Since our walk through Summa Contra Gentiles is going so well, why not let’s do the same with Pascal’s sketchbook on what we can now call Thinking Thursdays. We’ll use the Dutton Edition, freely available at Project Gutenberg. (I’m removing that edition’s footnotes.)
9 When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.1
1Good advice for perpetual arguers like yours truly, who sometimes forgot it in the joy of battle, because what’s wrong with most everyday arguments are false or incomplete premises. Pascal’s dictum doesn’t work for every argument, of course. Some are so wrong, or the desire to believe a false conclusion so strong, that nothing short of divine grace will free a person from error. Do you really think that, unaided, you’ll bring a chiropractor or, say, an academic feminist to see what’s wrong with her stance? These folks are so far from the promised land that it isn’t even on their maps. This doesn’t make Pascal wrong, but winning people to the Truth is hard, brutal labor.
10 People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.2
2This is why we have some sympathy whenever an educator rediscovers the truism that kids better grasp ideas they work out for themselves. Yet any kindly disposition we have is blown away the second the educator insists that all learning follow this regimen. If the child (or adult) isn’t provided with a solid foundation (a memorized one), almost no learning can follow. The student won’t have the tools to work things out and he won’t know when something is right and when it is wrong. And we are back to the first point.
11 All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, principally when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a conscience founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see there, by which the fear of pure souls is removed, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love which seems to them so reasonable.
So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so well represented in the theatre.3
3Initially, Pascal’s complaint reads like those of the nuns who schooled my father and who said the worst things kids did was to chew gum or get out of line in the halls. We are at the point where we long for the good old days where love was “represented as very chaste and virtuous.” So far into the wilderness are we that not one in five hundred could today share his fear of theater. It passes all imagination to see oneself marching down Broadway with a “Down with Tartuffe!” sign.
On the other hand, swap in television and movies for theatre and we see Pascal nails it. Particularly those whose of certain sexual natures who choose to violate natural law are portrayed as extraordinary loving wholly sympathetic creatures, superior to the rest of us (don’t think so? Read this). The situations into which these protagonists are thrust are so ludicrous that it would take an audience with a heart of stone not to root for them. No consequences are ever seen and anything that smacks of reality is expunged. Viewers are discouraged from thinking and tricked, manipulated into feeling, only feeling.
Art has always been recognized as dangerous.