God Owes Us Nothing
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God Owes Us Nothing : Brief Remarks on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism

By (author) Leszek Kolakowski

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Leszek Kolakowski reflects on the centuries-long debate in Christianity: how to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with the goodness of an omnipotent God, and how God's omnipotence is compatible with people's responsibility for their own salvation or damnation. He approaches this paradox as both an exercise in theology and in revisionist Christian history based on philosophical analysis. This unorthodox interpretation of the history of modern Christianity will provoke renewed discussion about the historical, intellectual, and cultural importance of neo-Augustinianism. Written with Kolakowski's characteristic wit and irony, God Owes Us Nothing will be required reading for philosophers, religious scholars, theologians, and historians alike.

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  • Paperback | 248 pages
  • 140 x 212 x 18mm | 381.02g
  • 11 Jun 1998
  • The University of Chicago Press
  • University of Chicago Press
  • Chicago, IL
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0226450538
  • 9780226450537
  • 376,279

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Review text

A provocative critique of the Jansenist movement and of its celebrated proponent Blaise Pascal, from internationally renowned scholar Kolakowski (The Alienation of Reason, 1968, etc.; Committee on Social Thought/Univ. of Chicago). Jansenism, the powerful 17th-century heresy condemned by Rome, has often been called the Catholic form of Calvinism. Inspired by the writings of Bishop Cornelius Jansen of Utrecht, the Jansenists claimed to be orthodox disciples of St. Augustine and taught that salvation was gratuitous in a way that ruled out any human cooperation. Since those whom God had freely predestined would inevitably be saved, Jesus Christ died only for the elect; all others would be justly condemned to eternal torments, irrespective of whether they were good or bad, including unbaptized babies. Human nature was totally corrupted by sin, especially original sin. Kolakowski gives us a detailed account, with copious quotations, both of St. Augustine and of the positions of Jansen and his followers, and he guides us through the central questions of the debate. He devotes the second half of his study to the writings of Pascal, whose profound pessimism he sees as embodying the Jansenists' world-denying ideals. The arts, free intellectual inquiry, and even hugging one's children had no place in what Kolakowski calls Pascal's religion of unhappiness. The author rarely refers to other studies of this great controversy. He is surely being malicious when he holds that Rome's rejection of Jansenism was a compromise with the world and a de facto abandonment of the Church's tradition, since he presents the latter in an overly Augustinian form, choosing to ignore, for example, the Eastern Fathers, Aquinas, and the basic doctrine that the human person, endowed with free will, is made in the image of God. Brilliantly cynical presentation of an unpopular but still influential religious outlook. (Kirkus Reviews)

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