August 3, 2008

FROM THE ARCHIVES: "UNTOUCHED BY THE BREATH" (Thank you, Pat)

An Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Joseph Pearce, February 2003, St. Austin Review)
Pearce: Do you believe that the West is in the same blind alley [as Russia] and also has nowhere to go?

Solzhenitsyn: Over the last twelve years I have stopped viewing Russia as something very distinct from the West. Today when we say the West we are already referring to the West and to Russia. We could use the word "modernity" if we exclude Africa, and the Islamic world, and partially China. With the exception of those areas we should not use the words "the West" but the word "modernity". The modern world. And yes, then I would say that there are ills that are characteristic, that have plagued the West for a long time and now Russia has quickly adopted them also. [...]

Pearce: A British journalist recently stated that you believe that Russia has overthrown the evils of communism only to replace them with the evils of capitalism, is that a fair statement of your position and, if so, what do you feel are the worst evils of capitalism?

Solzhenitsyn: In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion. Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as "we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology". The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion. This is one point.

Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive. [...]

Pearce: Is the only hope a return to religion?

Solzhenitsyn: Not a return to religion but an elevation toward religion. The thing is that religion itself cannot but be dynamic which is why "return" is an incorrect term. A return to the forms of religion which perhaps existed a couple of centuries ago is absolutely impossible. On the contrary, in order to combat modern materialistic mores, as religion must, to fight nihilism and egotism, religion must also develop, must be flexible in its forms, and it must have a correlation with the cultural forms of the epoch. Religion always remains higher than everyday life. In order to make the elevation towards religion easier for people, religion must be able to alter its forms in relation to the consciousness of modern man.

Pearce: Related to this, there are two points of view amongst members of the Catholic Church about the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. One side says that it was good because it modernised the Church, the other side saw it as a surrender to the modern values with which the Church was essentially at war. What are your own views?

Solzhenitsyn: This question stands also now before the Russian Orthodox Church. It also has two currents within it. The one which is hierarchically dominated does not want to develop at all whereas the reformers seek change. For instance, a question peculiar to the Russian Orthodox Church is should we continue to use Old Church Slavonic or should we start to introduce more of the contemporary Russian language into the service. I understand the fears of both those in the Orthodox and in the Catholic Church, the wariness, the hesitation and the fear that this is lowering the Church to the modern condition, the modern surroundings. I understand this fear but alas I also fear that if religion does not allow itself to change it will be impossible to return the world to religion because the world is incapable on its own of rising as high as the old demands of religion. Religion needs to come to meet it somewhat.

Pearce: Does this pessimism, for want of a better word, apply to society's prospects of rediscovering, or rising to, religion?

Solzhenitsyn: I would have to say that the road is very difficult and the hope is very small but it is not excluded.

If Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn hasn't given up hope how can anyone else? [originally posted: 2003-06-03] Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2008 3:36 PM
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