October 17, 2019

Pascal’s Poo Test Wager


Okay, that’s click bait right there.

But finally, two years after I turned fifty, two years after receiving (and losing) my first poo test, I submitted to the Government’s demands for two samples of my poo, and dutifully mailed it off to their labs.

There’s something slightly rebellious about sending poo back to the Government, given how much of the stuff they’ve been sending our way all these years.

But it’s no laughing matter. The increased risk of bowel cancer as you er, pass, fifty means that the poo test could be a life saver.  And I say that having had a beloved ministry colleague who died from cancer which began in his bowel, resulted in a colostomy bag, before killing him through secondary cancers a few years later.

Yet, knowing all that, and having seen all of the advertising on TV the last two years, I did nothing about it.  I kept putting it off.  Kept holding back (somebody stop that man!).

And I had all the excuses.  It’s messy! (It’s not).  It’s inconvenient.  It’s a pain in the backside.  It’s not worth doing.  It’s such a low risk.  I probably won’t live long enough for it to worry me (getting desperate here).  So I had all of the excuses lined up like ducks in a row.

Until yesterday.  Two years and a month after receiving the first kit in the mail, and about a week after receiving the second, I decided to take the plunge.

The instructions were pretty simple – and well illustrated! Vivid even.  I won’t go in to details, but if you’re over fifty and you’ve done it, you’ll realise it’s not all that hard (!).  For those under fifty, well let’s say the process takes you back to a certain stage of childhood development that Freud seemed so fixated by.

But here’s what has struck me from time to time over the past two years of refusing to ,er, budge.  What if, what if, what if?

What if I had slightly elevated risks of bowel cancer?  What if I actually got bowel cancer?  What if I actually got bowel cancer and I had stubbornly refused to do the poo test?  What anguish I would be going through now!

My wife – having just turned fifty herself – seems to worry about my health more than I do. “I’m sure you’ll drop dead on one of those long runs you do,” she says.  And I actually hope that I do.  I hope that I drop dead after a 30km long run on a pleasant spring morning at 93 years of age.

But it was the “What if” that got me. It was a case of Pascal”s poo test wager.  Better to take the test and be in the clear.  Risk that.  Rather than never take the test, presume you are okay, and then get struck down by bowel cancer.

It’s the “What if?” thing isn’t it?  Pascal called it well in his wager about God.  Indeed that’s why it’s famously become known as Pascal’s Wager.  Pascal declared that it was in one’s own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage in believing otherwise.

Now there are lots of rationalist arguments against that wager, and that’s not simply on whether God exists or not, but extends to the type of God that exists, and whether or not this god would mete out the punishment of hell.

But leaving those possibilities aside – as one does when one “clams up” and refuses the poo test – what if, what if?

Now I have no doubt that the great man himself would have submitted to the poo test gladly, given his own wager, and given how non-sensitive people of earlier centuries were about bowel movements.  But sadly Pascal died at the age of 39 in 1662, so he would never have had the chance.

But I’m going to bet he’s glad he played on the right side of his actual wager, some three and a half centuries after his death.

If you’re someone who doesn’t trust God today, then let me ask you: What if?  And if you are at risk of pushing (last one I promise) that question to the back of your mind, then here’s a little wager for you: What about you try and remember Pascal’s wager every time you close that door, sit on that seat and have a poo.

Pascal may be right.  Pascal may be wrong.  But it’s a wager.  And that wager could save , not just your life here and now, but your life in the age to come.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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