Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pascal on Hallowed Secularism

2/21/2009—The following selection is from Paragraph 12—in only one ordering unfortunately—of the Pensees, by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662):

“Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect.
Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature.
Attractive because it promises true good.”

When Pascal writes the word "religion", he may mean only Christianity and only belief in God. But he may mean instead something of the core of religion that many religions share, such as the objectivity of values and the compassion of existence. If so, he describing the kind of religion that Hallowed Secularism intends to bring secularism into closer connection with.

The situation among secularists today is in part as Pascal described. Many hate religion, although increasingly they are ignorant and indifferent. (That would not have been possible in Pascal’s day, given the dominant role of religion).

As to the differences from what Pascal saw, some secularists today are afraid religion may not be true, as well as fearing that it is. That is, we don’t want to give in to the hierarchical discipline of any church, but we don’t want to live in an empty, meaningless universe either.

There is a cure today, just as Pascal suggested. Religion, in the sense of its core, is not contrary to reason, (we might say today not contrary to science) and it is worthy of reverence and respect. If reality is good for us, welcoming to us, kind to us, we should be grateful.

And pointing this out, makes the core of religion seem like something we would at least wish to be true, as Pascal says. The task then, after implanting this hope, is to show that it can be fulfilled. Or, as the book Hallowed Secularism opens, “Wouldn’t you like to live your life abundantly? …Why don’t you?”

Now the question is, who understands human nature best—the New Atheists, New Age religion, or the Bible? My money is on the Bible. In considering human beings, the Bible is just the right mix of good and evil. Materialism makes us out to be worse than we are, totally without generosity. All forms of humanism make us out to be better than we are. And there is something in reality that sometimes protects us from ourselves, just as the Bible says. It is pretty amazing that we have not yet blown ourselves up and we might still heat ourselves out of existence.

Finally, who has the best word as to true good in our lives? What guidebook is best for the general direction of your life? What model of human being would you like to adopt? For me, it is the Bible and Jesus respectively, not that I actually do this, but then neither do most Christians.

Apparently, things have not changed all that much since the 17th century.

1 comment:

  1. As I see it, people secretly hate fanatics of every stripe but try to keep it hidden. That's because we are still rightfully afraid of this irrational impulse to force conformity. Secularism, imo, is merely an agreement among the sensible people of every viewpoint to keep fanatics away from the levers of power. Rule by law allows us to squash every authoritarian impulse by beating it down with paper. Secularism gives me the right to keep my religion private and thwart the efforts of the control freaks to intrude their self-proclaimed certainties into my life. I'm allowed to say whatever I want without necessarily identifying myself with some inflexible credo.