August 15, 2009

The distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists...

I'm reading an excellent book containing the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, with interspersed commentary by Peter Kreeft. Here's a morsel from it...

(Pensées means "thoughts." They were a collection of notes written on odd scraps of vellum that Pascal wrote over many years, hoping to turn them into a book which would appeal to the young people of his time, who were almost as heedless about the important things of life as people are now. It is generally conceded that Pascal's early death was in one sense a good thing, since his book could probably never have had the intensity and vividness of his dashed-off thoughts. There are very few books written in the time of Louis XIV that can still excite people the way Pascal's "non-random jottings" do.)

...And that is why, amongst those who are not convinced, I make an absolute distinction between those who strive with all their might to learn and those who live without troubling themselves or thinking about it.

I can feel nothing but compassion for those for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business.

But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end of life and who, solely 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 unshakable foundation: 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 appals me; it seems quite monstrous to me. I do not say this prompted by the pious zeal of spiritual devotion. I mean on the contrary that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-esteem....

Peter Kreeft comments on this section:

The absolute distinction, which will become the distinction between the Heavenly and the Hellish, is not between believers and unbelievers but between seekers and non-seekers; for all unbelievers who seek will eventually become believers who find , according to the very highest authority (Mt 7:7-8). The distinction between believers and seeking unbelievers is only temporary; but the distinction between seeking unbelievers and un-seeking unbelievers is eternal.

The absolute distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists. Unbelievers who are content and happy now will be unhappy eternally, but those who are unhappy and seeking now will be happy eternally (Lk 6:21-26).

Pascal's judgement simply follows God's. God does not judge unbelievers by the supernatural standard of faith but by the natural standard of reason. As St Paul says in Romans 1, the truth they know by natural reason is what they hold down or suppress because of their unrighteousness (1:18), and this--natural reason, natural law, natural sanity is enough to condemn them.

The battle for eternal souls is largely decided here in the beginning, in the plain plains of natural reason, rather than later, in the mysterious mountains of faith. If we are honest with truth, reason will lead us to faith...

Here's a link to another post I wrote on Pascal, which is worth reading—because of the good stuff I quote, not because of my own thoughts.

Posted by John Weidner at August 15, 2009 4:07 PM
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