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Grim Findings From the Journal of the American Medical Association

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Patrick Sison

Washington -- Do you spend much time reading the Journal of the American Medical Association? I must say I do not. Perhaps that is because I exercise regularly, eat nutritious meals, avoid drinking to excess and put in a 40-hour workweek -- well, actually, a bit more than that, but I enjoy my work. At times, my work would more properly be described as recreational. One more thing: I took Pascal's bet a long time ago. What was his bet? Well, if one lives a good life, a life that the Almighty would approve of, why not go all in? Why not believe in the Almighty? That is what old Pascal came up with.

A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that an increasing number of Americans could improve their health by taking Pascal's famous bet and all that it entails. According to the Journal, Americans are falling behind the industrialized world in terms of longevity. Our longevity has declined for the past three years, and, according to the compilers of the report -- Virginia Commonwealth University's Steven Woolf and Eastern Virginia Medical School's Heidi Schoomaker -- the problem goes back to the 1980s. They lay the causes of a loss in longevity to obesity, alcoholism, drugs and suicide. In other words, they put the blame on life choices.

Moreover, there is not much the medical corps can do to solve the problem. Writes Daniel Flynn in The American Spectator's newsletter Spectator A.M., "This decline in life expectancy coincides with a massive increase in healthcare spending." Flynn suggests that we look for the cure for declining longevity elsewhere. American lives lack meaning, he writes, and he goes on, "People fill the void by drinking, doing drugs, and overeating. When they come to see a hole at the bottom of the void that means to them that nothing can ever quench the thirst, they cease the search for meaning in their life and take action to end it." He concludes, "A doctor cannot cure the kind of sickness from which Americans increasingly suffer." Who can cure it? A social worker? A gifted psychiatrist? A rabbi, minister or priest?

I do not know what Flynn would prescribe, but I suggest a worldly philosopher and man of science: Blaise Pascal. He lived from 1623 to 1662. Pascal argued that, whether God exists or not, a rational person should live as though God does exist and try to believe in Him while abiding by His laws, as the laws are handed down from the Old and New Testaments. His famous bet was based on the idea of the Christian God. Yet it is applicable to many religions. If God does indeed exist, the rational person gains infinitely; for instance, he gains Heaven. If God does not exist, the rational person has lost nothing. Pascal's argument is said to be an appeal to self-interest as opposed to an appeal to the evidence. I say it is the first giant step in believing in the existence of a just God. After taking this step, one can consider the more complicated arguments for the existence of God -- for instance, those of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Choosing a dissolute lifestyle has always struck me as a painful waste of time, particularly when there are so many productive and interesting things to do in a free society like ours. Consider President Donald Trump. He has made a lot of money and become president of the United States on his first run for the presidency. He neither drinks nor avails himself to tobacco. Now, one need not go to extremes -- not that I would say there is anything extreme about Donald. An occasional drink is perfectly acceptable, and a thick cigar is acceptable, too, particularly for the male of the species. Moreover, I wouldn't always turn my back on dessert, and eating moderately is advised in all circumstances, especially if one wants to avoid joint replacement, heart disease, diabetes and dozens of other time-consuming and life-threatening diseases. As for suicide, it is a life choice that almost always ends badly. I would not even consider it.

I suggest the alcoholics, the drug users and the obese who find life not worth living consider Pascal's strategy and acquire the professional services of a good rabbi, minister or priest.

This brings to mind those who are in the service of the Lord. The recent findings of the Journal of the American Medical Association tell us there are people out there in dire need of your help. Instead of marching for peace or to save the planet, why not spend some time with an alcoholic, a drug addict or someone terminally overweight? I think Pascal would agree with me. Those suffering in such situations greatly need you. The world can come later.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author, most recently, of "The Death of Liberalism," published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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