Briefly stated, Pascal’s Wager goes like this: If the Christian God does not exist, and someone believes in him, that person has lost nothing in his belief. If the Christian God does exist, and someone does not believe in him, that person has lost everything.
How this observation has been applied philosophically and apologetically has varied widely. Regardless of its practical purpose, the wager has classically been used to contrast Christian Theism against Atheism. How would this wager play out against other belief systems?
There are essentially three kinds of beliefs regarding religion. The first is that religious beliefs are not important. This may be because, like atheism, the worldview states that belief in God is entirely irrelevant or, like Pantheism or Universalism, all people will eventually achieve some kind of spiritual reward regardless of their beliefs.
The second kind of religious belief puts the emphasis on actions: one must live a good life and do good deeds in order to achieve spiritual reward. Religions with this belief include Islam, Mormonism, and, to a degree, Catholicism.
The third approach to religion is unique to Biblical Christianity: that the belief itself is the important thing; that no work of goodness on the part of the believer is sufficient to redeem them. They must repent of their corruption and place their trust in the work of Jesus Christ.
Pascal’s wager specifically addresses the first view. If belief is the important thing, and one does not believe, then the consequences are disastrous. If belief is not important and one believes, there are no consequences.
Take as an example Pantheism. There are quite a variety of Pantheist religions and philosophies around the world, each with its own beliefs regarding the nature of the soul, reality, enlightenment, and karma. Hinduism, for instance, teaches that each person’s soul is reincarnated, preserving the individual; while Buddhism teaches that individuality itself is an illusion, and that all souls are part of the universal one-ness in the same way that a drop of water is part of the lake.
Most Pantheistic religions stress the payment of karma and of enlightenment. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, enlightenment leads to the most desirable level of being, and for those who do not achieve enlightenment, they are re-born in a better or worse state depending on their karma.
So what would be the consequence of believing in Christianity on a Pantheistic philosophy? The worst consequence is that the individual who believes in the Christian God would fail to achieve enlightenment and end up being reborn. Arguably, the redemptive aspects of Christianity (the tendency of a Christian to live a moral life) would result in an overall positive karma. Hindus will even encourage Christians to be the best Christians they can be as this will lead to a better reincarnation.
Eastern religions tend not to be terribly evangelical in nature, specifically because reincarnation becomes a safety net through which any manner of evil and error will eventually filter.
Religions that require the believer to live up to a certain standard of good deeds in order to achieve spiritual rewards are a gamble even to believers in that religion. Take, for instance, Islam.
Muhammad made it clear in his recitations that Allah would judge each individual in the afterlife. Those who were righteous in nature – that is, whose good deeds outweighed their bad deeds – would pass into Paradise. The problem is that Muhammad did not spell out in black and white exactly what the moral parameters were. The Quran indicates that Muhammad was made to be a pure soul by Allah. Consequently, there is a tradition in Islam that has passed down Muhammad’s lifestyle and practices, right down to his diet. Muslims will follow these same practices, hoping that by acting like Muhammad they will be found pure as Muhammad is pure.
Unfortunately for a Muslim there is no confidence that they will achieve Paradise. It is the will of Allah. All they can hope to do is live as purely as possible and be ushered into Paradise by Allah.
On this view, not even a devout Muslim can be certain of Paradise. Any sufficiently virtuous person has the same shot as any other. Belief in a Christian God does nothing to better or worsen one’s chance of eternal bliss. A Christian’s inclination to follow the teachings of Christ toward a more moral life could potentially make them worthy, even if they were incorrect in some theological particulars. And this is true of any religion that requires living a good life to appease their deity. Christians, by nature, tend to be moral, and are therefore more likely to obtain spiritual reward by virtue of their beliefs.
Regardless of the alternative belief, the Biblical position still asserts that those who do not place their trust in Christ continue to be under God’s condemnation. The stakes could not be higher.
Pascal’s Wager could potentially be applied to any belief system with Christianity still emerging as the superior belief based simply on the consequences of being right or wrong.