Pascal's Pensées: Week 5, Strange Organs


We think playing upon man is like playing upon an ordinary organ. It is indeed an organ, but strange, shifting and changeable. Those who only know how to play an ordinary organ would never be in tune on this one. You have to know where the keys are.


I'm put in mind of Flannery O'Connor's famous line about how she tried to reach her modern, secular, humanistic, and skeptical audience: 

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
But you don't have to shout at everyone. This is Pascal's point, people are different. We are organs, but strange organs, with shifting and changeable keys. And you have to know where the keys are for any given person to be helpful to them in searching for God.

This is a lesson I've had to learn. Since the start of this blog and my publication and speaking career I've had so, so many conversations with seekers, skeptics, doubters, and wavering believers. And the conversations are all different. The issues are often a confusing mix of intellectual objections, personal biography, personality, and mental health. An issue that might initially present in one way, like an intellectual struggle regarding the problem of evil, might actually be masking some past trauma with a family or church. Sometimes the struggle with God is a byproduct of depression. Sometimes it's a personality trait like excessive, almost compulsive, rationalism. And sometimes it's just straight up spiritual resistance, that if the claims of Christianity were true one's life would have to change in a radical way and the abyss you'd be forced to face in the rejection. In her typical shocking, shouting, and startling way, Flannery O'Connor uses the Misfit in her famous short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" to put the choice of faith this way:
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness," he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

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