A classic defense of religious belief is what is commonly known as Pascal's Wager. It goes as follows: It is better to believe in God and be wrong in your belief than to not believe in God and be wrong in your unbelief.
The basis for the argument is that if you believe in God and you are wrong, what is the worst that could result? According to many religious proponents the worst that could happen is that you will spend your time in fellowship with other believers, you will say prayers to no one, you will help those in need out of your love for a non-existent entity. There is no harm done by any of these actions. In fact, it might be beneficial to spend time with like-minded people, to organize your thoughts in prayer, and to volunteer your time and money to help those in need. On the flip side, if you don't believe in God and you are wrong there will be dire consequences. By not believing in a loving, moral God you will undoubtedly be an immoral, unloving person. If the world was filled with such people this planet would be a terrible place to abide. More importantly, by not believing in God one will spend all of eternity burning in eternal torment. This is the crux of the argument. By believing in God you are safe from the fires of hell; by not believing you are destined to roast for all time. Given the choice you would be foolish not to head down to your local church and plead for forgiveness, and be blessed with the healing powers of God's love.
Let's take a critical look at this argument now, and it will become obvious that it is based on a false assumption with no evidence to support it. First of all the argument makes the assumption that if one believes in the existence of God and is correct, they will be blessed with an eternity of Heavenly riches. This assumption would only be valid if there was only one God for someone to believe in. If you accept the premise of Pascal's Wager and decide you believe in God, you've still got all your work ahead of you. Do you believe that Jesus is God and the Messiah? Do you believe that Muhammad is God's final true prophet blessings and peace be upon him? Or is Joseph Smith the guy to bet on? These are just a few of the religious choices one has to make if you decide to follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). If you decide to go outside this narrowly defined religious path the number of choices grows exponentially. There are thousands of gods that are no longer believed in, and hundreds to choose from that are still worshiped today.
If one chooses to believe in God and believes in the wrong God, you would be in just as much danger of facing eternal punishment as someone who doesn't believe in any God. You might also be convinced to take radical actions that would promote your belief to others. These could be simple and inconsiderate actions such as protesting at a homosexual's funeral service, or could be as extreme as burning down an abortion clinic or blowing yourself up in a crowded market place. Why not take such radical actions? After all, the eternal destiny of every man, woman, and child's soul is at stake.
What could be more serious an issue than this? What harm would result if people used rational thinking and evidence to determine their beliefs? If God exists and want us to know about him, why would there be so many different religions that each claim to be the one true religion? If it were such an important issue, God would make it a much more obvious choice.
Pascal's Wager is a weak argument based on a false assumption. It fails to convince anyone with enough insight to see that you not only have to believe in God, but you must believe in the right God and believe the right things about that God to truly be safe. The odds are against us. Worrying about going to hell based on this argument is like worrying about not winning the lottery after only purchasing a single ticket. Because you could try to believe in all Gods and all religions, but most religions won't allow such trickery and would condemn such actions.
You get one shot at what you believe. Don't base your beliefs on weak arguments or stories that are hundreds of years old. And don't be afraid to change your beliefs if you find them to fall short. I promise you won't be held accountable for all of eternity for what you believe or don't believe.