Friday, November 04, 2005

A paradox of unity and individuality

To draw souls out of isolation
Fyodor Dostoevsky

In his Christ-soaked novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky relates this enigmatic truth: He says that ‘true security is to be found in social solidarity,’ that even though sometimes a person ‘has to do it alone,’ s/he will do so in order to ‘draw other souls out of their solitude.’

Everywhere in these days people have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible state of affairs must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light... But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw other souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die.

When Dostoevsky says that ‘true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort,’ doesn’t this contradict Kierkegaard, who says that the highest goal is to be an individual in the truth, a true person before God?

Not really. Taken in context, both Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard are saying the same thing: only a true individual before God can offer the masses a real path to God. Kierkegaard approaches it by exposing how people hide in the crowd -- perhaps fragmented or isolated in their inner person, but using ‘the family,’ or ‘the church,’ or some other manifestation of the group to deny personal calling. And Dostoevsky approaches it by showing that the goal of the true individual is salvific social solidarity.

In both cases, it is the individual who opens him or herself to the high calling in Christ, who can then show a family and ‘group’ the path into greater glory. In no case does the individual go there for personal glory. And this is the paradox of true individuality: one never becomes an individual to remain alone. S/he seeks then the light for others

The story of Heliopher
The lover of the Son

Hardy Arnold recounts a Russian legend as told by Maxim Gorky, it is the tale of Heliopher, the lover of the sun, or lover of light, who leads the crowd out of darkness.

Once upon a time there was a race which was lost in a great, dark forest. The trees stood so close together that the light of the sun could not penetrate the thickly entwined branches. There were also numerous wild animals which fell upon the people, especially the children, when they wandered too far from their parents while they were playing. So everyone lived in a constant state of fear of death and destruction, and a hopeless despair took hold of the hearts of the folk.

Continuous…darkness had strangled all the light in their hearts. They could not love one another any more. They even hated and murdered one another in their rage. Yet they were forced to remain together, for it was impossible for any single man to defend himself against the attacks of the wild beasts. They had lost all hope of ever finding their way out of the forest. Many of the young people did not believe in the light they had never seen, and they mocked their elders, when, with a last weak light gleaming in their dim eyes, they recounted tales of the festive, sunny days of their youth.

Among the people however, there was a young man called Heliopher. He was very much alone, grieving over the misery of his people, and seeking a way of salvation. He bore in his heart an endless longing for light and love in the desolation which surrounded him. Heliopher left his people to seek the sun. For many months and years he wandered through the dangers of the forest and of his own soul, and often, very often, nearly lost all hope and confidence. But Heliopher bravely withstood his enemies, whether within himself or around him, and at last he reached the edge of the forest and saw the light of the sun. In terrible amazement he fell into a swoon, and when he awoke he saw in the twilight that he was watched over in his slumber by beautiful people. In the green meadows stood the simple huts of the sun-people, and Heliopher lived with them in peace and endless joy as the most beloved amongst living men.

Then Heliopher went back to the forest to seek his people. “Come, brothers and sisters,” he said to them, “I will lead you to the light.” At this there was murmuring and frowning, wavering and hesitation, wonder and questioning, incredulous laughter, and finally a jubilant “Yes!” And then, at last, the longed-for departure.

Then the light of the sun shone in Heliopher’s eyes, but the way was long and difficult, and demanded much suffering and sacrifice, and murmuring arose among the people. Some spoke and said, “Let us murder him, the betrayer of the people!” And the dark glow of hatred was in their eyes. Others were wiser and said, “No! let us judge him in the presence of all, for it is dangerous to give the people a martyr.” And Heliopher spoke to his people, and talked about light and love. But the wise ones answered, “You lie! There is no light, there is no sun, there is no love. Let us be darker than the forest and more cruel than the wild beasts. Then we shall be masters of the forest!”

Heliopher answered in great pain, “O believe not, ye wise men, that ye can be victorious over darkness by being more dark, that ye can overcome the wild beasts by being more beastly. Only love is stronger. Only the light of the sun can drive away darkness.”

“Be silent!” said the wise men. “There is no light, there is no sun!”

And the people shouted, flinging their arms about in raging despair, “There is no light, there is no sun!”

But Heliopher called out, “Follow me!” Then…he tore open his breast, and his heart burned with love, and it glowed and shed its beams through the dark forest. He took it in both hands, held it high over his head, and strode forth in front of the people.

In reverent wonder and silence the multitude followed the burning heart.

As they came out of the forest, the people ran in jubilation towards the sun, dancing in its loving rays, and loving one another. But Heliopher knelt down at the edge of the forest, and with the last strength of his outstretched arms he held up his loving, pulsing heart to the light of heaven, and gave his last smile to his people.

Alyosha Karamazov

A true individual gives the unity of hope

The story of The Brothers Karamazov is the story of one brother, Alyosha, who goes into the light, following Christ where others will not go…offering his brothers and his world the new world of the Son. Tragedy occurs, yes, but not until the Light has won out. The story ends with Russian street orphans surrounding Alyosha, and crying out, “Hail to the Karamazov!” “Hail to the Karamazov!” But what they really mean, in their own broken way, is a tear-soaked song of faith and hope: “Hail to Thee, O Christ the Lord, who has shown us light in this Karamazov!”

Therein is the meaning of the novel, the meaning of real life, brilliantly summed by Dostoevsky. It is tantalizing. It is existential, and invites each one of us into the story…to be Alyosha in our own stories, and for our world.

For the street orphans are still there. Recent figures put Russian street orphans at 1 million. [1]

And yet, the ‘light has gone out into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.’

Will you be part of the light, the unity of Christ, by becoming a true individual in Christ?

Will you call your people into the Son…by being who you were meant to be?

May it be, may it be!



[1] This is not to mention the orphans of other Eastern European nations. Nor the vast orphaned millions of India, China, Africa, South and Central America...
But the ‘Light has gone out into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.’ How? In you, and in every person who lives his or her potentiality in Christ...

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