Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote an interesting book titled: Christianity for Modern Pagans. It is a critique of Blaise Pascals' famous book Pensees.
Pensees is a collection of Pascal’s arguments defending the Christian faith. He rests his argument on one simple and undeniable fact: that human beings are unhappy. He saw that all humans were on a desperate search for happiness but were finding it to be elusive.
Pascal believed that unhappiness is perhaps the most obvious and pervasive feature of human experience. However, no one wants to talk about it, particularly men.
However, there is a clear reason for our unhappiness. The reason according to Pascal is our mortal condition. Death is the most obvious fact of life. It slaps us in the face when we realize our own helplessness in overcoming it. Deep down we are haunted by the fact that when we die, we will experience the loss of everything in life.
According to Pascal, this is one of the reasons people love pleasure so much. It keeps them from thinking about their mortal condition and the loss of their very being. He said:
The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their minds off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion that keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short, by what is called diversion.
Pascal was clearly fascinated by humanity’s ability to so easily dodge the realities of life. He believed we are all “fugitives from reality,” and that we must somehow be persuaded to have the courage to face the truth about ourselves, our mortality and all the issues that spring from it.
Dr. Thomas Morris, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, shares a personal story that highlights our obsessive search for diversions to preoccupy our minds. While finishing his graduate training in philosophy at Yale, Morris had a conversation about work with a young M.D. who was finishing his training in pathology.
Soon to enter the job market, Morris asked the young pathologist what the starting salaries were for those who were entering hospital work. The year was 1980 and the doctor indicated he had a number of offers well over one hundred thousand dollars.
Not surprisingly, Morris was then asked by the young doctor, “What are the salaries like in the academy?” When Morris responded that as a philosophy professor he could expect to be compensated anywhere from nine- to sixteen-thousand dollars, his friend was staggered.
Since both of them were graduating from Yale and both had worked extremely hard for their degrees and both knew and respected each other’s talents, the medical doctor became outraged, his sense of justice and fairness having been grievously assaulted. He knew this man, he knew his abilities.
This story reveals how our society is willing to pay physicians a great deal of money for keeping death, and all the issues raised by it, at bay. It is not in the least surprising nor objectionable that we are willing to pay dearly for good health.
However, Dr. Morris, in relating this story, makes an important observation when he asks us, “Have you noticed that we pay the best entertainers even more, in fact much more [than the doctors] – the movie and television stars, the sports heroes? Maybe it is because we know, deep down, that the physician will ultimately fail, and the entertainers keep us from thinking about that. This could also explain why we pay philosophers so little: they make us think about it.”
The fear of death, unchecked and mismanaged, leads to denial, and in the process, we unconsciously remove truth from its rightful place in our lives. And without truth in our lives, we are lost without a compass.
Pascal warned, “Between us and heaven and hell there is only this life, the most fragile thing in the world.” The fragility of life should force us to become seekers of truth and not drive us deeper into the busyness and the diversions of life. Nowhere will one find that ignorance is a virtue and, contrary to the old adage, it certainly isn’t bliss.
Richard E. Simmons III is the founding director of The Center for Executive Leadership, a faith-based ministry in Birmingham, Alabama focused on counseling businessmen and professionals. His column appears every weekend in 1819 News. Richard is the best-selling author of The True Measure of a Man, Reliable Truth, and The Power of a Humble Life. His newest book, an Amazon best-seller, is Reflections on the Existence of God – a series of short essays seeking to answer life’s most enduring question: Does God exist? You can find Richard's weekly blog, podcast, and more at richardesimmons3.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentarty@1819News.com.