18. Universal Faith and Private Truth

1. Truths and people

In relation to truth, men are divided into three kinds. The first are indifferent to truths. They accept what happens without thought. The second believe in a one Truth and happily find it in writings, from the Old Testament to Freud. Their pleasure: to overthrow other people’s gods. Thirds believe in the existence of private truths. The scriptures are not enough for them; the thought of a ‘one true worldview’ does not please them. 

People of the second and third kind need and find religion, but they find it different. People of the first kind unconcerned about it. When, in the 20th century, the religious forms familiar to Europeans came into final decline, these people hastened to declare that religion had become obsolete. ‘Progress has abolished it’. Indeed: why not believe that our ancestors believed because they were weak, dark and afraid? ‘Encounters with the sacred’, says the historian of religion, ‘were sought precisely in places that were hard to reach, dark and scary’. The dark and the fearful, these people say, have been banished from our lives. The artificial illumination of the cities, the appearance of omniscience created by the abundance of accumulated facts, the relative security and satiety — is not the very soil of religion being destroyed? But this omniscience is ghostly, and the inability to experience the primal, deep feelings that give rise to religion is temporary and local.

It’s not that ‘God is dead’, it’s that we have become incapable of experiencing direct religious experiences, having surrendered our faith to the temple. Personal faith has gone to schisms and sects; the sense of the miraculous — to spiritists and theosophists. The verdict belonged to the forms, not to the content. The content is from time immemorial all the same.

Religion is an inner fortress into which no one can enter. To take away religion is to put man at the mercy of external forces. Everything that connects us with what is not here and not now makes us stronger. This in no way contradicts the fact that one of the possible religions (and a widespread one) appeals to a frightened person, lest we say: a frightened child. But we’ll say more about that later.

Religion changes the personality fundamentally, and in doing so does not have the goal of perfecting it. If this goal is achieved, it is achieved indirectly. However, it cares very much about what happens inside the personality. Religion cares about everything that the personality does to itself. The religious understanding of things is: ‘what is happening to me and will happen to me is mysteriously connected to what I think, feel, do’.

The opposite worldview gives importance only to external things and their quantitative measurements (this is the worldview of revolution and democracy). The stronger the semi-enlightenment in the world (in other words, the less enlightened and the more ‘educated’ it becomes), the further it is from religion. The type of the semi-educated is the most hostile to tradition and religion. He has no need of the past, he has no need of gods; all his welfare is here and now. He is easily seduced by worldly prosperity or world revolution. Before taking the first step, he will not ask himself: Is this necessary for my soul?..

But the old religious forms are passing away, this is true and irreplaceable; the mindset that created these forms is also passing away.

2. On the Christian ideal

Let us remember what was the novelty of the doctrine which entered the world some two thousand years ago and is now passing its twilight. Certainly not in the promise of eternal life, as atheists think.  Two, perhaps, of its main features are its appeal to the inner child and its groundlessness, otherwise known as ‘all-humanity’.

The appeal to the child within us, to the frightened, shaken human being was the strongest aspect of the new faith. It cannot be said that this ‘shaken’ or ‘frightened’ man was created by Christianity. A new man cannot be created at all; no revolution can do that. One can only give predominance to one of the already existing human types. The type of ‘frightened man’ (Christian) or the type of ‘semi-educated’ (Soviet) existed before the Christian and Bolshevik revolutions gave them power.

Not only the preaching but also the pedagogical ideal of the new faith was best suited to children — or to barbarians boasting of strength. In this field it is quite fruitful. For the adult member of a highly developed society it is an ideal of voluntary weakness, of prudent sterility. ‘From the Christian point of view it is impossible to make an action, an effort, a leap, a play in the sphere of art, or literature, or laughter, pride, etc.’, as Rozanov will emphatically say. The world is bankrupt, there is nothing to invest in it… (In response, we may be pointed to culture in a bona fide Christian, i. e., medieval, society. No wonder: the Church brought with it the grains of the Old World, and they sprouted.)

The second feature of the victorious religion: the abandonment of the soil. The Christian was the one who left everything national. Even today Christianity is strong when it is close to its roots, i. e. groundless. As it takes root, it fades, becomes weakened paganism — the national religion. A Christian patriot is always pagan in his attitude to the state. Nikolai Danilevsky correctly says that only in personal relations one can adhere to Christian morality, the state and state relations are always pagan.

Christianity, ‘settled’ on earth, is strong, but not flammable. Only unfounded forms of it spread easily (hence the strength of Protestantism). As soon as a Christian realises that he has a home and a fatherland, he becomes Orthodox or Catholic, but not a ‘stranger, and sojourner’. By the way, the expression ‘Russian God’, common in 19th century literature, is not as strange as it seems to us. It expresses a natural, fundamental religious consciousness — to which, no matter how much one labours, every ‘world faith’ comes.

There is a third root Christian trait: a repulsion from nature, both in the sense of the world around us and in the sense of man’s inner essence. The way of Christianity: retreating into the soul and leaving the world behind in abandonment. ‘Behold, your world is left desolate’, it said. Springs, groves, seas and mountains all became backgrounds for the spirit or means for it. ‘Violent’ European civilisation, which conquered everything natural and pruned everything natural to the very root, is the civilisation of ‘spirit’ understood in a certain way, that is, of extra-naturalness.

But the main novelty that Christianity introduced into the world was the idea of a one truth that excludes all others. Previously this had been a luxury available only to philosophers and of no influence on mental life. Now the belief in a one, jealous, all-consuming truth took to the streets… The Old World (the Christian revolution also had its own Old World, just as gone to the bottom of the sea as the Russian one, submerged by the revolution) could not stand the clash with this belief.

The historian mentioned above said of this world thus:

‘Man must manoeuvre between a multitude of demands and necessities; piety is intelligence and ‘prudence’. Just in this, however, lies the chance of polytheism to embrace the diversity of reality without closing its eyes to contradictions and without being confronted with the necessity of a reinforced negation of any of its parts. Man is even left with a free space on the other side of the satisfied demands’.

This ‘free space’ rapidly shrank and then disappeared.

3. The world of private truths

The new faith confronted the world of private non-coercive truths as long as it had strength. The division of opinion in it was natural… The philosophers of this world, however, had already come to the ideal of compulsory truth (remember Plato’s ‘poets are expelled, those who remain will be deprived of historical memory’), but they were not able to apply it to life. And the world of the Old Testament was (in its own way) a merry world where many gods competed for the human soul. Here we come to the main difference between ‘pagan’ and ‘Christian’, and this difference is not at all in the field of morality.

The distinctive feature of paganism is in the free and unresolved competition of patterns of thought, patterns of behaviour, ideas about the divine. Peoples live separately, though this separateness does not exclude the interpenetration of ideas. Pockets of original development burn everywhere, occasionally hearing from each other and leisurely exchanging influences… Only late Rome, like our epoch, was characterised by a dangerous acceleration of the circulation of ideas, when nothing was digested but everything spread — which hastened the end of the former order. Comparing those days with the present, one cannot help wishing for a slowing down of the circulation of ideas without stopping it altogether. Newspapers, radio, television, all the means of mixing opinions as quickly as possible — accelerate not development, but the decomposition of the old without producing the new.

But the main point is different. The values of the old world were personal or (more widely) national values. Truth is given to the individual, to the people, but never to ‘mankind’. And we, if we wish for the higher personal development of a person, should wish for mankind to exist in the form of powerful and distinctive nations (a kind of multiple personalities). And speaking of the people, let us remember that the multitudes of people do not ‘seek and find’, but accept what solitary individuals have found: ‘we felt so, but could not say so, and he (artist, poet) showed and said’.

The fragmentation of humanity is the guarantee not only of ‘delusions’, as is commonly thought, but also of search and acquisition. As long as it is not united, no error is final, not ruinous, not universal. One path for all means common delusions for all and common failure for all. ‘One truth’ is ruinous — not as a force at work in the world, but as the only permitted understanding of truth. Industrial and commercial affairs are easiest and most convenient when the parties have uniform measures and values, but the development of individuals and nations is best when they are distinctive (which does not exclude influences).

What, it may be asked, has all this to do with the present state of affairs? The confrontation between universal faith and private truths is not as ‘untimely’ as it may seem. The most important question today is how to preserve the independence of peoples and individuals under the pressure of yet another universal faith: the only understanding of truth that does not tolerate rivals. How many ‘only-true worldviews’ have we already seen!

The most important question of our time is the defence of the individual against being swallowed up by the crowd committed to the ‘one truth’. A glimpse into the mental life of the pagan world is not an unnecessary and not at all academic endeavour. Of course, in speaking of the superiority of a spiritual life based on the competition of private truths, I do not mean a literal return to its previous forms. In the realm of thought there can be no going backwards; there can only be a search in the past for a point from which to begin a new forward movement.

The obligations towards one’s own soul, the demands of inner focus and clarity, are not cancelled by any change of thought. In a world of constant compulsion to believe, of the overwhelming and jealous authority of ‘party’ or ‘science’ — these demands become even more urgent than they were in ‘peaceful’ times. Man must be independent. Man must be able to be alone. Man must retain clarity of thought, sensitivity of heart, and freedom from coercive truths…

4. The ability to be alone

Having reached the question of personal education (i. e., at its root, self-education), we have reached a possible objection: ‘Why be a human being, especially a highly developed human being? Isn’t it a lot of costs for the sake of dubious profits? Why do we need a highly developed person and what should we do with it? Is it not better to strive for simplicity and usefulness, to educate the labourer or the business man? The world will wound him less and delight him more..’.

I will try to answer these objections briefly.

First of all, upbringing and self-education determine with whom you will live. And you will live, in the most immediate sense, not with people, but with yourself, with your own soul. The whole world, even the divine in it — is given to man only through the image of his soul. (Yes: everything we know about the gods, we know from within and through ourselves. The environment of theophany is the soul of man. Everything external is only the keys to the mystery, unravelled according to the experience of the inner life. ‘Scriptures’ are for those who have no inner revelation, no sense of God).

One of the meanings of life available to our understanding is to build a beautiful and complex self in spite of circumstances. ‘Self’ is the only unconditional value. Everything else is dubious, temporary, unstable. Of course, personality is also limited in time; to see its value requires faith in the immortality of the soul. Without this faith, our efforts are in vain.

Inner complexity also implies inner light, i. e., self-understanding and transparency. However, the duties of the individual towards himself are not only intellectual but also moral. Constant vigour, joyful readiness to live — also belong to inner light.

Simplification and Utilitarianism, ‘simplicity’ and ‘utility’ are disastrous for personal development. One must set before the individual tasks beyond his strength. Simplification teaches one to strive for the uncomplicated. So too is ‘utility’. Everything higher is ‘useless’ in the immediate sense: mind and feeling cannot be salted for the winter.

Utilitarian thinking has an answer to this too: ‘While the rich are engaged in personal development, the poor… Feed the hungry, and then..’. And then what? Strange as it may seem, this demand was already answered by brothers Strugatsky (actually not very prescient): ‘While he was hungry, he thought only about food, when he was satiated, he did not think about anything at all’. Personal development is a matter of values, not satiety. Values come before and independent of hunger or satiety. And satiety… Western peoples are satiated, and have been for a long time; has it done much good to their minds?

Yes, personal development is not universally available, it’s more of a luxury. Any ideal of personal development is aristocratic. The ideal in general is aristocratic or it doesn’t exist. ‘Be like everyone else!’, ‘Are you the smartest or what?’ — these Soviet wisdoms express an ideal without selection, which the crowd can have. Its value is purely negative, its aim is simplification and loss of everything distinctive and personal.

To realise a positive ideal, we need aristocratic values, values of complexity and inner richness. People need to look up and see something attractive, alluring, something they could eventually become, something they could join. ‘The efficient employee’ who works cheerfully and spends his earnings cheerfully (the ideal of ‘democracy’) or the sullen ‘servant of the Party’ who exclaims: ‘I can’t wait till Monday and go back to work!’ (the ideal of Bolshevism) cannot quench this thirst for accession to the highest.

Speaking of which: are the external and superficial forms of culture that were so relied upon in Soviet times (visiting theatres and art galleries) so valuable for the complication of personality?.. In themselves — not very much, because they do not give anything to the personality. In spectacles a person either finds entertainment (which is sometimes necessary) — or himself. The latter is valuable, but for this it is necessary to have something to find. For the sake of this, it is necessary to form a personality before any spectacle — not in the sense of ‘secondary and higher education’, but in the sense of moulding, giving an image to shapeless, undirected forces.

It must be recognised that modern Russia will never create a culture capable of conquering thinking and feeling people in other nations until it returns to the path of internal complication and self-restraint for the few, the aristocratic path. The liberal flood has swept away the last milestones and threatens to destroy the very idea of complexity, responsibility, inner richness and religious soul life.

‘Self-expression!’ — screams the unthinking crowd. Whereas the core of art is not ‘self-expression’ but self-education and competition with the best. By taking away the idea of the best from art, we deprive it of its purpose. In Russia, the roots of art as a competition in general are not deep; old Russia, pre-Romanov, knew self-education in silence, in art saw only the religious side, i. e. service…

And all this ‘self-expression’ is reduced to the call of sex, preferably in perverted, i. e. more spicy forms. This unthinking mass is incapable of making the call of sex not the content of works, but part of the soil from which conscious creativity is born, because it has become unused to the very idea of responsible (not to the ‘party’, but to its own soul) creative labour. Not to mention the oppressive influence of semi-enlightenment, in whose environment only thoughts about other people’s thoughts are valued, and more often — about technical devices (commas in Gogol, participial phrases in Pushkin)…

We said above that self-education determines who you will have to live your life with. After all, the closest, ever-present person in our lives is ourselves. A sign of a superior personality is the ability to tolerate loneliness; ‘he is not bored with himself’ is another way of saying inner richness. The supreme personality is his own world, and friend, and light… to a certain extent.

Let us clarify, lest there be any misunderstanding: the superior person, by virtue of upbringing and the habit of inner labour, gains access to certain goods otherwise inaccessible. This does not mean that he ‘hears voices’; at least not literally. And at the same time — yes, he hears much more in himself and in the world than someone who has not been taught to live with himself and by himself. The superior man brings light out of loneliness.

To this we are told, ‘Now such are the needs, man has no time for self-development’. To this we should calmly reply, ‘It does not matter what you justify the fall in personal development. What is important are its fruits. The requirements for the superior man are unchanging. If you do not want to fulfil them, do not be surprised at the consequences’. And there will be consequences for sure. There can be no society without a ladder of progressively more complex requirements — the more complex, the fewer the seekers, but the more important their labour. Society is justified and enduring — according to its highest.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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