Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anna Karenina, Love, Duty and Fideism

I've finally finished "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. It's a truly masterful book, especially the last two parts, though personally I don't think I'd place it higher on my list than Les Miserables and I'd also have reservations about displacing "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky from the number two position. That said, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read and it made a number of fairly profound insights and asked a number of pertinent questions.

The major theme in "Anna Karenina" is undoubtably the tension that exists between love and duty. Tolstoy contends that both are important to human existence, but it may be impossible in some circumstances for people to satisfy both callings. Of course, love can exist and be expressed by dutiful devotion and one can love his or her duties, but this will not always be case. The rigid demands of society will often impose duties upon us that are incompatible with our love. It is at these points in time when we will have to determine whether we are bound to those duties or whether those duties are the product of the societal imagination and thus have no force over us.

The other aspect of "Anna Karenina" I found fascinating was the search for faith of Levin. I must admit that I could perceive quite a few similarities between Levin and myself, who is more or less an autobiographical account of Leo Tolstoy himself. Levin is an intensely analytical individual and devoted to the rigorous search for truth. He is also introverted and finds himself uncomfortable adopting to the social norms of society, many of which he finds rather false. Finally, because he is always able to see things from differing perspectives, he is continually second-guessing himself. I honestly believe that I possess all of the above characteristics in spades.

With respect to his search for faith, Levin tries to come to a knowledge of God through rational means. But because he can always find counter-arguments to arguments, he is left in a state of suspended belief about the question of God. It would seem to me that Tolstoy takes a rather disapproving approach to rationalism, as indicated by the way that he often depicts those characters involved in the many debates he presents in the book as posturing towards their intelligence rather than opening their minds to an alternative point of view. I tend to think that this suggests that Tolstoy is a fideist who believes that God cannot be deduced through logical means, but that knowledge about God is much more intuitive and instinctive than anything else.

Tolstoy's epistemological approach made me revisit the question of Christian apologetics. It is no secret that I believe that most Christian apologetics (and particularly evangelical apologetics) is of extremely poor quality. But rather than this being a fault of the arguments per se, I suspect that this is a problem that has taken root in the post-Thomist era of Christendom in which it has been believed that arriving at God is a task no more difficult than making a few mathematical calculations and coming up with a fool-proof result. That is, in aiming for an apologetic approach that wants to prove categorically that Christianity is the undisputably right and only option, apologists undercut themselves because belief doesn't work like that.

In response, I would suggest that we present a form of apologetics in which we try to show that if Christianity is not indisputably true, then it is at least plausible and perhaps even probable. That other worldviews may not be entirely discounted is hardly the point. The point, rather, is that Christianity is a believable belief and that it not unreasonable to adopt the Christian faith. Once this is established, the question then seems to be whether or not a person wants to believe. Those who wish to believe can believe and those who won't believe can't believe. Those who believe will increasingly develop a conviction of belief, and it is when they choose to act upon that conviction that they are exercising what we call "faith".

No comments: