Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Reading Pascal's Pensees

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It was only two years ago I bought the Penguin translation of Pascal's Pensees in a secondhand bookshop in Cheltenham.

I was already a Christian and had been so for a more than a year; but it was reading Pascal that make Christianity 'click into place' for me.

If I had read Pascal before I became a Christian, I probably would not have understood enough about it to understand that Pascal proves that Christianity is the only religion which answers to Man's need.

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Pascal is talking to modern man - which is in itself a miracle, considering he wrote nearly four centuries ago. He describes the human condition, the predicament - and he shows how Christianity 'fits' the need.

He also clarifies that only Christianity fits the need - this was, for me, perhaps the most amazing insight. All the other religions of the world, and secularism, fail to meet the need even in theory.

This is a remarkable thing. Christianity seems to atheists like wish fulfilment, insofar as atheists know enough about Christianity to know what it is, and this is substantially accurate.

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But it raises the question of why other religions are not like wish fulfilment - if religions are merely opiates of the masses, or mechanisms of social control, or projected fantasies of happiness etc - then why is it only Christianity that actually does the job of offering a believer so much - indeed everything!

As Pascal clarifies, Christianity is what we would want to be true; and the main question is whether it is true - if it is true, and you understand what Christianity is, then you would be irrational to reject it.

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But why do other religions offer so little and that little either grossly inadequate to human need or utterly irrelevant?

Why is it that - even in their ideal outcomes - no other religion gives what humans want?

Why is it that the the paradise or ideal outcome for all other religions is either horrible, obviously inadequate or meaningless? 

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Is it because other religions are honest and only Christianity is 'pie in the sky'?

Or is it because only Christianity is true and real, and other religions are not aimed at truth, are deceptions - not least in deceiving humans that they want, or ought to want, the paltry 'rewards' which other religions offer.

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Pascal seems to me just about the most intelligent person I have encountered (or can appreciate) - qualitatively far above my own mind in terms of his ability to analyse and comprehend.

And having acknowledged this - it was astonishing to me to find that Pascal focused on prophecy and miracles as the major evidence for the truth of Christianity specifically - and I found myself convinced, and recognising that of course these were necessary in order that Christianity be specifically (uniquely) true.

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But what I got from Pascal as from nobody else, was this sense of him having sketched-out the ultimate nature of reality for Man - almost as if he sketched it in the air - and then showing the essence of Christianity and how it answered to the state of Man - so that either Christianity had been cobbled-together specifically to fit the exact needs of Man; or else it was true.

Then the shock of recognising that it was true.

And that this truth becomes obvious to those all who seek it, but remains hidden from those who do not seek it; and that it was necessary that this be so...

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The universe clicked-into place.

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