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My Philosophical Testament by Jean Guitton

In Preparation

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Part 1: My Death.  Second Interview - with Blaise Pascal.

Jean Guitton
Blaise Pascal

JEAN GUITTON, 1901 - 1999, was a Christian philosopher, writer, painter, novelist and journalist.

BLAISE PASCAL, 1623 - 1662, was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher.  He was a child prodigy who while still a teenager invented the mechanical calculator and he wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen, Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he had his "second conversion", abandoned his scientific work, and devoted himself to philosophy and theology.  His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées.   Pascal had poor health especially after his eighteenth year and his death came just two months after his 39th birthday.

How Blaise Pascal approached my bedside to cross-examine me on my reasons for believing in God

Then a man entered gently on tip toe, he was dressed as a member of the bourgeoisie from the time of Louis XIII.  He held in his hand a small plumed hat.

So, I said to myself, you've come back.  I'faith, no, this is somebody, but it's not him.

- Who are you?

I asked the stranger.

- Don't you recognise me?  You have painted my portrait.  You've kept it on show in your office for twenty years.

- What?  Come here.  Nearer, I can't make out your features.  Heavens!  It's Blaise Pascal!  I'm dreaming.  I'm hallucinating.  This is too much!

- You are not dreaming.  It is indeed I.

- But I wasn't expecting you!

- So I am the unexpected one. Or to put it another way, let's say I have come from God.

- Pascal, if you only knew how, throughout my life, I have been inspired by your Pensées.

- I have come to energise your last thoughts.

- I am not worthy of such an honour.

- Congratulations, Guitton.  You've just put our enemy to flight.

- However I didn't want to upset him.

- In that case you have given him little pleasure.  You've embarrassed him in the most fashionable quarters.  He's asphyxiated.  The police have run him in.  He's been hospitalised!

- Everybody says I am on the point of death, but I feel better and better.  Marzena!  Marzena!

She came in, her spirits restored.  Pascal was out of her line of vision.  She didn't see him.

- Marzena, help me to sit up, please.

- Master, it's not necessary.

- I feel better, I tell you.  Marzena, don't argue with me.  You'll be the death of me.

So she propped me up and put some cushions behind my head.  But she didn't do it properly. She never did it properly.  She pretended I was never satisfied.  The number of stiff necks I've had, thanks to her negligence!  Even when I wasn't dying, I was in bed two thirds of the day.  It's my healthy living.  That's how I have lived to a hundred.  Due to the importance of pillows.

- No.  Behind the head.  No, that's no good, either.  I am not comfortable like that.

- There we are, Master.

- Not like that.

She raised her eyes to heaven.  I couldn't see her face, but I knew she raised her eyes to heaven.

- Like that, Master?

- No.  That doesn't make any difference.  Leave us.

She gave a scared look around her, saw Pascal, jumped and let out a cry.

- It's Pascal. Don't pretend you haven't seen him before.  His picture has been on my desk for the last twenty years.  Draw up that chair for him!

She did as I asked, and left without a word, petrified.  Pascal threw his hat onto a sofa, drew up his chair beside my bed and sat down.

After a moment:

Jean Guitton
Blaise Pascal

- I feel so much better.  It appears I am going to continue with the comedy of my last will and testament.

- Why a comedy?

- Ever since I was eighty, I have felt like a bird trilling its message.  Every time time I write a book, I add an introduction, explaining that this is my last testament.   I've done this more than a dozen times.  People laugh at me.  They think I'm senile.  But each time I am exhausted by the effort, and think I'm about to breathe my last.

- Guitton, you've been lucky to live to a hundred.  You've had time to complete your work.

- You've been luckier than me Pascal.  You've only had time to make a sketch.  Sketches are always better.  But tell me: why have you come to see me?

- I wanted to question you.

- Really?  It's me who should be questioning you.

- On the contrary, he who sent me says it is you who should reply.

- He who sent you?  What do you mean?

- I cannot say any more.

- Alright, I'm listening.

- My first question, Guitton, is how do you explain religious indifference?

- I've been asking myself that for eighty years.

- And the answer?

- I don't like giving answers, Pascal.  I'll tell you why.  Today when one gives answers to people, one gives the impression of taking them for idiots, and also one impedes their freedom.

- Guitton, tomorrow you will be dead.  Don't worry about people and answer me.  I am here to give you the initiative. come back at you.

- You've forgotten what the world is like.  Believe me, Pascal, someone will leak our conversation to the papers.  I need to make a success of my departure.  If I lapse into being edifying, people will say I died senile

- Fashions change.  They're changing already.  Speak of your salvation.  Write of eternity.  That way you will be contemporary.  Now, how do you explain religious indifference?

- Man is both a religious and a materialist animal.  He has a tendency to invent both religious materialism and materialist religions.

- So this religious animal arrives at materialising his religion?

- Exactly.  And to making his materialism holy.  Healing an illness, succeeding at business, passing exams, etc.  He prays to God, and expects material benefits.

- That's sometimes the case.

- It's often the case, Pascal.  Little by little, man limits his religion to practical materialism and self interest.  In time of war, the churches are full of the faithful, who forget the true path to peace.

- There is truth in what you say.  But don't you think you should qualify it?

- At a hundred I am no longer of an age for nuances.  I just accept my exaggerations and balance them one against the other.

- I used to pray for my sister to be healed.  It was more than a medical or a psychological need.  God is a father and has pleasure in giving.  Why would you want to prevent us asking for things?

- I prevent nothing.  It's not the practice I criticise, but the abuse.

- Even over the abuse, I find you too severe.  Even materialist and self-interested prayers can have more spirituality than you seem to believe.  And charity excuses everything.

- Charity!  These days that only means almsgiving.

- For me that always means divine love.

- Words are devalued quicker than money.

- In the end through wanting to be charitable, we lose our discrimination.

- That's less serious than losing all charity.

- One sees you've completed your time in Purgatory.   You didn't think that way, when you wrote your Provinciales

- Guitton, don't imitate the naughtiness of man.  Imitate the goodness of God.

- My dear pascal, I recognise in your words all the indugence of the Church.

- But in the end, please allow that religion, without degenerating, cannot be reduced to a mass of material demands.

- I admit it.

Cardinal Richelieu

- In my opinion, that is what happened in a pre-industrial age and still often happens today.   Man has formed an idea of God, as a supernatural distributor of material advantages.

- That rings true.

- Richelieu suffered from migrains.  He prayed God to remove them.  Do you think he prayed for other things?

- I hope so, for his sake.

- Me too.  But let's suppose, for the sake of our discourse that he only prayed for that.  What idea could he form of God?

- A sort of celestial aspirin, I suppose.  What has that to do with religious indifference?

- Invent the aspirin, and Richelieu stops praying.

- I see.  Will he also stop being a religious animal?

- No.  But God would become idle; an idle god, Pascal, as there is in many religions, a god who one knows is there, but who has no place, no role in our lives.  A god to whom one no longer prays, or hardly at all.

- So, you are saying, scientific progress is responsible for religious indifference.

- Since he has acquired scientific know how, man has asked the scientists to provide what he used to ask God for.  At a stroke he is no longer concerned with God.  It seems he no longer has need of Him.

- Medicine postpones death and even banishes the thought of it.

- The anxiety is always there, but the thought of death is less conscious.  The less man is frightened of dying tomorrow, the more he leads life as if he is immortal.  He thinks about petty things and ignores his destiny.  He only thinks about that when he has one foot in the grave.

- So you have answered my first question.  My second is: 'what do you think about anti-religious aggression?'

- Less than in my youth.  It's explained in the same way as indifference.  Man holds a grudge against God for not performing as well as the technicians.  He feels humiliated to have had to ask Him for what we can now acquire for ourselves.  He no longer supports the idea of a superior being, whose usefulnes he no longer accepts.

- But in the final analysis, Guitton, it's God, who has given us the hands and intelligence.  Our technology is still a gift from God.

- I agree.  I'm only answering your question about how people think.

- Would you say that philosophy is beginning to interest people again?

- Yes and without doubt an interest in religion is being regained.  Philosophy and an interest in God go together

- So in your opinion, Guitton, will the religiously indifferent regard philosophy as useless as religion?

- Certainly, the majority are satisfied with material paradise, bodily health and with what the state provides.  The common sentiments of the masses are materialism, scepticism, scientism, pragamatism, etc; and yet basically man remains religious.

- So according to you, religious indifference is a novelty?

- In my opinion it has only changed form.  In the old days a materialist and superstitious religion prayed to God for material favours while remaining indifferent to a mystical relation with God.

- So conversely, does modern materialism contain a religious element?

- Yes, man remains a religious animal.  Even his atheism has something religious.  The two last centuries have been agitated by the mysteries of history, of liberty, of progress.

- I'm left with the impression that they have not made a great difference.

- True.  Technolgy has had perverse results. Science in its turn poses metaphysical problems.  Politics has failed.  Once again there is a place for religion.

- Which religion?  Materialist or authentic?

- Both, Pascal, and furthermore a mixture of the two.

- Tell me, Guitton, can there really be such a thing as a materialist religion today?

- Certainly, luxuries offering added materialistic satisfaction, exquisite and unnecessary emotions and perceptions for the sensitive or curious, the restoration of sacred meaning to disenchanted eroticism, a taste for fantasy and horror, the esoteric and symbolic, clairvoyance and magic, the need to live in communes, joining sects, and so on.

- Hasn't all of that always existed?

- Certainly, but it has proliferated thanks to both satisying and unsatisfying materialism. Don't tell anybody, Pascal, but on the point of leaving this life I am more and more hostile to religion.

Henry Bergson

- Bergson said so too.

- True. In his The Two Sources of Morality and Religion he writes, "the spectacle of what were religions as well as of some that still are, is demeaning to human intelligence."
































Third Interview - with Henri Bergson.


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