Monday, March 17, 2008

Tolstoy's "A Confession" - Part II

Having renounced the faith of his childhood, Leo Tolstoy revelled in his newly found freedom. He had discovered a curious inconsistency that existed in the values of society - that is, that while society publically proclaimed virtue, they secretly appreciated and subsequently rewarded vice. Tolstoy writes:

Every time I tried to express my most sincere desire, which was to be morally good, I met with contempt and ridicule, but as soon as I yielded to low passions I was praised and encouraged.

Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride, anger, and revenge — were all respected.

Yielding to those passions I became like the grown-up folk and felt that they approved of me.

... I cannot think of those years without horror, loathing and heartache. I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in order to kill them. I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder — there was no crime I did not commit, and in spite of that people praised my conduct and my contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively
moral man.

Accordingly, Tolstoy believed he had everything to gain and nothing to lose by adopting a philosophy of hedonism. And because he was quickly establishing his name as one of Russia's foremost writers, the esteem in which he was held prevented him from questioning his actions. Indeed, the literary set had convinced him that as a writer, he had something to teach the rest of the world, even though he did not know what this something was. But this was unimportant, because as Tolstoy explained, "this faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of life was a religion, and I was one of its priests".

As time passed, Tolstoy saw cracked developing in his worldview. The literary community did not seem as insightful as he had once thought and was riddled with inconsistencies that challenged delusions of grandeur that writers were the self-appointed prophets of the new world. Tolstoy writes:

My first cause of doubt was that I began to notice that the priests of this religion were not all in accord among themselves. Some said: We are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is needed, but the others teach wrongly. Others said: No! we are the real teachers, and you teach wrongly. and they disputed, quarrelled, abused, cheated, and tricked one another. There were also many among us who did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were simply bent on attaining their covetous aims by means of this activity of ours. All this obliged me to doubt the validity of our creed.

Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors’ creed itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life; but they were self-confident and self-satisfied as only those can be who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people revolted me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith was a fraud.

Though Tolstoy was quick to realise the bankruptcy of this worldview, he was much slower to totally renounce the religious order because he was still captivated by its rewards ...

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