Pascal's Pensées: Week 18, Foxhole


Anyone with only a week to live will not find it in his interest to believe that all this is just a matter of chance.

Now, if we were not bound by our passions, a week and a hundred years would come to the same thing.


You've heard the saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes." When we're facing death the meaning of life becomes an acute, pressing question. This is only natural. 

Pascal's point, though, is that there isn't really any difference between a week or a hundred years of life. The existential question is still just as pressing. We just don't notice it. 

Pascal says we miss it because we are "bound by our passions," distracted by entertainments and desires. That's true, but I also think we miss the acuteness of our existential predicament because we repress these anxieties, creating a state of blissful oblivion. Our distraction is a bit motivated and willful, even if unconscious. We live each day assuming we are immortal, that we have all the time in the world. And because of this, we live superficial lives. Life is wasted, precious time poured down the drain of Netflix, social media, and pornography.

It reminds me of the final, shocking scene in Flannery O'Connor's most anthologized story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." The Misfit says, after shooting the grandmother, "She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." 

That is precisely Pascal's point. Death is holding a gun at us. We just pretend it isn't there. But if we gave it more thought we might have a chance at being better people.

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

Leave a Reply