Order. Men despise religion, they hate it and are afraid it might be true. To cure that we have to show that religion is not contrary to reason. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect. Next, it should be made lovable, should make the good wish it were true, then show that it is indeed true.
Worthy of veneration because it has properly understood mankind.
Worthy of affection because it promises the true good. Pensees 46, Pascal, tr. Honor Levi
I have two friends with Doctorates in Philosophy. They have two very different takes on Pascal, and this Order in particular. One insists Pascal's angle on religion is emotional, that rational argument favors the atheist's camp, and Pascal, recognizing this, proceeds first to emotional argument. The other takes the Order at face value, and says Pascal asserts that the root of most atheism "isn't intellection, but feeling." Two friends, two different perspectives on Pascal, and God. (They do have one perspective in common: their advanced degree in Philosophy has less remunerative value than a Pizza Hut coupon.)
I am not an atheist, but I can definitely assert that the business of both religion and atheism is emotional, passionate and mostly messy. I'm disinclined toward argument - I grow quite impatient with it, actually - and believe that transformation is the higher value. Perhaps the first thing that needs to be transformed within me is my attitude toward argument?
Right, then: on to the religious material.
Belief and nonbelief are two giant planets, the orbits of which don't touch. Everything about Christianity can be justified within the context of Christian belief. That is, if you accept its terms. Once you do, your belief starts modifying the data (in ways that are themselves defensible, see?), until eventually the data begin to reinforce belief. The precise moment of illogic can never be isolated and may not exist. Like holding a magnifying glass at arm's length and bringing it toward your eye: Things are upside down, they're upside down, they're right side up. What lay between? If there was something, it passed too quickly to be observed. This is why you can never reason true Christians out of the faith. It's not, as the adage has it, because they were never reasoned into it—many were—it's that faith is a logical door which locks behind you. What looks like a line of thought is steadily warping into a circle, one that closes with you inside. If this seems to imply that no apostate was ever a true Christian and that therefore, I was never one, I think I'd stand by both of those statements. Doesn't the fact that I can't write about my old friends without an apologetic tone just show that I never deserved to be one of them?
This is from the excellent GQ article, Upon This Rock, by John Jeremiah Sullivan. I'm tempted to also quote his theory of why "Christian rock is a musical genre, the only one I can think of, that has excellence-proofed itself", but some things should be discovered by the reader. So many acute observations on the state of American christendom. Very funny, very moving, very perceptive. A printable version of the article is here. If you're a sucker for 23 click-to-see-next-page-complete-with-pop-ups, the official GQ site is here.
Here's an unusual re-consideration of gay marriage, by a self-professed libertarian. Link from Gideon Strauss.
Greg at The Parish, generates some worthy controversy by wondering if the suburban Mega-Church is even remotely biblical (in a good sense), here.
Yahmdallah at Third Level Digression has a guest posting - an insider's (read: "thoughtful Catholic") perspective on the new Pope. Worth the read, since it's becoming increasingly difficult to get past the ever-present outsider's perspective.
And finally, a note of appreciation to my friend Darko, at Verging on Pertinence, for recommending Peter DeVries' novel, The Blood Of The Lamb. DeVries' protagonist, Don Wanderhope, is born into a Calvinist household and undertakes a reverse Pilgrim's Progress. At least, that's the most tempting analogy to reach for (the publishers even do it for you, right there on the book flap). I think it has more in common with Pinocchio: early in the narrative, Wanderhope says/thinks "There is no God," then proceeds to fall into one foolish misadventure after another. In the novel's closing pages, he is transformed, terribly, into a real, live boy. I finished the novel late at night, weeping as softly as possible so as not to wake my wife. DeVries might grind his teeth at my summary, but I think his novel poses a legitimate question. Which is the greater blasphemy: the man who says in his heart, "There is no God"; or the soul-shredding spectacle of your child dying of leukemia?
The Blood Of The Lamb, by Peter DeVries is unfortunately out-of-print. I lucked into an affordable copy at one of my favorite used bookstores. You can try the usual on-line suspects, including Amazon, here.