  Any other choice is recklessly foolish.)

Is your entire life (which always ends in death) worth less investigation?  In fact, the S'porno (parshas Nitzavim) says that Moshe Rabeinu was exhorting the people to do exactly that: make an investigation to determine for yourself how much sense the Torah makes and how far from reason everything else is.  The Torah can not only stand up to your scrutiny; it demands it!

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