Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A portrait of the public atheist by Pascal

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From Pensees by Blaise Pascal, translated by AJ Krailsheimer, Penguin edition pp 156-7.

As for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end of life and who, because they do not find within themselves the light of conviction, neglect to look elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people accept out of credulous simplicity or one of those which, though obscure in themselves, none the less have a most solid and unshakeable foundation: as for them, I view them very differently.

This negligence in a matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity; it astounds and appalls me; it seems quite monstrous to me. . .

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One needs no great sublimity of soul to realize that in this life there is no true and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are mere vanity, that our afflictions are infinite, and finally that death which threatens us at every moment must in a few years infallibly face us with the inescapable and appalling alternative of being annihilated or wretched throughout eternity.

Nothing could be more real, or more dreadful than that.

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Let us put on as bold a face as we like: that is the end awaiting the world’s most illustrious life.

Let us ponder these things, and then say whether it is not beyond doubt that the only good thing in this life is the hope of another life, that we become happy only as we come nearer to it, and that, just as no more unhappiness awaits those who have been quite certain of eternity, so there is no happiness for those who have no inkling of it. . .

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So the doubter who does not seek is at the same time very unhappy and very wrong.

If in addition he feels a calm satisfaction, which he openly professes, and even regards as a reason for joy and vanity... I can find no terms to describe so extravagant a creature.


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Note: This portrait of a glibly complacent atheist, written 400 years ago, is an exact description of myself, not long since; and of all the public atheists of fame and influence that I have ever encountered.

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