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Showing posts with label Blase Pascal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blase Pascal. Show all posts

Thursday, January 21, 2016

350 Year Old Frenchman Talks About Facebook


I love history. I love to look at ancient edifices or read about past civilizations and try to really get into the minds of those who have come before us. It can seem we're so very different from the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians. We're so much smarter today, after all look at how much our advancements have given us! Such a view is really superficial. Those people were people and their motivations were by and large the same ones we have today. Certainly, they are packaged differently, but it's striking just how much humanity doesn't change from age to age.

Take the issue of self-perception. All people are worried how others perceive them and a significant number elevate the perceptions of others over everything else. Perhaps it was whispers between friends in ages past; today, it's counting comments on Facebook. The drive is the same, though. We want people to think more of us.

As a case in point, look at the writings of Blaise Pascal. His Pensées, or Reflections, was written over 350 year ago, before his death in 1662. Yet, one line neatly sums up the very modern drive of young people fishing for Instagram likes or YouTube fame. He writes, "We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who shall come when we are no more. And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us." (#152)1

Pascal even expanded on this to say how much the views of others matter more to us than our own reality. Tell me if these sounds like how so many treat their social media posts today:
We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we want to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to make an impression. We labor constantly to embellish and preserve this imaginary being, and neglect the real one. And if we are calm, or generous, or faithful, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to our other being. (#653)
Of course, cultivating the imaginary being online means being something other than honest; making the division more pronounced:
We would rather separate them from ourselves to unite them to the other. We would willingly be cowards to acquire the reputation for being brave. This is a great sign of our own being's nothingness, of not being satisfied with the one without the other, and of renouncing the one for the other! For whoever would not die to save his honor would be infamous. (#653)2
That sounds pretty modern, doesn't it?

We Still Abdicate Our Need for Right-Thinking

Pascal was very aware of the human condition. He knew that while people worried about how other perceives them, such worries are vanity. They don't mean a lot. More important is for one to think well. A strong thinker will examine him or herself as well as the ideas with which he comes in contact:
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end.

Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man. (#513)3

… Just as we corrupt our minds, we corrupt our feelings also.

…Our minds and feelings are improved by conversation; our minds and feelings are corrupted by conversation. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them. But we cannot make this choice if we have not already improved and not corrupted them. Thus a circle is formed, and they are fortunate who escape it. (#659)4
I use social media a lot and I think its great in its place. However, I also try to set aside a certain amount of time every day to be off social media and read or engage others with ideas that will stimulate me to think better. I want to grow better personally, and I'm really not that interested in posting how well I'm doing so others may see. That doesn't mean there's no place for social media. If you're using GoodReads or something similar to spur conversation with others or hold one another accountable for your book reading, that's a great thing. But I hope you would be encouraged to be a little bit intentional in mental self-improvement, as intentional as you may be in the pictures and posts you share.

Proper thinking starts not with how others think of you but an honest self-examination. If you can identify your own biases and predispositions you are in much better shape to understand others' points of view. You can see things like sources are not necessarily less credible simply because they lived centuries or even a couple of millennia before us. You will be more open to an honest exchange of ideas. You won't be as susceptible to being led by feelings that can be manipulated and false.

References

1. Pascal, Blaise, and Roger Ariew. Pensées. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.
2. Pascal, 2005. 199.
3. Pascal, 2005. 162.
4. Pascal, 2005. 200.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Irrationality of Indifference to God


In my time on college campuses, I've had the opportunity to engage with people who are passionate about their particular faith, and I've been able to engage with those atheists who are passionate about their particular lack of faith. However, many of the students I engage are those who identify themselves as not really religious and not really interested in exploring the concept of God. They perhaps have some preconceptions, usually formed in the elementary or middle school years, and they reinforce those beliefs by pointing to selective evidence. For them, to actually put forth effort to examine the question of God, his revelation, and his attributes is simply too much work.

But this is certainly an irrational position to take. The question of God—does he exist, how can we know about him, and what does a living God mean for our own existence—should be of primary concern to everyone. If the Christian God is real, how we can know him and what he requires of us is of eternal significance.

Blasé Pascal argues much the same way in his Pensées. He explains:
Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.

Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts them of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to confound them by the first glimmerings of common sense and by natural feelings.

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.

There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they do not take another course.

On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.

Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it and threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.

This is a doubt of terrible consequence. They are in peril of eternal woe and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they neglect to inquire whether this is one of those opinions which people receive with too credulous a facility, or one of those which, obscure in themselves, have a very firm, though hidden, foundation. Thus they know not whether there be truth or falsity in the matter, nor whether there be strength or weakness in the proofs. They have them before their eyes; they refuse to look at them; and in that ignorance they choose all that is necessary to fall into this misfortune if it exists, to await death to make trial of it, yet to be very content in this state, to make profession of it, and indeed to boast of it. Can we think seriously of the importance of this subject without being horrified at conduct so extravagant?

This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in such ignorance of what they are and without seeking enlightenment. "I know not," they say…1
We chastise people for not having car insurance to guard against the expenses that would accompany an accident that might not happen. We shake our heads at those who would spend their paycheck on video games instead of paying their bills. Such behaviors are properly denounced as childish. Yet, death is not an uncertain end to our earthly existence. The statistics on death are pretty solid: every one out of one person dies. To dismiss the question of God and eternity then is to be even more foolish.

References

1. Pascal, Blasé. "Pensées (Fragments 195- 285)." Christian Apologetics Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2: From 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 178-79. Kindle Edition.

Image courtesy Sander van der Wel. Licensed by [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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