Blaise Pascal was an antisemite

You’ve probably heard of Blaise Pascal, whether because of his work in mathematics and physics, or because of Pascal’s Wager (the “believe in God just in case so you don’t go to Hell”) argument. What you many not know is that the Pensées, famous for being the source of the Wager, are also pretty damn antisemitic, perhaps most blatantly in this passage:

640. It is a wonderful thing, and worthy of particular attention, to see this Jewish people existing so many years in perpetual misery, it being necessary as a proof of Jesus Christ both that they should exist to prove Him and that they should be miserable because they crucified Him; and though to be miserable and to exist are contradictory, they nevertheless still exist in spite of their misery.

Similarly, in 735 Pascal says it was prophesied “That the Jews would reject Jesus Christ, and would be rejected of God.”

It’s worth emphasizing that this sort of antisemitism–as opposed to the loony racial theories of the Nazis–makes a great deal of sense in the context of orthodox Christianity. One point should be relatively obvious (but maybe isn’t, given how uncomfortable even “conservative” Christians have gotten about these doctrines): that Christians like Pascal thought all non-Christians were damned, Jews included. That’s the point of the Wager, after all.

The less-obvious point is that in the Bible, God often punishes the people of Israel or the people of Judah collectively for the misdeeds of a few individuals, like their king or whoever. Against that background, it makes a lot of sense to think that once some Jews killed Jesus, God would respond by punishing all of them (except the minority who converted to Christianity). Similar points, by the way, can be made about Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies.

  • smrnda

    I’m surprised how willing Christians are to quote and admire anti-semites, or make apologies for them. I think though that Martin Luther might have been the worst, his writings would have fit within the third reich quite well.

    • eric

      Protestants do not view Luther the way RCCs view the popes or Peter. One of the paradoxes of protestantism is that they threw out the argument from human authority and said everyone after Jesus was just a fallible human. I say paradoxical because this jutification for rejecting the authority of the RCC opened the door for everyone within the movement to reject the authority of Luther, Calvin, and the other early protestant leaders. Protestantism sowed the seeds of its own factionalism.

      So, they admire the good stuff he wrote and throw out the bad. Before you say that is irrational or nonsensical, consider that most everyone – you, me, Christian, non-Chrisitian – does that with historical figures we admire. You, like me and everyone else, probably admire Newton for his Principia but throw out his alchemy, right? That’s what Lutherans do with Luther.

  • Jinx

    It does not surprise me that Blaise Pascal was anti-Semitic; unfortunately, quite a few people of his day were. Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest recorded prejudices in Western culture; there are plenty of writings from as far back as the 14th century that have strongly anti-Jewish sentiment.

    Many theists have far too much faith in Pascal and his wager. There are many in the philosophical community who believe that Pascal’s wager is illogical and rather silky. There are a variety of valid objections, ranging from the percentage chance that is assigned for the existence of God (it is not 50/50) to the many deities counterargument (how can you be so sure that you have picked the right God to worship?).

    • Alan

      14th century? Try 2nd century – anti-Jewish sentiment is part of the core of classic Christianity.

  • Thorn

    Antisemitism may not have been created by Christianity (the Romans weren’t keen on the jews either) but the Churches did nurture and propogate it, spreading it all around the world. And then they have the nerve to blame atheists for Hitler, when the holocaust is the clear result of hundreds of years of church-backed antisemitism (and anti-homosexual preaching).

    It’s not surprising they were desperate to discredit the jews, since most jews can tell you that Jesus was not the Messiah, since he didn’t fulfill most of the prophecies (and no, ‘he’ll do it later’ is not a good enough excuse).

    Disclaimer-I know not all Christians are anti-semites. Nor are atheists immune to this strain of bigotry. It is a fact, however, that Christianity has not been kind to the jews. It’s one of the things religion does well, create an outgroup and then demonise them (often literally). Thankfully prejudice against jews seems to be reducing nowadays, although some interpretation of Islam are pretty hateful towards them too.
    Of course it’s a logical fallacy to say that because Pascal was an antisemite he was therefore wrong about everything else. I think his wager is misleading- I would not know how to believe in God, even if I wanted to. It’s not just something you can decide, in my experience. Then there’s the endless question of which God? Which denomination? Allah promises hellfire for unbelievers too, good luck believing in him and Yahweh simultaneously!

  • Darren

    Pascal’s wager for being an Anti-semite? You hate Jews or you do not hate Jews. Jews really are out to rule the world and destroy Christianity or they are not.

    Hmmmm… So, Hitler was just playing the odds.


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