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Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's "Pensees" [Paperback]

Peter J. Kreeft
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's "Pensees" + Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith
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Product details

  • Paperback: 341 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (Dec 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898704529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898704525
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.5 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 618,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Provoking Read. 26 Sep 2002
By MQ
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book on a whim, having not heard of either Pascal or Kreeft. I was so glad when the book arrived and I began to explore the Pensees, which are excellently arranged and discussed by Kreeft. I am now a big fan of the 17th century mathematician, physicist and theologian. The book is provoking and insightful - get it!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent discussion of the basic problem of man 18 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I struggled on my own with my existential crisis and frustration with our greatness/wretchedness and rediscovered the faith I had shelved. I read this book much later and it was an eloquent treatment of my path through the dark night! Pascal is great and Peter Kreeft adds much, with his elegant and illuminating comments. I use a lot of material from this book when talking with secular optimists and pessimists. I really like all the Kreeft books that I have read and he is a good speaker, too. I could not put down this book and have re-read it several times, in whole or parts. Highly recommended!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful book 12 May 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Well done book by Peter Kreeft, a very powerful author. I greatly appreciated reading his organization of the Pensees. I recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding Christianity.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Christianity for Modern Pagans 21 Feb 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This commentary on Pascal' thoughts looks well-researched, but I found it fundamentally disappointing.
I am an artist and I bought the book because I am fascinated by the concept of "belief" and how it might relate to "deceit".
I had expected to find an exploration of the ideas of Pascal but was disappointed with the commentary on Pascal's words. Although "dogmatism" is condemned on many occasions in the commentary, I was struck by how much of it there seemed to be in the text. To take one example, in Chapter 9 "Vanity of the Philosophers" is the statement "Pascal is a prophet. Descartes is a false prophet". Well, that's handy to know!
Overall I found the adversarial tone prevented me from engaging with the commentary, and it seems I will need to look elsewhere for enlightenment on Pascal.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent discussion of the basic problem of man 18 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I struggled on my own with my existential crisis and frustration with our greatness/wretchedness and rediscovered the faith I had shelved. I read this book much later and it was an eloquent treatment of my path through the dark night! Pascal is great and Peter Kreeft adds much, with his elegant and illuminating comments. I use a lot of material from this book when talking with secular optimists and pessimists. I really like all the Kreeft books that I have read and he is a good speaker, too. I could not put down this book and have re-read it several times, in whole or parts. Highly recommended!
68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My "Thoughts" exactly... 1 Aug 2005
By Corum Seth Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am a fan of both Kreeft and Pascal. I think some other reviewers have hit on many of the same reasons I like this book, but here's my own take.

First of all, there was a philosophical movement in Europe at the turn of the 18th century called the Enlightenment. No single wave of thought can take as much credit for influencing the modern world as the Enlightenment. That movement was a tidal wave that swept up every major philosopher for the last three hundred years. Pascal was one of the only thinkers not swept up in the powerful riptides of that "revolution." One of my favorite quotes in the book is that Enlightenment tries to do "life itself as a science." Yet Pascal knew that man was not the measure of all things, but a twisted contradiction of greatness and wretchedness. Herein I believe, lies much of his insight; he is not a strict Enlightenment idealist.

Rather, Pascal is a philsophical and theological realist who brought his bluntness and passion to the fields not only of philosophy, but science and math. Pascal was fortunate enough to brandish insights in all of these disciplines. My favorite parts of his thought, however, correspond to his philosophy.

These insights were the "Pensees," his thoughts. I think every Christian should know "The Wager" argument by heart. It is brilliant. Everything to lose and everything to gain; life often revolves around the choices we make and the corresponding benefits or harms that result.

Pascal is almost what you get when you try to blend the strengths of Augustine and Aquinas; a passionate minister (Augustine) mixed with the masterful logic of the Summa (Aquinas) rolled into one neat package. He was not a Cartesian dualist who saw mind and body as separate. Rather, Pascal realized that heart and soul live in the same body, at odds with one another, yet neither ever totally conquering the other.

Also, Pascal is what I would have called in my college days as a philosopher a "non-dry" thinker. That is, Pensees goes down a lot easier than Nichomachean Ethics because it is more accessible and heartfelt. Argument is shrouded in vernacular expression, passion is not seen as antithetical to the cause of strengthening an already sound position.

I highly recommend this book, Kreeft has some good commentary that helps simplify the very complex "Thoughts/Pensees" of one of the most brilliant thinkers ever.
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing from many angles... 1 July 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Where to begin? Kreeft spends the introductory chapter providing some historical background on Blaise, which is laudable, since few know much of him besides his being a 17th century mathematician. Kreeft reorders the Pensees from what is believed to be Pascal's intended order, but I think the decision makes sense, since Kreeft explains the structure and his reasons for it. The book is arranged into 28 chapters, varying in length, that build upon each other very naturally. There are a very few instances when Kreeft's commentary seems somewhat off the direct intent of Pascal's thought, but these are rare. By and large, however, Kreeft is tremendously helpful in providing the historical, literary, or philosophical background necessary to unveil the genius of Pascal. Pascal is so subtle, shrewd, and thorough, and his overall insight into human nature is startling and silencing. Several of his longer essays leaving you grasping for superlatives. His thoughts on the sinful, wretched nature of human beings was particularly incisive, since we seem to view sin in increasingly external terms, i.e. things that we do, actions we take. The subtle, internal sins (the sin that we ARE?) are nearly forgotten, but Pascal shines brilliant light on them, to the point where you just stop and sit sheepishly. Pascal possesses such a rare honesty, and just insight, insight, insight, ad nauseum. He SEES so much, and we should be ashamed at how shallow our handling of life, truth, and belief so often is. Would that we all face and ponder the realities of our existence so squarely, but even here, Pascal is unpacking why we do not. Folks looking for philosophical proofs and arguments will not find as many as they hope, but the reason becomes clear the further one travels in the book. They are there, but secondary to far more intimate matters. As I read, I was alternately impressed with Pascal and Kreeft. Kreeft's writing style is very breezy and nonchalant, but he possesses great acuity and clarity, and a wonderful linquistic flair. Imagine that: a brilliant, careful thinker, and a fine writer too. While a few of his comments left me scratching my head in ignorance, the remainder are the glove to Pascal's verbal hand. I cannot recommend this book enough. It took me several months to work through (although I lost some time due to lack of discipline), but it's worth every moment. I caution you to read slowly and carefully, as the sometimes short, pithy nature of the Pensees can encourage complacent speed. Methodical, deliberate reading is advised; take the time to work through the commentary and see how things fit. This is a fantastic book in every way.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent cure for atheism/agnosticism/skepticism 28 Feb 2004
By Kevin Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Dr. Peter Kreeft (Philosopher at Boston College) has created another fine addition to his exstensive list of orthodox Christian philosophy, theology, and apologetics books. Here, Kreeft takes Pascal's Pensees (which he deems as the greatest work in apologetics), edits, outlines, and explains them with much focus on the modern world that was just beginning in Pascal's day (17th century) and has culminated in our "late modern" world of atheism, nihilism, existentialism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, neo-Marxism, and, in general, confusion. It can be argued that Pascal was the first Christian to really engage with the materialist-rationalist turn in Western thought (via Descartes, Hume, Hobbes, and others) that gave us the epistemological crisis of current discourse (that Kant tried to solve and Nietzsche embraced).

I thought it would be helpful to give a rather random example of how Kreeft takes one of the Pensees and expounds on it:

Pascal: Nothing presented to the soul is simple, and the soul never applies itself simply to any subject. That is why the same thing makes us laugh and cry.
Kreeft: This is why life is neither a tragedy nor a comedy but a tragicomedy. If we do not both laugh and cry at life, we do not understand it. ...People are never simple. They are good-and-evil, happy-and-wretched. We are also flesh-and-spirit. God is not simply either. He is one-and-three, person-and-nature, just-and-merciful, eternal-and-dynamic, transcendent-and-immanent. Only abstractions are simple. The only language with no ambiguity, no analogy and no poetry is mathematics. That's why it's the only language computers can "understand": it doesn't require understanding at all.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr Kreeft does a fine job 29 Aug 2001
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dr Peter Kreeft does a fine job of presenting a summary of Pascal's thought. The primary selections he presents give the modern reader a well rounded look at this lone sane voice crying out in the wilderness of modern philosophy. Kreeft also supplies footnoted comments to Pascal's writings that are quite insightful and helpful. This is a fine introduction into Pascal's apologetic and I highly recommend it.
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