Monday, June 7, 2010

Dostoevsky gets me blogging again

So, here's my first post in well over a year...
Back in September of 2008 my wife presented me with a cool old copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky's the Brothers Karamazov that she found at a garage sale. A decade earlier I had seen the film starring Yul Brynner and became captivated by the story. So fast-forward a decade to September 2008 and on my fist clergy retreat I began reading the Brothers Karamazov. And so I've reading it on and off the last couple years. It's amazing what a good story can do for the soul. And I've found the following lines from Dostoevsky so compelling I had to share them, so good it forced me to get back into the blogosphere(!). This is advise that one of the superiors of the monastery, Fr. Paissy, gives to the protagonist, the young monk, Alyosha:
"Remember young man, constantly" Father Paissy began without preface, "that the science of this world, which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analysed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis, the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old. But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is astounding. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not stilll a living, a moving power in the individual soul and among the masses of the people? It dwells as unshakably as before in the souls of the very atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and rebel against it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher image of man and of virtue than the image manifested by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque."
Amazingly profound insight into the human condition. We keep trying to create a more exalted version of humankind; through medicine, science, education, politics, consumerism, philanthropy...and none of them change the human condition. We keep trying to sanitize the soul out of individuals and out of the masses. Political correctness requires it. But sanitizing the soul out of people leaves us with only a few dead-end options: "spirituality", consumerism or philanthropy. Spirituality without Christ is nothing more than "finding myself", and fankly I'd much rather actualize Jesus in my life than Joel, He's far better. Consumerism is merely shoving stuff into the same God-shaped hole. Or, full of good intentions we strive to serve others through our philanthropy. But even that, sans Christ, is bogus because philanthropy for its own sake seems to be 1) because it "makes me feel better about myself" and 2) has an aire of looking down one's nose at "those poor pitiful people" who need me to save them. Call me cynical, but in the American Suburbs I see exactly what Dostoevsky was talking about over 100 years ago here. When we try to invent an image an virtue of humankind without Jesus Christ the result is grotesque.
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