I’ve always been a fan of Blaise Pascal. Killer name, insanely gifted genius of mathematics, physical sciences and philosophy, and inspiration for some of my more intense, late night streams of consciousness during the hazy years of 2000 to 2005, Pascal proposed one of my favorite solutions to the “does God exist?” question. That question, while certain to enrage some who would prefer I “keep God shit off this blog,” was central to most of my studies as a philosophy major a decade ago and has been present in my life for as long as I can remember.
Unappealing God shit or not, these are the ABCs of me, baby.
/jumps off bridge as punishment for Jerry maguire reference
Pascal, unlike many who confronted that big question throughout the history of philosophy, did not approach the issue with an eye towards answering whether God exists. Unlike Descartes, for instance, who set out to prove God’s existence through a series of logical conclusions all of which seemed to be weighted towards the inevitable *feel good* answer, Pascal assumed from the start that God’s existence and true nature are unknowable. A good start, I think. Instead of seeking to prove the unprovable, then, Pascal merely set out to justify belief in God as the best option given the possibilities. In other words, should God actually exist, faith – and, it is assumed, a corresponding commitment to good works – would give you access to eternal happiness. Disbelief, on the other hand, would risk an eternity of damnation. Should God not exist, however, the impact of the choice to believe or not lasts only a lifetime, rather than eternity. So, Pascal reasoned, even if you risk wasting a life on an ultimately futile belief, choosing belief in God remains the best bet so you can avoid the infinite possibilities of bad things, man.
Putting aside whether you buy into this as a framework for justifying belief in God (as I’m not even sure I do), the good, common sense of the argument is what always strikes me. Run through all the possible scenarios, think through the consequences of your choices in each scenario, and make the choice that produces the most happiness and avoids an eternity of pain and regret.
So, at the end of each summer as we approach another season of Bills football, we have a choice. Believe, even just a little bit, that it could happen this year and watch the games with that unabashed sense of hope, or, well, don’t. Risk yet another season of wasted effort, futile optimism and disheartening failure from the squad you love too much, or risk a season of cynical disbelief and disinterest, missing out on the joy of watching the team that finally brings a championship parade to Buffalo. Neither choice is necessarily wrong, since either could very well prove sensible depending on how things play out or how much fun you still have on Sundays, regardless of the outcomes, but both have the lingering potential to burn us at points along the way
Yet, as much as we have no reason not to be cynical based on the history of this squad and this town, I still watch because I know that, should this year actually be our year – and no one can say with absolute certainty that it won’t be – I’ll want to catch every moment and savor them, rather than miss out on living through the elation we’ve all been waiting on for so long.
I imagine that this is why most of us watch our Bills season after pathetic season while our better angels urge us to find something more constructive and less neurotic to do with our time. Sure, we could mature into adults who care little about games and arguably frivolous indicia of childhood, knowing that we’re making a responsible choice. But doing so would risk that we’ll miss out on something truly, unimaginably great. If you're like me, for better or worse, that's not a risk you're willing to take.
So instead, we choose to watch and quietly accept the consequences that come with our devotion – the risk of Sundays ultimately wasted and the risk of the deeper depression that comes with watching our squad fail, again – as we wager that that seemingly impossible moment of unparalleled joy will come some day, and that waiting for it is better than missing it when it comes.
Until then, as always, let's go Buffalo.