Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Natural born liars (Pascal)

Quote from Pascal's Pensées [100], Kindle edition

So each degree of good fortune which raises us in the world removes us farther from truth, because we are most afraid of wounding those whose affection is most useful and whose dislike is most dangerous. A prince may be the byword of all Europe, and he alone will know nothing of it. I am not astonished. To tell the truth is useful to those to whom it is spoken, but disadvantageous to those who tell it, because it makes them disliked. Now those who live with princes love their own interests more than that of the prince whom they serve; and so they take care not to confer on him a benefit so as to injure themselves.

This evil is no doubt greater and more common among the higher classes; but the lower are not exempt from it, since there is always some advantage in making men love us. Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each knew what his friend said of him in his absence, although he then spoke in sincerity and without passion.

Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart.

This bleak diagnosis of the human condition would be almost too much to take, or one would be tempted to shrug it off as the work of an incurable cynic, if not for the fact that it brilliantly describes the way things are. Pascal isn't merely trying to make us feel awful. He's peeling away layers of mankind's self-deceit in order to reveal our universal need for a Redeemer -- the one of whom it was written "there was no deceit in his mouth." Only he can lead us out of the thicket of deceit, into the way of truth.

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