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The Provincial Letters Paperback – July 29, 2012
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However, the book as published by NuVision Publications contains no comments, nor information about the background of the dispute (it does have contents, nevertheless). Not even a single paragraph for Pascal's life (born? - died?), his education and the impact (if any) his letters had in literature. It seems that the body of the letters was taken from a website (there are many containing all letters) and printed exactly as appeared, justified and page-numbered. I think that the price is too high considering the work it took to be published, or the rights the publishers did (not) pay. So, 5-star rate for the Letters, and 1 for the book.
Anyway, not everyone appreciated Pascal's humor. If you want a second opinion for Pascal, try "Men of Mathematics" by the reputable E. T. Bell, who wrote that "among other things which Pascal totally [sic] lacked was a sense of humor". What a bummer, eh?
The style and content is very similar to Soren Kierkegaard's Attack Upon Christendom.
Though irony is not often used today as a method for theological inquiry and challenge, I would love to see it implemented more, as it makes for great reading while at the same time making powerful and pointed thelogical critiques of one's opponents.
Pascal wrote these letters in defense of his Jansenist friends who were being branded as heretics by the Jesuits. At the time, the Jesuits were a powerful religious order who basically taught Christianity all over the world.
In the Provincial Letters, Pascal exposes and ridicules the doctrines of the Jesuits, especially the "doctrine of probable opinions". The Jesuits (supposedly) were attempting to update the Christian doctrine to satisfy the lax morals of the modern world. In an attempt to "widen the pipe" to heaven, the Jesuits developed "modern" church doctrine (while ignoring traditional church doctrine, and the scriptures) to compensate for societies lax morals.
Pascal, defender of the faith, effectively ridicules their doctrines and shows their errors.
A word of caution, the letters are difficult going with respect to discussions on the finer theological points of view (how far we have fallen regarding knowledge of our faith). A good introduction will orient the reader to the conflicts and provide information regarding many of the theological discussions (the edition I used did not have an introduction; this one may). However, Pascal's writing is so humorous and engaging that I continued reading even when I was lost in the argument.
I am on record (in another review) as stating that religion should be updated to reflect our modern view of the world. However, these letters point out the danger of attempting to do that. I need to reconsider that approach.