Thursday, October 13, 2011

A book Review of Making Sense of it all by: Thomas V. Morris

*Warning this book review is my first of many to come so there may be much room for improvement*

Book Review

Blaise Pascal’s Pensees is reinvigorated in Morris’ book Making Sense of it all. Though I have read Pensees before and really enjoyed it, Morris’ book is a sort of modern exegesis of Pensees. He starts most of his chapters with quotes from Pensees, which he proceeds to practically apply and philosophize about throughout the chapter. Not only does he exegete Pensees he also has much reasoning and argumentation to add to Pascal’s arguments. This argumentation does not put up weak arguments from the opposition but attempts to tackle the difficult arguments head on.

In chapter one Morris goes onto give us a background to Pascal’ life. At first read one can see Morris glorifying Pascal a little too much. But then when one gets to page ten where he states “A lifetime of sickness and suffering, which had never been able to block out the light of his genius” and realized more of the humanness of Pascal. Yet even this statement seemed to elevate Pascal to genius. While Pascal was at the top of his field in mathematics and philosophy his life was still one of struggle. Morris would’ve done more justice to Pascal’ genius if he had presented both sides more thoroughly. Still it is understood that a biographical writing of Pascal was not to be the focus of Morris book therefore Morris emphasized Pascal’s accomplishments and thoughts. Besides this minor difference Morris’ presentation of Pascal in chapter one keeps him on track for the rest of the book.

Folly of indifference is the title of chapter two and rightly so for it is that which Morris desires to explain to us. Apathy and indifference plagued man of Pascal’s unbelieving friend and Morris also seeks to point out how modern day peoples are entrenched in this belief as well. This problem addressed by Pascal stating that those who deny truth on the grounds that it is disputed are not really lovers of truth. While it is understood when Morris and Pascal call it unreasonable to not seek answer to life’s hard question yet one can see that some people may be blind. It is true that those who refuse to seek truth on the ground of it’s disputation are not lovers of truth but it might also be possible that these persons have demonic/personal blindness due to sin.[1] Thus it could be sin that makes a person’s heart apathetic to truth and an inquiry of truth. If this is true then how could man who is dead in sin review his heart to seek truth?

Though spiritual blindness due to sin might be the answer to indifference (and Jesus the only answer, not reasoning) Morris’ reasoning is understandable. His reasoning about people being apathetic due to their desire to be free and not bound by anything higher is definitely true. [2] Morris then jumps into explain the different types of questions there are concerning truth. The first are label the existential peripheral questions which are those questions which are hotly debated yet are not crucial for my understanding of life. The other category is also widely debated questions but is essential for our understanding of life, existentially central disputed questions. Upon the latter is where Morris wishes to make his appeal to the Apathetic.

Next Morris brings an important point into view that he calls the Context Principle which is that the appropriateness of a form of behavior is always a function of the context. He appeals to the fact that in every occasion we as humans would act accordingly in different situations such as being quiet in the library, dressing up for special occasion and all of our daily experiences. Thus in the Context of our lives it matters how we act and in the context of life after death we should act appropriately. This means that the question of whether or not there is a God sets the context for the rest of reality. Thus we should all examine if we are being true to the context of reality as we do in every situation we approach. This context principle when applied to the existentially central disputed questions is very effective at showing the apathetic their lostness in a world without God.

Diversion is the Morris’ next of focus as he moves into chapter 3. This is a somewhat simple concept for is people have and indifference to truth then they also will be immersed in other things which keep them away from truth. This he says is not just a problem of the common man but also the intellect who is not immersed in the totality of life but only one level of it. Morris’ point here is not to tell us to forsake all areas of life but the philosophical but is rather saying that all things are good place in their rightful place. When we use things as a diversion to truth we become blind.

Morris then explores the meaning of life through the mid-life crisis of Leo Tolstoy. This chapter simply is trying to cement the conclusions at the end of the last chapters, which were that; a person without God has no basis for reality. Thus the person diverting apathetically is one, who if he looks reality in the face, will see he has no meaning and purpose without God. Tolstoy concluded that he could make his own meaning yet Morris rightly points out that we can’t impose meaning upon all things. For we can’t impose meaning upon things of other cultures, we have no control over the meaning of past, or death, we can only endow some meaning to the things we have control. Then one could also conclude that we truly only control a miniscule piece of reality if any. This leads Morris to point out that only a complete controller or sovereign who is God would give true completeness and meaning.

Though the last four chapters Morris seems clear and precise is argumentation which build upon itself Chapter 5 seems good at times and unclear in others. Giving a summary of the main historical arguments is clear. Though as he moves onto page 69 says that some people see desires as their obstacle for happiness yet he doesn’t give clarity as to if it is the problem. Yet he seems to give some ways that people have dealt with changing their desires. These explanations on the onset are a bit confusing to me. For he says type a person is a world conqueror or someone who conforms their desires to the worlds. This needs more clarity. Then type b is where he focuses most of his attention for they are the desire deniers that take many forms. Then he does get it right when saying that Christianity is that system, which says our beliefs inform our actions. But our beliefs and reason work hand in hand as we submit to truth.

As Morris moves into the next chapter he begins to answer the question of God being hidden. He answers well by appealing to God being non-material, transcendent, and omnipresent. Though his logic when it comes to Gods omnipresence being an explanation of God’s hiddenness seems a bit fuzzy. But the better argument made by Morris is the fact that God knows how much revelation to give each person in order that they would willingly choose Him. For if some reached him by reason they would get proud. God does not wish to force the will but to humble his or her pride thus He gives everyone the perfect dose of revelation.

Unlike the pervious chapter, Chapter 7 is not so clear. For the author goes on about wagering and tries to explain and analogy about racehorse that is a bit confusing. Yet when he compares the two worldviews of atheism and Christianity then it seems to make more sense. That the Apathetic diverting person referenced in the beginning is to compare a worldview of meaning making from themselves with no hopes after death to Christianities eternal hopes. Yet this argument could only work for those whose religion did not promise a lot in the life and the next. For instance if all pleasures for eternity were promised to me in heaven after death then this wage would not convince me. Morris did a great job of showing that this wager was to get a person past whatever barriers held them back in order to examine the argumentation. These arguments lead me to conclude that Morris is writing to convince solely those Apathetic diverted functionally Atheists. Yet this book seems to make a lot of assumption that lead me to conclude that it was written as a guide for discussion with them.

In chapter 8 Morris is just going on to explain how Christianity lines up with the wretchedness of man and yet his greatness in the same vein. This chapter is pretty straightforward and had not much to argue against except when it came to human guilt on page 140. Morris says that he disagrees with Pascal but never really gives and argument against him but instead just lays his belief of guilt along side of Pascal’s. This chapter he ends with showing that Jesus is the answer to man’s guilt and sin.

Morris then goes into a longer chapter about truth. He begins by reiterating why people avoid truth and explaining it a little more. He then goes on to explain how Pascal believed that Christianity was the only religion that covered the gambit of the human condition. In some ways this subject seems to be covered in previous chapters yet in other ways he attempts to better explain this. It seems a little pointless to bring up Athanasius’s arguments about the supremacy of the Christian religion due to the fact of the arguments relativity and uselessness to contribute to Morris’ focus. He does give a great flow of reasoning when it comes to past religions having similar beliefs previous to Christianity. This argument he rightly adds to the idea of general revelation. Putting a cap upon the marks of truth in Christianity Morris does a great job of pointing to the witnesses of Prophecy and the Apostles martyrdom.

Ending the book Morris points deeper to the truths in Christianity. In chapter 11 Morris does a good job of seeking to explain that Pascal saw arguments as limited. Though they are truly necessary, Pascal realized that the heart is what believes. For it acts upon reason and must have some basis for truth, yet the heart can obscure even the clearest argumentation. The last chapter Morris ends somewhat repetitive and not very powerfully. For the chapter can be summed up in that True satisfaction is found in God alone through a self hate and love of God and others.

The book on a whole is very good. It presents Blaise Pascal relatively clear and brings his reasoning into the modern world. Yet this book is not written for the unbeliever, as was Pascal’s for it is geared at how to use Pascal’s arguments. Not only is it shown to be for the Christian philosopher due to its how to nature but the set up of explanation is in such a way that unbelievers might not understand. This book is a good book for anyone desiring to understand Pascal and have some basic arguments for Unbelievers. In Making sense of it all Morris explains how Christianity is the answer for modern mans condition through a presentation of Pascal’s argumentation and a adding of his own.



[1] Ephesians 2:1-2

[2] Romans 1:21-22

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