Confessions by Tolstoy

“I understood (1) that the position assumed by Schopenhauer, Solomon, and myself, with all our wisdom, was a foolish one: we understand that life is an evil, and yet we live. This clearly is foolish, because if life is foolish, and I care so much for reason, life should be put an end to, and then there would be no one to deny it. (2) I understood that all our arguments turned in a charmed circle, like a cogwheel, the teeth of which no longer catch in another. However much and however well we reason, we get no answer to our question; it will always be 0 = 0, and consequently our method is probably wrong. (3) I began to understand that in the answers given by faith was to be found the deepest source of human wisdom, that I had no reasonable right to reject them, and that they alone solved the problem of life.”

“If it were not so terrible, it would be laughable to think of the pride and self-confidence with which we, like children, pull out our watches, take away the spring, make a plaything of them, and are then astonished that they will no longer keep time.”

Leo Tolstoy, My Confessions, IX

I find these confessions very helpful in the situation I find myself in. For a long time I have been going through the same questions that Tolstoy describes in his „confessions“, albeit without the thoughts of suicide that cornered him. Fortunately, that didn’t occur to me, even though life sometimes seemed so pointless, but especially when I saw my family I recognized my responsibility. However, I do feel tormented and fear the isolation whilst at the same time doing many things to cause my isolation.

I also came to the realization that our existence has a cause, as Tolstoy writes. This „coding of life“ into the chaos of the universe briefly excited me, only to subside in the same way as Tolstoy describes his experience. One aspect he discovered, however, and which often goes unnoticed, is the fact that the „spirit“ brings people together and is active among them. In intellectual discussion, however, it rarely occurs if it is present at all. In other words, the more we discuss (Latin discussus: to break apart, shaken, scattered), the less likely it is that the mind can be effective.

This understanding led Tolstoy to renounce his social status and to study the farmers in his area who had recently been taken out of slave status. Their conditions were not good, but their faith impressed Tolstoy. It also impressed me and fits well with my acquired understanding that when communities focus on good and healthy, more good happens. The opposite is also the case: whoever focuses on evil and that which is unhealthy, also experiences evil. The fact that Christianity uses (sometimes drastic) archetypal symbols and metaphors to enliven the representation of this reality only shows us how people were taught in the past. It takes nothing away from the truth of the stories.

The problem begins for me, as for Tolstoy, when one tries to judge the doctrine by reason. Teaching is very often what separates the different churches, and it does not help that they agree on central themes of the Gospel. This, in my opinion, should be the goal, instead the different churches have gone to war because of the differences in doctrine. Tolstoy experienced the conflict in Russia. There was also, among other conflicts, the Thirty Years‘ War in Central Europe, which also made it clear that these conflicts were about power constellations and not about central teachings from the Gospels. How can one upkeep the command to love your neighbour, even one’s own enemy, and still go to war because of doctrinal differences?

I think we must accept that the stories of the Gospel, which carry so much truth in them, do not stand the test of academic decomposition, but speak directly to the part within us that recognizes what corresponds to life. The inspiration that leads to a focus on what is true, healthy and good, hits every true listener in the heart and is immediately understood. What is often lacking is the willingness or ability to act accordingly. God is what happens between people when love is shared.

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