You must wager; it is not optional... Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists. (Source)
The Wager, as it has stood for so long, maintains that the Believer has nothing to lose, should he be proven wrong in the end; I would argue that this is not only mistaken, but that from the Atheist’s view it is ultimately the Believer who has the most to lose.
This may require some explanation:
If there is no other life, then the only one that matters is this one. That is a simple, elegant truth that is implicit in the idea of Atheism (or PEARLism as the wonderfully eloquent Thunderf00t likes to describe it). In such a paradigm, it is a crime against one’s self and one’s life to deny those instincts and pleasures permitted by proper social morality and pragmatism in order to maintain the self-abnegating, rigid, irrational pseudo-morality of scripture in hopes of meaning in a non-existent afterlife.
Self-abnegation is an evil doctrine; I do not mean, of course, that human beings should indulge every single urge which takes hold of them, or that we should feel compelled to act on every instinct. What I mean is that we should feel free to apply common sense and good judgement to our choices without the interference of superstitious, ancient tribal dogma. To claim that homosexual love is immoral on the sole basis of scripture ignores the impact of such judgement on those who have no other choice but to live and love that way. To claim abortion is wrong under every circumstance on the sole basis of scripture ignores the larger issue of circumstance, which, in cases of rape and extreme poverty can make the carrying to term of a child costly, dangerous and damaging on a personal, filial and social level.
These are only two of the more flagrant cases in which adherence to the morality of Christian scripture (which is one of the more lenient of the Big Three) corresponds to a direct and drastic diminishing of human quality of life; they do not begin to scratch the surface of other so-called “moral” doctrines, like male dominance, pre-marital celibacy and capital punishment.
These behaviours, this so-called morality, cheapens the only life we have on this earth. It robs people of the choices which allow them to live full, meaningful and happy lives and it unnecessarily adds misery, confusion, conflict and pain to a life already shot through with all of the above. When a believer dies, whether or not he has lived his life to the fullest, whether or not he has experienced a life of meaning and happiness, whether or not he has managed to accomplish all those things he would have liked to do, he is still dead. While he may not be able to regret the life he has wasted, he will nevertheless have wasted it.
So my corollary to Pascal’s Wager, or at least my modified wager, would be this:
The non-believer who places all meaning on this life may find, after death, that he is held to justify his actions and beliefs before a creator; this may lead to an unpleasantly long stay in hell.
That being said, the believer who places all meaning on the afterlife may find, upon his death, that he is losing his life without having lived it. Furthermore, if he is right and there genuinely is a creator, the likelihood of his believing the faith that the creator requires (assuming that it is one of the hundreds or thousands of denominations of the “revealed” faiths of earth) is so slim that regardless of his belief he may nevertheless end up joining his non-believing counterpart in hell.
Author’s Note: I do not include agnostics in this because I believe it is a bad scientific position to hold and that, upon examination, agnostics usually fall into the category of non-practicing religious people or weak atheists rather than anything in between.
As far as the first point, allow me to illustrate; if I tell you that there is an invisible unicorn under your bed that cannot be touched by human hands but that grants wishes if you believe in it just enough, you’d be completely right not to believe me – there would be no evidence for it. This is the same position one must take vis-à-vis religion; in the absence of proper evidence, the only sustainable position is disbelief. Agnosticism is the practice of saying “That’s all well and good, but there could be a unicorn there.” It is useless, contributes nothing to the conversation and is the doctrine of the terrifyingly politically correct.
Edit: The believer being referred to here is one who believes and practices his religion; the non-practicing believer is in the same boat as the atheist in that he may well enjoy his life to the fullest or what-have-you, but by not adhering to the dogma and doctrines of his faith, he will, by his own beliefs and by those of most others, be damned to hell.