I have been thinking about the above famous saying of Pascal for quite a long time in the context of the dominance of a scientific worldview that now pervades almost every aspect of modern life and thought. But, on further reflection, the problem today is not so much science as such but stems from the viewpoint of those who have turned science into an ideology i.e “ scientism”: the belief that the scientific methodology is capable of answering all of life’s questions along with the conviction that any questions that don’t yield to this methodology simply do not exist. So out go God and religion, being classified as a “delusion” (Richard Dawkins).
One man who vehemently disagreed with this was Blaise Pascal. He was a brilliant mathematician, inventor and scientist. Although he had a huge influence and left an important legacy in all these areas, especially mathematics, economics and the social sciences (probability theory), `one of the better known instances where his name crops up is in the nightly weather forecasts (hecto- Pascals).
Despite his brilliance in all these areas, he was acutely aware of the limitations of the scientific methodology. Like all genuine scientists he accepted that the scientific methodology was limited to finding out WHAT things are (naming them) and showing HOW they work.
Apart from his scientific prowess (or perhaps because of it) he was a profoundly Christian man and a practicing Catholic. In this area he has become justly famous (or infamous depending on which side of the “scientism” line you stand) for his “wager”. This is spelled out in his little book (Pensees) in number 418. In essence what he says here is that if we are struggling with faith and belief in the midst of a “scientism” worldview, then the way through is to accept the wager and behave “as if” you already believe by entering a church building, blessing yourself with holy water, going down on your knees and humbly asking God for the gift of faith.
This works, believe me. I tried it and know it is true. I separated myself from the Church for a period of almost thirty years. During this time I stopped going to mass and ceased any Christian prayer. I began searching for alternatives in New Age “spirituality” and eastern meditation practices. The results left me profoundly dissatisfied. I now compare that period of my life to that of a hungry man trying to satisfy his hunger by stuffing himself with fluffy buns.
So out of a deep sense of loneliness and emptiness and without knowing that I was actually accepting Pascal’s wager, I started by going down on my knees before bedtime and asking God to help me.
That progressed to gradually returning to Sunday Mass, later to the sacrament of confession and, eventually , to greater participation in the life of the Church.
The heart, indeed, has it’s reasons that reason knows nothing about.