Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Be we as heroic as we like": Eternal Questions and Human Vanity

I don't have much of a gloss to add to this. Pascal responds to those who have no desire to understand eternal questions, those Dawkins-types who shout, "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Here, Pascal's thought radiates with fire and clarity. It is concise, full of power and grace, the perfect twinning of intellect and emotion. It's worthy of reflection.

In order to attack [doctrine of God's existence, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but
without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of
her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I
venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are
of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when
they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some
priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books
and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is
insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we
should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

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. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there
are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and
judgment unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate
end. 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.

I can have only compassion for those who sincerely bewail their doubt, who regard it
as the greatest of misfortunes, and who, sparing no effort to escape it, make of this inquiry
their principal and most serious occupation.

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and
who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince
them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion
is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although
obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look
upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves
me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say
this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to
have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see
what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and
lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly,
that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years
under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy.

There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like,
that is the end which awaits the world. Let us reflect on this and then say whether it is not
beyond doubt that there is no good in this life but in the hope of another; that we are happy
only in proportion as we draw near it; and that, as there are no more woes for those who
have complete assurance of eternity, so there is no more happiness for those who have no
insight into it.

Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty
to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether
completely unhappy and completely wrong. 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.

How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing
but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness?

[...]

Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let them at least
be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognise that there are two
kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because
they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.

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