Both Pascal’s Pensees and Kierkegaard’s “Christ the Prototype” deal with the promotion of authentic Christian faith. Both works present his readers an apology of Christianity. Despite their common goal, Pascal and Kierkegaard use different apologetic strategies. In this respect, I will focus especially on the difference between audience and rhetorical strategies.
Important to note is the culmination of Pascal’s apologetic strategy with the Wager Argument, which deals with one’s commitment to believe or not in God [cf. L418]. With the Wager argument, Pascal wants to show his audience that it is rational to believe in the existence of God. If Christian apologetics is a twofold process — one where the apologist shows his/her audience the poor condition of humanity and one where the apologist demonstrates the efficacy of his/her solution, Pascal strongly focuses on the first part of such a process. That is, Pascal tries to show to his audience the wretchedness of humanity and the urgent need for a reliable solution. It is not enough to respond with diversion or ignoring the problem. The problem arises because Pascal’s audience is non-Christians: gamblers, gamers, hunters, and so on and they are unaware of their own spiritual condition or the need for a definitive solution to the human condition. Thus, Pascal tries to make them aware of the misery of current human condition without God. It is in that regard that Pascal discusses topics that his audience can relate to: the certainty of death [L434], human wretchedness [L127, L131], pride and despair [L208, L352, L354], boredom and depression [L24, L36]. As appreciated, Pascal wants his audience focus on these human issues first before even thinking transcendental topics or the question of God. He wants to show his readers the absurd of the temporal human “solutions” to ultimate questions. Overall, the topics selected is also a key part of Pascals apologetic strategy. From the diversity and generality of his topics, its seems Pascal was moving to more specific issues to show his audience that without God the human being will face an undeniable end: death.
In term of rhetorical strategies used by Pascal, the emphasis of keywords is noteworthy. For example, using Trotter’s translation, I counted that the term death has mentioned an average of 76 times in Pascal’s Pensees in contrast to despair (17), misery (23), and wretchedness (29). This shows the prominence of discussing death in Pascal’s Pensees. Death has a central place in his discussion.
Another aspect to pay attention is Pascal’s use of rhetorical questions to get his audience’s attention. For example, when he asks, “What religion, then, will teach us how to cure pride and concupiscence? What religion, in short, will teach us our true good, our duties, the weaknesses which lead us astray, the cause of this e weaknesses, the treatment that can cure them, and the means of obtaining such treatment?” [L149]. Pascal does not simply tell his audience that Christianity is the true religion. He tries to engage with them first asking questions that promote a change of heart. In this way, his readers will figure out by themselves that life without God will ultimately lead to despair and death. Pascal’s apologetic strategy can be labeled as an ‘apologetic of despair.’ In his view, his audience could arrive at the solution of the poor human condition increasing their awareness of the problem and their need of a savior — that is, Christ. Pascal’s apologetic strategy is about relying on such awareness where his audience, after being challenged with ultimate questions, will first encounter despair and hopelessness in their life without God (that a life without God will end in despair). And it is after this encounter with despair and hopelessness that Pascal’s audience will realize the need for Christ. In this respect, Paul’s high use of comparison and contrast strategy is significant as well. He compares the life without God that does not have any benefit at all vs. the life with God which has benefits in the present life and the afterlife.
Unlike Pascal’s Pensees, Kierkegaard’s “Christ the Prototype” has a Christian audience who has already known the Christian faith and is familiarized with it. Kierkegaard is not interested to promote Christianity in the same terms as Pascal did. Kierkegaard instead becomes critical of the current state of the Christianity and wants his audience to be aware of such a situation.
Using the dialectical is perhaps the most significant characteristic of Kierkegaard’s rhetorical strategy. Against the pressures and sensibleness of the world, Kierkegaard believes that the Christian faith must remain intact: “Christianity cannot be changed (…) it is the opposite of ‘sensibleness.'” (p. 155). In light of this “mutually repellent” condition between the Christian faith vs. the world, he explains what he means by this and discuss some points of encounter between the two opposites. Kierkegaard is concerned about the abandonment of the ‘unconditioned requiremen’ that the Christian faith demands and that the world rejects (Cf. p. 156). The Christian faith demands that Christians know themselves before God. In other words, that Christians can recognize their own limitations and faults.
Kierkegaard is also concerned about the negative influence of modern times in the life of the church. The world has made the church to become lax in their interpretation of doctrine. Sin has been downplayed in the practice of Christian piety. This conversation serves as a background to introduce Kierkegaard’s notion of Christ as Prototype.
For Kierkegaard, Christ is both the prototype and the redeemer. As Prototype, Christ served only one master in contrast of the mundane people who try to serve two. “And he [Christ] remained in the world; he did not withdraw from the world; but he remained there in order to suffer,” Kierkegaard writes (p. 169). Such suffering is common to the Christian faith but rejected by the world. By this Kierkegaard wants his audience to understand that the present life is not a life without trouble, but the instead, the Christian life is one of suffering. Christians should not try to avoid suffering because by doing so, they try to change Christian doctrine. Instead, they should imitate Christ. For Kierkegaard, the Christian faith presupposes struggles and suffering, and the need of grace (p. 201). Therefore, true Christians must suffer and be humble. As a redeemer, Christ is the one who redeems our guilt. Without sin and guilt, there would not have the sense to speak of grace at all. It is in this respect that Christ is also our Redeemer.
As seen, Kierkegaard’s apologetic strategy focuses on the difference between true vs. false Christianity. He fights against the current state of the Christian faith of his time in order to defend the true doctrine. This contrasts with Pascal who was interested in presenting the Christian faith as he knew it to non-Christians. While for Pascal the knowledge of human condition leads to despair, for Kierkegaard transparency before God, which requires awareness of a person’s condition, is the first step in obtaining grace.
Besides their differences, both Pascal and Kierkegaard emphasizes suffering and the human condition in their theological exposition. Both writers want to promote the authentic Christian faith, although they use different methodologies and strategies.