Saturday, December 12, 2015

On Tolstoy and the Psychology of Christianity


I have just finished Tolstoy’s Confession.   It was fine but incredibly predictable.   Of course if anything Woody Allen bases his characters off of Tolstoy and not the other way-around but all I could think is, “my god Tolstoy, could you please be more than a Woody Allen caricature?”

It was incredibly repetitive and redundant.  And of course we all knew where he was going at the end of the eighth “chapter.”  Honestly Tolstoy seems to suffer from the same psychological problems (or at-least similar, Augustine seemed to have had other maladies as well) as Augustine, namely unable to accept the fact that life simply is.  They ask very-much the same questions that the Stoics and Epicureans ask, namely, if all things are inconsistent and end in death, what point in living?  The Stoics say more-or-less that though much of life is bad it is tolerable and that the God they revere is good.  The Epicureans give a far-more wise and simple answer simply by saying, “get over it you pansy it doesn’t matter.”  All that matters is pain.  And not being in pain.  If you’re not in pain, then how could life be bad?  Why create more problems for yourself believing you must find a reason that if anything will only take away the pain you shouldn’t have to begin with.  The pain that is essentially the inability to accept death – or weakness. 

But Tolstoy does not find his psychological weakness to be so – he finds it to be strength.  And he mocks his fellow intellectuals for not living a Christian life and believing their lives have value in what he called an “epicurean” way.  Well who’s to say it does not?  He does not discredit their “epicureanism” of living a good life while we can nor does he even seriously consider the main point of Epicurus – that death is nothing to be feared.  Like a baby he cries when pulled from his mother’s tit, and finds life unbearable without constant reassurance (or at-least belief) that the milk will flow forever.  I’m sorry.  That and the very essence of Christianity are childish.  It is practiced by the ignorant and the insecure.  Tolstoy is clearly in the latter category.  If he were alive I’d instruct him to become a vertebrate, accept life as it is, as meaningless, and endeavor to help those in a worse position than he.

He says that only faith can give life meaning but he gives no retort to two questions that occur easily for the intelligent.  One – why does life require meaning?  And two – why is meaning destroyed by death?  If a meaning to life exists in being virtuous to others, than as long as one is capable to be virtuous and live well then why is this not meaningful?  Why does life have to exist indefinitely to have any purpose?  Does every moment of my life become senseless and purposeless because each respective moment did not exist forever?  If the answer is no, then why is there a difference between a moment of life and an entire life?  Why should I be concerned with the fact that I will die when I won’t be present at my death?  The fact that someone as learned as Tolstoy makes such simplistic and obvious errors shows what Christianity is about and who it appeals to.  The miserable and insecure.  Those who are not psychologically sick or weak are not attracted to it, and are in my observation far more “epicurean.”  That is to say, they live simply to live, and to enjoy life; most are base and do not consider others routinely but some do.  And Christianity offers no real solution to suffering on this Earth, in fact, it wishes to justify it as rightful suffering of Man who sinned against God all to protect their Deity who they masochistically belittle and shrink themselves for.

He posits it is stupid to believe that life is “evil” but continue to live.  Well maybe someone lives for the sake of others?  Surprising how the Christian never once thought of that.  How life can be horrible but one must be alive to aid others through it.  An individual may or may not do much but a living man can always do more than a corpse.  He claims that faith gives the wisest answer ever thought of by Man but fails to consider anything but the promise of salvation – or simply continuing to live past biological expiration.  This just shows what Christianity is founded in – Egoism.  Consideration for one’s own life and eternity rather than, say, the billions that are sent to suffer forever in Hell by an evil God.  For whatever reason despite their lofty moral notions the Christians never seemed to be outraged about this injustice – nor about much of the plight of real suffering. 

Also he says partly correctly that faith is the only reason (even ignoring biological reasons there are others, but as Lenin points out faith is more necessary the more miserable one’s life is) why the poor continue to live.  But has he ever considered that they should renounce their faith and die?  If life is so wretched, so disgusting, so vile, so sickly, that one must, as he puts it, believe in “irrational wisdom” then isn’t the “rational stupidity” of seeing life as bad and either endeavoring to fix it or stop it better than continuing suffering on an immoral lie?  And this must be remembered – an immoral lie.  None of the faiths create a moral depiction of this world or the next.  The closest that I have come across is Buddhism and even many Buddhist faiths preach immoral things in this life and the next.

It’s rather odd.  He quite well expresses part of the sociological function of religion but expresses this contentedness with suffering as better as mild dissatisfaction with luxury.  Personally, I would rather be passingly discontented with little bad than blindly be content with broken bones and a large gash on my head as an ignoramus is one to do.  I’d rather be searching for more in life than be happy to be confined to a steel box for the rest of my life.  Yes, the poor of the world do whistle while they work, but the act of whistling does not mean they are not in pain – it simply means they do what most do and try to make what seems to them the best of the sinister plight they have been born into.  This is seen quite clearly in blacks of the south who though forced to be Christians also seemed to take into Christianity (the slave masters seemed to recognize this, though very likely did not mention this for it would be deemed as heresy) for it made them docile enough to accept their plight rather than revolt against evil.  I of course do not blame the slaves of America or anywhere else in the world.  People simply do as their nature instructs them; but that does not mean that what they do is morally right for them or others. 
Essentially what Tolstoy alludes to is the phenomenon of the more developed countries having a higher suicide rate than the poor, backwards countries of the world.  But this fact in no way means it is good to be poor and backwards as Tolstoy believes.  Instead, it merely shows that those who no longer see the illusions constructed by society for it to go on existing may not choose to continue if their pain (physical or psychological) is too great.  Otherwise, they would be like the learned men in Tolstoy’s “circle” that he routinely without just cause mocks.  They enjoy life Tolstoy, and accept it for what it is, this isn’t a lack of imagination as you put it, it’s simply the courage to accept life as it is and continue living.  Most of them don’t have faith because they don’t need it.  The same, in a way, could be said about meaning.  That it’s an illusion constructed by people who need it.  But despite the moral condemning of Tolstoy and Kierkegaard most secular-minded people go on living without having a meaning to their lives and they’re perfectly fine without it.
His arguments for the existence of God (if they can even be called that) are perhaps not even worth going into.  He ignores the “what caused the First Cause?’ argument and essentially uses the feeling of God as definitive evidence for him.  Two things A)  Of course this New Age Transcendentalist argument he and Thoreau (and in some sense perhaps Kierkegaard) make is absurd and a feeling of something is not evidence for it but more importantly B) Tolstoy once again has an irrational attachment to proving the existence of God and feels good when he does so.  And in his Egoism he forgets those in Hell, he forgets the suffering that was created by God, and instead feels happy that he is in communion with the creator of all suffering and gets to dance in a castle in the sky.  Yippee.
Tolstoy comes off incredibly high-and-mighty and contradicts his Anarchist tendencies of acknowledging the causal, social and political nature of suffering with saying that the essence of life is to live “godly” and to suffer as God wants us to suffer.  Why should we suffer?  Why should we, just because God wills it?  Is suffering not bad?  Why does the existence of a god or his will justify or alter this philosophic assertion?  It simply doesn’t. 
Despite his egotism I do feel sorry for Tolstoy for he was clearly a deeply troubled person who abandoned what he saw was reason to escape to what he saw as meaning.  The fact that whenever he even momentarily doubted his faith he was filled with sorrow shows that his psychological problems and that all things considered he shouldn’t have been someone to try to argue for anything or delve into the reasoning of things.  He describes almost perfectly the psychological traits of a “true” Christian. Not a bad person, but someone who out of psychological desperation and weakness can attempt to validate some very evil and irrational things.  I appreciate his inclusion of sections of Schopenhauer, the Buddha and others. 
It’s very odd that out of desperation he clings to Christianity yet confesses he thinks some of the scriptures are true and some are false.  He goes into this when the Russians used Christianity (as most Christian nations did) to justify murder.  And he clearly felt morally appalled by this.  This clearly, once again, shows the psychological frame work of your average Christian.  Believing in the parts of scripture they like and ignoring the rest.  “Faggots are evil but of course I would never stone someone to death for working on Sunday!”  Well you’re not following the Bible then.  Sorry, if you make an excuse for one sections lack of validity you show the potential for error of the rest and the general imperfection of the entire book.  It is not holy.  Nothing is.  Despite what weak men like Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Augustine and Thoreau think, human beings require thought and reason (not faith and submission to God) to determine what is right, what is wrong, and how to apply the findings of ethics; that is to say, the wondrous thing about humanity is not the suffering of the faithful peasantry, but the reasoning and passion of those intellectuals who deeply yearn to know what is right (both moral and true) and how to place their moral and scientific ideals into reality.  Reason has given us Negative Utilitarianism and anesthetics; both Skepticism and the Hubble Telescope.   And the most beautiful and amazing thing is that these two are not radically opposed as some believe but one causes the other.  Skepticism is the provider of knowledge – not the removal of it.  For what is removed through critical inquiry and asking for evidence was never to be believed in anyway.

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