“‘Had I seen a miracle,’ say men, ‘I should become converted.’ How can they know they would do a thing of the nature of which they are ignorant? They imagine that this conversion consists in a worship of God which is like commerce, and in a communion such as they picture to themselves.
True religion consists in annihilating self before that Universal Being, whom we have so often provoked, and who can justly destroy us at any time; in recognizing that we can do nothing without Him, and we have deserved nothing from Him but His displeasure. It consists in knowing that there is an unconquerable opposition between us and God, and that without a mediator there can be no communion with Him.”
– Pascal, Pensees
I’m almost a third of the way through Pensees now, and thoroughly impressed with it. On a scale of one to ten, my admiration for Pascal’s writing is easily a twenty. This book is essentially a collection of philosophical jots, tittles, and essays – fodder for Pascal’s unfinished apologia for the Christian faith. I only wish my fragmentary thoughts were as clear and penetrating as his.
Naturally, I feel compelled to share some of these beautiful fragments with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up Pensees and read it for yourself. At least, I hope so.
People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others. (p. 4)
The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first. (p. 7)
Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects. (p. 7)
Eloquence – it requires the pleasant and the real; but the pleasant must itself be drawn from the true. (p. 8)
As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all. (p. 50)
Let each one his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so. (p. 50)
Men despise religion; they hate it, and fear it is true. (p. 53)
Let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it. (p. 54)
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. (p. 55)
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 forever 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 noblest life in 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. (p. 56)
In truth, it is the glory of religion to have for enemies men so unreasonable: and their opposition to it is so little dangerous that it serves on the contrary to establish its truths. For the Christian faith goes mainly to establish these two facts, the corruption of nature, and redemption by Jesus Christ. Now I contend that if these men do not serve to prove the truth of the redemption by the holiness of their behavior, they at least serve admirably to show the corruption of nature by sentiments so unnatural. (p. 57)
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. (p. 59)
The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great things, indicates a strange inversion. (p. 61)
Between us and heaven and hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world. (p. 63)
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (p. 68)
Objection – Those who hope for salvation are so far happy; but they have as a counterpoise the fear of hell. Reply – Who has most reason to fear hell: he who is in ignorance whether there is a hell, and who is certain of damnation if there is; or he who certainly believes there is a hell, and hopes to be saved if there is? (p. 71)
True fear comes from faith; false fear comes from doubt. True fear is joined to hope, because it is born of faith, and because men hope in the God in whom they believe. False fear is joined to despair, because men fear the God in whom they have no belief. The former fear to lose Him; the latter fear to find Him. (p. 77)
The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him. (p. 80)
Men will never believe with a saving and real faith, unless God inclines the their heart; and they will believe as soon as He inclines it. (p. 82)
“We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.
Let each one his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”
– Pascal, Pensees (p. 50)
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
After nearly two decades in Britain, the author decided it was time to return to the U.S. – but not before embarking on a grand farewell tour of the island that had so long been his home. Bryson is a keen and delightfully funny writer; in fact, he reminds me of Mark Steyn, if Mark Steyn ever did travel writing. Some of the humor is, shall we say, off-color, but on the whole this is easily one of the most entertaining books I’ve read all year.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Yes, yes – I said I was going to read this Hugo award-winner months ago. Better late than never, though, right? I’m a couple chapters in, and enjoying it immensely thus far. Fantastic writing, fantastic story. But as exciting as the action is, I get the feeling that this book is going to be about much more than space battles and aliens. Which is exactly why I picked it up to begin with.
Pensées by Blaise Pascal
“The last step that Reason takes is to recognize that there is an infinity of things that lie beyond it. Reason is a poor thing indeed if it does not succed in knowing that.” I’d all but forgotten about this one… until it appeared on my senior year reading list. Awesomeness.
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne
A beautiful, beautiful book, rich in passages like this one: “As yet God suspends me between heaven and earth, as a meteor; and I am not in heaven because an earthly body clogs me, and I am not in the earth because a heavenly soul sustains me.” Donne was a true wordsmith.
On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria
“Athanasius contra mundum.” I recently did a study of this man’s life, and the more I learn about him, the more I admire him. Such a remarkable defender of the faith. He penned On the Incarnation at the ripe old age of twenty; it’s short, potent, and what I love most is the passion with which it is written.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?