Friday, September 13, 2013

Questions of the Afterlife (Pensee 194) - Pascal

Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it.  If this religion boasted of having a clear view of God, and of possessing it open and unveiled, it would be attacking it to say that we see nothing in the world which shows it with this clearness. 
This is how Pascal opens #194, the heart of his 'wager'.  He says that opponents of religion haven't taken the time to understand what they're attacking.  He continues:
...that God has set up in the Church visible signs to make Himself known to those who should seek Him sincerely, and that He has nevertheless so disguised them that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all their heart; what advantages can they obtain, when, in the negligence with which they make profession of being in search of the truth, they cry out that nothing reveals it to them; and since that darkness in which they are, and with which they upbraid the Church, establishes only one of the things which she affirms, without touching the other, and, very far from destroying, proves her doctrine?
Pascal says that only by giving your full heart to God, can you perceive Him.  You have to have faith before you will be rewarded.  On the other hand, if you come to God, filled with doubt and seeking to disprove Him, you'll never find anything.  And this isn't something trivial.
The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us, and which touches us so profoundly, that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is.  
The big questions of the soul (and God and the afterlife), are of prime importance. 
Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject, whereon depends all our conduct. Therefore among those who do not believe, I make a vast difference between those who strive with all their power to inform themselves, and those who live without troubling or thinking about it.
 And those who don't pay it much mind?
And if besides this he is easy and content, professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature.
It's striking how angry Pascal is towards those who don't invest serious thought in finding out if they have a soul and if that soul will enjoy an afterlife.  He is not a tame philosopher.  He talks about the predicament we all find ourselves in as we try to figure out why we're here and what's going on.
As I know not whence I come, so I know not wither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned.
This is something of a teaser for his famous wager.  I'll come back to that.  Frankly, I felt personally chastised after reading this.  I haven't done enough thinking on this subject, or at least not enough in recent years.  But Pascal has my wheels turning a bit...

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