Pascal & Dogma (was Re: Reply on Religion and Marxism: 2)

Mervyn Hartwig mh at
Wed Jan 3 13:22:02 MST 2001

Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at> writes
>"Who then will condemn Christians for being unable to give rational
>grounds for their belief, professing as they do a religion for which
>they cannot give rational grounds?"  Pascal said this in the
>seventeenth century, and he did not say it to mock Christianity -- on
>the contrary, he turned the tables and made the very inability to
>give rational grounds a hallmark of Christian faith.  "They
>[Christians] declare that it is a folly, _stultitiam_, in expounding
>it to the world, and then you complain that they do not prove it.  If
>they did prove it they would not be keeping their word.  It is being
>without proof that they show they are not without sense."  At the
>dawn of modernity, thinking persons couldn't swallow the dogma of the
>church as it was.  Pascal (who was a man of science and brilliant
>mathematician) had to defend the indefensible, as it were, so he made
>a bold move: he exposed that nothing stood behind dogma & orthodoxy
>-- there was no guarantee -- and turned faith into a question of
>existential choice: "Let us then examine this point, and let us say,
>'Either God is or he is not.'  But to which view shall we be
>inclined?  Reason cannot decide this question.  Infinite chaos
>separates us.  At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is
>being spun which will come down heads or tails.  How will you wager?"
>With a stroke of an anti-foundational genius, so to speak, Pascal
>saved Christianity and Its Dogma from feudal stagnation & succeeded
>in making them appear (to a large number of intellectuals-to-come for
>whom Christianity as it had existed wouldn't do) as if they were a
>matter of intellectual daring, exciting adventure in the realm of
>heterodox paradoxes.  That is the way dogma has survived -- passing
>for heterodoxy.

Why don't you come out from behind your big quotes, Yoshie, and address
the issues? You hide behind them like a child behind its mother's
skirts, or an academic behind his desk. I haven't espoused Pascal's
'existential choice' or said that there are no rational grounds for
religious belief (or disbelief) - on the contrary. So your spiel here is
entirely beside the point in the current discussion.

You do this kind of thing regularly. Most recently, your spiel re the
impossibility of private language was also totally beside the point re
whether you can have private experience, since experience (e.g. Lou's of
his cigar) does not have to be expressed in language and is not
reducible to it. Linguistic imperialism, of the POMO variety.

>P.S.  Nowadays, no thinking person in academia and think tanks can
>afford to seem less than "heterodox," since to be "heterodox" has
>come to mean the same thing as to be "bravely on the cutting edge"
>and thus become a good marketing pitch.  Even conservatives have to
>have a magazine named _Heterodoxy_....

Do I detect just a hint of the ad hominem here (a good indicator of
desperation)? For the record, I am not an academic or in a think tank.
(In a previous life I was an academic but gave it up early to free
myself from wage slavery.) I have no career to be a careerist about.

I still have heard nothing on this list to suggest that the chauvinism
of (what you regard as) Marxist othodoxy re ontological materialism is
at all warranted, and a good deal (from Sid and others, and most
recently from Chris Caudwell via Lou) to suggest that it isn't.

It looks more and more like the mechanistic materialism of Hobbes and
Bentham, or of Plekhanov, than the materialism Marx actually espoused.

Mervyn Hartwig
13 Spenser Road
Herne Hill
London SE24 ONS
United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7 737 2892
Email: mh at

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