(One of) My History Hang-ups

Any Star Trek fans out there? The Original Series? Do you remember the episode called “The City on the Edge of Forever”? No? Okay, here’s a short story, a blend of science fiction, mid-sixties silliness, and historical play: Dr. McCoy has passed through the Guardian of Forever, a portal into time and space that could [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: Fire

When Pascal died, those who prepared his body for burial found sewn into the lining of his jacket a small piece of paper. Apparently he carried it with him everywhere he went, transferring it from jacket to jacket as they were changed, through the last eight years of his life. Clearly, this paper, called the [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: An Indiana Jones Kind of Faith?

Earlier we took a quick look at a scientific experiment conducted by Pascal in 1646, and we considered the ways that that experiment led him to two general “laws” of knowledge. If we want to know what is truly true, we will not rely only on what we’ve been told, and we will not rely [Read More…]

Pascal, Ash Wednesday, and the Hidden God

In the Anglican Ash Wednesday ritual, we pray for the grace of true repentance. Repentance means to turn around, which obviously means you’re going to be looking in a different direction, seeing something that was “behind your back” before. And what do we see when we repent? “Jesus Christ is the object of all things, [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: Poised Between Two Worlds

Last week we explored the Jansenist effort to reconstruct Christian community as the fellowship of the really-serious-no-compromise-do-it-right-all-the-time-damn-it. While part of me wishes I could actually be the ascetic that this demands, the other part of me is sitting here eating potato chips. I suspect Pascal had fewer bouts of self-indulgence, but something kept him from [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: The Augustinian Problem

In pursuing Pascal, it is not long before we come face-to-face with a conundrum. It’s the sticky wicket that challenged Pascal, and while we won’t be able to resolve it, we can at least look at it. Last week we talked about the violent division in French society between Catholics and Protestants. Religious conflict wasn’t [Read More…]

I Can Speak Whale: Interrupted by Moby-Dick

Pascal by day, but Melville by night. No wonder I can’t get a New Year’s letter out the door. Last night I finished Moby-Dick, an enterprise I started, once, long ago, and found too mind-numbing even for me. My daughter, an English Lit major, warned me. “Read only if assigned. Then you can write a [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: The Back Story

Okay, this week we’re diving into French history, which might not be your cup of tea. But I’ll try to make you feel it was worth your while. If we back up a bit to the 16th century, we find France undergoing seismic shifts in economy, religion, and culture—all of these, of course, playing on [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: A Personality Quirk?

As we pointed out last week, Pascal’s actual scientific and mathematical work has been far surpassed. We may like stories about Euclid and Galileo, Newton and Leibniz but we don’t usually come across them in the Google rankings of “most quotable.” In fact, for a scientist/logician/mathematician, Pascal has a remarkably unscientific reputation among many contemporary [Read More…]

Becoming Neo-Pascalian: An Introduction, from Cones to Gambling

Pascal, this unusual 17th-century giant, seems to be poised to speak again from a distance to a 21st-century generation feeling pulled in multiple directions. While Pascal’s life was unusual for his age, he seems oddly a man of our time in many ways. Most common people of the 17th century had very limited exposure to [Read More…]

Becoming a Neo-Pascalian

Yesterday I wound up the last obligations of my fall courses. This included grading a handful of papers I couldn’t finish before the holidays. Many of these papers were from the Spiritual Formation class I teach—galloping through scripture and speed-dating with historical figures who have so brilliantly pointed the way for us. There they are, [Read More…]

Ad(vent)oration

The darkness of December weighs heavily. Despite the glories of living in Colorado, with its bright blue skies and the heady weight of light during the days, still, December is dark early and late. Dark when we leave in the morning; dark as we drive home from work. The day barely peaks before the long [Read More…]