Pascal's Pensées: Week 3, Welcome to the Ache


First part: Misery of humanity without God. 

Second part: Happiness of humanity with God.


A large part of Pascal's strategy in the Pensées is to point out our "misery" or "wretchedness" without God.  This is the same strategy I use in Hunting Magic Eels.

I don't call it "misery" in Hunting Magic Eels, I call it the Ache, and I devote a chapter in the book ("Welcome to the Ache") touring through what Charles Taylor has called "the malaise of modernity." 

I like the definition of malaise: "A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify." 

Pascal, though, knows the cause: the modern world's separation from God. And since Pascal returns to the point frequently in the Pensées we'll be revisiting this topic throughout this series.

What's interesting here is how even secular journalists are noting and writing about our modern "crisis of meaning" and linking it to the poor mental health of our younger generations. Lacking a transcendent foundation for our life projects we drift among the allures of social media, entertainment culture, and consumerism. We have nothing to look forward to except the next Netflix binge. And the pandemic has only highlighted this existential vacuum in our lives. We experience life as shallow and insubstantial or fragile and precarious. We vacillate between boredom and anxiety. 

As I share with my students, we want our lives to be "high stakes." We want our actions to have weight, import, and significance. But it's hard to achieve this sense of "mattering" through self-talk. And yet, self-talk is the only tool our therapeutic culture gives us. Just stare into the mirror and try to talk your way into significance. Convince yourself that you matter.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of us find this hard to do. 

[Note on numbering of the Pensées. In this series I'll be following the numbering of the Penguin edition.]

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply