Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Shedding a little light...
I ran into a blessed philosopher yesterday and confided my frustrations with the thesis on Pascal. After ruefully recounting my attempts at clarity, I asked, "There's no right answer, though, is there? I'm not looking for the right answer, am I?"
"No," she said, "there's no right answer. Your job is just to shed a little more light on the subject."
Of course, I went immediately into mystical raptures over this revelation of the end for which I create the thesis at all. To illuminate--not definitively disclose--the truth of Pascal's project. Thank heavens.
This also allays many of the frustrations one feels in teaching history. Last year, I led a seminar in early modern history for high school juniors and seniors. The books we were assigned by the school's curriculum were determined to present the "right answer" to all historical problems; that means they sought to explain away all the awkwardness of the Inquisition, the conquistadores, Galileo, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, etc. It was so easy and so nauseatingly comfortable to be able to say: "And that's why it all happened the way it did. And here's how we can justify the ways of God to man, and man to God."
But what is harder, in a way, to say is that the end for which we study history is not to find the definitive answers and justifications for "the good guys." The reason we read history is to shed light on, among other things, human nature, our own origins, and the rise and fall of human civilizations.
I also find history to be a particularly convincing lesson in original sin, but, again, it only sheds light on sin. History does not prove anything (such as, original sin) in the way the hard sciences can prove something (such as, the existence of microorganisms). It simply sheds a little more light on the truth of who we are, who God is, and where we are going.