A choice of method

I was asked to provide the quote from TS Eliot’s introduction to Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, to which referred in a recent Darkstream. I thought was intriguing in light of how perfectly it foreshadowed my own approach to The Irrational Atheist as well as the arguments presented by the New Atheists themselves.

To understand the method which Pascal employs, the reader must be prepared to follow the process of the mind of the intelligent believer. The Christian thinker—and I mean the man who is trying consciously and conscientiously to explain to himself the sequence which culminated in faith, rather than the public apologist—proceeds by rejection and elimination. He finds the world to be so and so; he finds its character inexplicable by any non-religious theory; among religions he finds Christianity, and Catholic Christianity, to account most satisfactorily for the world and especially for the moral world within; and thus, by what Newman calls “powerful and concurrent” reasons, he finds himself inexorably committed to the dogma of the Incarnation.

To the unbeliever, this method seems disingenuous and perverse; for the unbeliever is, as a rule, not so greatly troubled to explain the world to himself, nor so greatly distressed by its disorder; nor is he generally concerned (in modern terms) to “preserve values.” He does not consider that if certain emotional states, certain developments of character, and what in the highest sense can be called “saintliness” are inherently and by inspection known to be good, then the satisfactory explanation of the world must be an explanation which will admit the “reality” of these values. Nor does he consider such reasoning admissible; he would, so to speak, trim his values according to his cloth, because to him such values are of no great value. The unbeliever starts from the other end, and as likely as not with the question: Is a case of human parthenogenesis credible? and this he would call going straight to the heart of the matter.

Now Pascal’s method is, on the whole, the method natural and right for the Christian; and the opposite method is that taken by Voltaire. It is worthwhile to remember that Voltaire, in his attempt to refute Pascal, has given once and for all the type of such refutation; and that later opponents of Pascal’s Apology for the Christian Faith have contributed little beyond psychological irrelevancies. For Voltaire has presented, better than any one since, what is the unbelieving point of view; and in the end we must all choose for ourselves between one point of view and another.


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