WHY, Part II
A speech by Lee Bohannon

The title of my talk is "Why, Part II," in acknowledgement of a speech with a similar title given by one of our talented, illustrious members.  In that speech, the topic concerned games of chance, and the popularity of such games.  There is something in us as persons that attract us to games of chance.  To prove it, audience members were asked whether they liked the games.  Almost everyone said "yes."  Admittedly, this was a small sample, but there is no doubt in my mind that most people like such games

To analyze why we like games of chance, perhaps it would be beneficial to define what we mean by games of chance.  It seems to me that such a game must have at least the following elements.

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A.  It must be a deliberate action, something that we voluntarily do.  I say "voluntary" because there are many involuntary things that we do.  For instance, we digest our food.  We breathe; we circulate our blood, and so forth.  So a game of chance must consist first and foremost of a voluntary action.

B.  In addition to being a voluntary action, a game of chance must be something that we do in order to obtain something that we do not have.  Certainty is not involved, so there is a chance that we may fail in our attempt.  There is a risk of loss.

In short, a game of chance is a voluntary action associated with a possibility of gain and risk of loss.  Having arrived at this definition, we would do well to pause and reflect.  What is it that we have just defined?  Most certainly we have defined the basis for games of chance.  But in a fashion, have we not also defined a quality of life?  What voluntary actions do we do that have no component of gain or loss?  Let's think of a few activities.  What about driving on the freeway?  Is there not a possibility of gain?  Yes there is.  It is arriving at our destination.  Is there not a possibility of loss?  What about the act of obtaining insurance?  Is this not a prudent element of life?  Is this not also a game of chance?  Most certainly it is.  We bet with the insurance company that we will need certain compensation or services.  The insurance company bets that we won't.  It is my thought, and I want to emphasize this, that the popularity of games of chance is from their similarity to our daily struggle in life.  Games of chance, I think, are smaller and more manageable versions of the larger game of life.

When we engage in games of chance, often the gain that we are seeking is money.  However, is not money a metaphor for meaning and worth and significance?  And are not these things what we are seeking when we play the game of life?  In his great book, Walden, Henry David Thoreau said that the greatest tragedy was for a man to come to the end of life and discover that he had not lived.  What did he mean by this?  In his statement, Thoreau was including those who had lived long and had regular family attachments, but who had somehow failed to fully participate in the dignity of life available to human beings.

Concerning human dignity, Blaise Pascal, the great French mathematician and philosopher, and most able man of his generation wrote:

Man is a reed, a bit of straw, the feeblest thing in nature.  But he thinks.  He is a thinking reed.  When the universe chooses to crush him, the universe need not take arms against him.  A whiff of vapor, a drop of water; either will kill him.


When the universe decides to crush a man, he is nobler than what killed him.  For as he dies, he recognizes the greater power that the universe has over him.  And the universe does not, and knows not.


Man's dignity, our dignity, lives in our thoughts.  Thereby we rise.  Only thereby.  Not through space; and not through time.  Never can we fill either.  So we take pains, such pains as we can, to think well.  For therein lie all morals and all principles.


A thinking reed.  Not in space am I to seek my dignity.  But in my thinking.  Possessions give me no more than I have already.  The universe comprehends me.  It encompasses me.  In its space, I am but a geometrical point.  But in thought, in my thought, I comprehend the universe.

For Pascal, our dignity is in our thinking.  But not thinking in a vacuum.  He would have found laughable the modern concept of thought without content.  For Pascal, thought must be about something.  It must be about reality, and the ultimate reality is God.  With this in mind, Pascal proposed a wager.  The wager is as follows.

Consider the proposition of the existence of God.  Consider it in the form of a wager.  The two sides of the wager are evident: that God does not exist or that He does.  Suppose I choose the negative side of the proposition and wager that God does not exist.  I cast my die.  If I win, what have I won?  Nothing, for without God there is nothing more.  What I have is all there is.  Suppose I wager that God does not exist and lose?  If God exists and I have wagered that He is not, then I have denied God.  I have lost Him.  I have lost everything, even what I have.

However, what if I choose the other side of the proposition and wager that God is, that He exists?  I cast my die, and I lose.  I was wrong: God does not exist.  What have I lost?  I have lost nothing, because what I have is what I have.  There is nothing more to lose.  If, however, I choose the positive side of the proposition and cast my die for God, that He exists, and I win, what have I won?  I have won the ultimate reality.  I have won God.  I have won everything.

For myself, I tell you that I have wagered that God is, that He exists.  What bet do you make?  How do you wager?

[Speech is closed.  The meeting is returned to the presiding Toastmaster.]

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