Christianity For Modern Pagans: Order & Method

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

The theme that seems most important to me from this first week’s readings (the preface and the chapters Order & Method) is the need to understand the heart behind someone’s skepticism. We must genuinely love our skeptical friends if we are to persuade them.

Their intellectual questions are real and have to be answered honestly, but the cries of the heart (Christianity is intolerant, faith is for ignorant people, becoming a Christian would make me into someone I wouldn’t like, following Jesus would mean abandoning fun) are far more important.

I find when I speak with unbelievers on campus their first questions to me are often tests: they want to see how I respond to purely intellectual inquiries before they begin raising the issues that really keep them from faith. And sometimes they don’t even know the real reasons they won’t consider Christianity. A reply I’ve found helpful is, “I’ll answer your question as best I can, but I’m curious: if I answer it to your satisfaction will you seriously consider becoming a Christian? If not, what would still hold you back?”

What do you think Stanford students’ biggest heart objections are to Christianity? I’m curious what you notice as you speak with your friends.

And now a few excerpts from the reading I particularly enjoyed:

In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. (page 26, Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

Page 26 (from Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

If he exalts himself, I humble him.
If he humbles himself, I exalt him.
And I go on contradicting him
Until he understands
That he is a monster that passes all understanding.

Page 37 (Pascal speaking, pensee 130)

When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which it is wrong. This will please him, because he will see that he was not wrong but merely failed to see every aspect of the question.

Page 39 (Pascal speaking, pensee 701)

Our religion is wise and foolish: wise, because it is the most learned and most strongly based on miracles, prophecies, etc., foolish, because it is not all this which makes people belong to it. . . . What makes them believe is the Cross. . . . And so St. Paul, who came with wisdom and signs, said that he came with neither wisdom nor signs, for he came to convert, but those who come only to convince may say they come with wisdom and signs.

Page 42 (Pascal speaking, pensee 842)

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