May 19, 2014
Dedicated to Ed and Alice Ann Grayson
When aged eleven, I read Pascal’s Pensees for the first time, I was particularly struck by one sentence – among many others – in which this noble thinker declares man to be the most wonderful object in nature. God’s creation is indeed incredibly rich and mysterious, but why should Pascal claim that man is the most amazing of them all? Life has taught me how right he was.
I shall make a modest effort to shed some light on this claim.
Genesis tells us that man is the only creature mentioned in this sacred book that is made to God’s image and likeness. The admirable variety of animals, beautiful as they are, have not received this privilege. But the mystery that is man is clearly referred to when God tells us that he formed Adam’s body from the slime of the earth – a very modest material – but then gave him an immortal soul, a purely spiritual substance that has none of the characteristics of matter. It has no color, no weight, does not occupy space, to mention some of the most prominent. In other words, man is made up of two radically different substances which, nevertheless, are so closely united in him that they are one: to be a human being is to have a soul animating a body.
When we compare man with the most perfect animals – namely mammals – we immediately perceive that similar as they seem to be, this very similarity hides abysmal differences which lazy philosophers (i.e. materialists) deny for the sake of convenience. Clearly attracted by the law “of the least intellectual effort”, they reduce every phenomenon to matter. Materialism claims that whatever exists is essentially measurable and related to space. Thought is a product of the brain; as a matter of fact, its relationship to the brain can be likened to the relation between urine and the kidneys (Max Stirner). What we call intelligence is only a more subtle form of instinct, and as Falstaff stated emphatically, “Instinct is a great thing.” A consequence of this “philosophy” is that death is the terminal end of human existence. To die is “to cease to be” as John Keats poignantly feared in one of his poems. On the other hand, materialists, convinced as they are that science and science alone can solved all questions, tell us that sooner or later, it will solve all the problems of man’s existence. They give their disciples some glimmer of hope that one day, man will be able prolong life indefinitely. Science will conquer death. Materialists emphatically deny the immortality of the soul while prophesying the possible “immortality” of matter. One thing is certain: science has already taught us how to destroy the world. If man cannot as yet say “be” and bring new beings into existence, it now definitely can say: “be not” and reduce our material world to dust and ashes.