Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pascal on Christianity and . . . the Blues.

The Harvard Classics 15 min. a day program is an excellent way to dip into something thoughtful for a moment or two. I've commenced the habit and was rewarded with an excerpt from Blaise Pascal's Thoughts. I had heard of Pascal's mathematical achievements, but I was unaware of his passion for religion. Indeed, he devoted much of his intellectual life to defending the Jansenist sect of Catholicism.

In the particular essay I read, he posits that a person must come to know 1) there is a God and 2) their need for redemption, or their "wretchedness," as he put it. The world is set up in such a way as to make us aware of those two facts. There are moments when we experience the reality of God: in nature, in the power of love, our consciences may evidence it. But there are equally moments of godlessness . . . when we sin or watch the sufferings of others at the hand of sin or natural disasters, etc. In other words, our experience is set up in such a way that we experience both the reality of God and the reality of living in a fallen world, a world in which we are separated from God . . . hence the need for a divine intermediary, Jesus Christ. Christianity allows us to make sense of why we sometimes feel God is there, and why we sometimes feel that He isn't. That's because he *is* there, it's just that, in our current fallen state, we are separated from him. Pascal's reasoning is perhaps the closest we can ever come to answering the question, "If God is real, then why do bad things happen?" In fact, Pascal explained that our awareness of evil and suffering can potentially be faith-promoting because it can prove to us the need for Jesus Christ.

This line of thinking brought the blues to mind. I've always wondered why blues music feels so powerful and I wonder if it has something to do with the blending of the major and minor modes . . . do we possibly hear that as a musical metaphor for life, with it's blending of good and evil as discussed by Pascal, as experienced by all of us? I think the blues might be an excellent sonic illustration of Christian doctrine.