The first annual John Cardinal Glennon Lecture in Philosophy was a Peter Kreeft Lecture on Blaise Pascal and the New Evangelization. This assigned topic turned out a lively recap of his 2003 book Christianity for Modern Pagans, which is a commentary on (some of) Pascal’s Pensées (thoughts), which in turn was a posthumously published collection of little notes he’d made and didn’t live long enough to ruin by turning them into a book. If you’re wondering what Pascal might have to offer “apostate Christendom” besides his famous Wager, Kreeft said he thinks Pascal is the single most effective apologist he knows of for moderns. What follows here is only one example from the lecture and is very much abbreviated, so by all means order a copy of the lecture by calling St. Joseph Radio at (636)447-6000. $10, tax & postage included. If you can send a little extra, it will help pay the rent and carry on with an important (if grossly underutilized) service. We recommend buying several copies and giving them to any modern pagans you may know. Maybe it’ll whet their appetites for the book.
It seems that for Kreeft, the main contribution of Pascal to the New Evangelization was foresight from the cusp of the Enlightenment (so-called), some analysis, and a defense of the reasonableness of the human heart. Pascal and Descartes were contemporaries, and Descartes wanted to build a system of philosophy based on skepticism — Descartes was to doubt the efficacy of reason itself, and even of his own existence. The lecture had a little survey of the history of skepticism, leading up to the present. Even before Hume and Darwin, Pascal saw that this methodological skepticism would lead to great evils. What Descartes and his followers have done is constrained “reason” to the head only, and left off the quite reasonable heart on which the head really depends. Those of you who have read CS Lewis’ Abolition of Man may remember the chapter Men Without Chests — same idea.
Pascal when he said in Pensée 277 “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know “ did not mean (as many today suppose) that feeling is superior to thinking, or that thinking is to be distrusted, and while feelings may be fleeting at least they’re real, but rather that there are certain things the heart, the center and core of a man, reasonably knows to be true which the analytical, systemizing head cannot analyze or systemize, and in fact relies upon. Pascal wants to rejoin our heads to our hearts. He sees that the head seeks Truth (even if it isn’t attainable) and the heart wants happiness (even if it isn’t attainable).
According to Kreeft, Pascal in his Pensées divides mankind into three types: I) Those who know God and serve Him; II) Those who do not know God and are seeking Him; and III) Those who do not know God and are not seeking Him. This last type, he calls “indifferent” and thinks they’re extravagantly unreasonable, they use neither head nor heart. Kreeft says the Old Evangelization was mostly about moving people from category II into category I. But because of the great skepticism of the modern age, the New Evangelization must be about moving people from category I into category II. In the face of skepticism, how can this be done?
The answer given in the lecture was “by an appeal to the heart”. Modern skepticism has gotten people to distrust their heads, to distrust and be skeptical of reason itself, but they still have hearts. Then Kreeft gets to the Wager, which he says is the thing that his agnostic and atheistic students respond best to. The Wager is really an appeal to the heart — “what do you want?” is its question. “If you could get it, how?” Kreeft says it is important to annoy people with the truth that they’re going to die, and get them to face that. Once they do, they may begin to seek God. Until they find Him they’ll still be unhappy, but they’ll be reasonable.