Christianity for Modern Pagans

Christianity for Modern Pagans (Pascal's Pensee's Edited Outlined and Explained) by Peter Kreeft (1993, Ignatius, San Francisco) 341 pp.

The past couple months Peter Kreeft has been my fairly constant companion. In my car I've been listening to tapes of some of his books: Between Heaven and Hell, Socrates Meets Jesus and The Unaborted Socrates. The last one was my favorite. I listened to it three times before returning it to the King County Library. Socrates first dialogues with an abortionist about whether or not abortion can be called murder. The doctor seeks the aid of an ethicist with whom Socrates then examines the philosophy of relativism. Finally they call on a psychologist who tries to get Socrates to deal with his own guilt which is causing him to be so rigid and to be afraid of his own feelings. I have to admit the final dialogue was the one I most relished. Anyone who has felt manipulated by pop psychology with its "compassion" and "unconditional acceptance" will know what I mean.

In March I reviewed Handbook of Christian Apologetics which Kreeft coauthored with Fr. Ronald Tacelli. At that time I was also reading Kreeft's Shorter Summa which beautiful explains key passages of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. The seminarian who is living at Holy Family with me used it to do his final paper on Aquinas' philosophy of being.

Kreeft has been called the "C.S. Lewis for Twenty-First Century." Like Lewis he brings together at least four elements: orthodox Christianity, clear reasoning, entertaining style and a call to repentance aimed square at modern man. Of what I have read so far, nowhere does he do the fourth better than in Christianity for Modern Pagans.

The premise of the book is simple: pick out key passages of Blaise Pascal's Pensees and comment on them. Simple, but devastating. I defy anyone to read this book and not have his comfortable world view shattered. It begins by analyzing our basic human situation. What does it mean that we are so wretched (unhappy) yet have such a desire for greatness? Pacal then unmasks our different vanities. He makes us face the reality of death and sin which we try to run away from by constant diversion. Kreeft himself examines the modern paradox of having so many time saving devices, yet never having any time. (I have to admit that many years ago I got sick of hearing people say how busy they were that I swore I would not say it again myself. I did not keep the promise. It's just too convenient an excuse for not having done something.)

Anyway, after exposing man's basic problem, Pascal asks if there is a solution. There is. In fact there is only one that fits. It's like a very odd shaped lock which requires a strangely formed key. The only key which works is Christ. Pascal explain why that is so. With that he arrives at the most famous part: The Wager. We have to place a bet. Either that God exists or he doesn't. If he does and you bet on him you have won everything. If you bet against him, you risk losing everything. Everything.

The Wager can sound calculating and self-seeking. Kreeft goes to some length to show that it is not. Rather it is a dramatic attempt to shake us out of our indifference and complacency. As Pascal demonstrates early on: Men despise Religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. (no. 12) We have a natural resistance to God which is increased with each sin. Pascal offers the Wager as way of overcoming that resistance.

For some people there are obstacles to making such a decision. Kreeft lines up Pascal's response to the most common ones: faith and science (reason), why God hides, the obscurity of Scripture, miracles, etc. He gives some strong reasons for trusting in the reliability of the Bible. I believe this short section would help those who have been upset by what they hear coming from modern Scripture scholars.

In the final chapters Pascal speaks movingly about the personal relationship with Jesus and his Body, the Church. That of course is Pascal's ultimate goal. Not just to make a wager that God exists, but to give ones life over to Jesus.

As I said, for me this was the most powerful Kreeft book so far. I do have two more on my desk at this moment: Ecumenical Jihad and C. S. Lewis: A Critical Essay.


The Riddle of Human Existence: Selections from Pensees (Man's Greatness and Wretchedness)

Pascal on Diversions

Other Recommended Books

Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History