Tolstoy for the win!

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading Anna Karenina (again, but for the first time in forty years), and will probably have a few things to say about it when I finish. But I need to give immediate kudos to a passage I just read in Part Eight, Chapter Eight, where Levin reflects on his religious awakening:

From that moment when, at the sight of his beloved brother dying, Levin had looked at the questions of life and death for the first time trhough those new convictions, as he called then, which imperceptibly, during the period from twenty to thirty-four years of age, had come to replace his childhood and adolescent beliefs, he had been horrified, not so much at death as at life without the slightest knowledge of whence it came, wherefore, why, and what it was.

The organism, its decay, the indestructibility of matter, the law of the conservation of energy, development, were the words that had replaced his former faith. These words and the concepts connected with them were very well suited to intellectual purposes, but they gave nothing for life, and Levin suddenly felt himself in the position of a person who has traded his warm fur coat for muslin clothing and, caught in the cold for the first time, is convinced beyond question, not by reasoning but by his whole being, that he is as good as naked and must inevitably die a painful death.

From that moment on, though not accounting for it to himself and continuing to live as before, Levin never ceased to feel that fear at his ignorance.

Moreover, he felt vaguely that what he called his convictions were not only ignorance but were a way of thinking that made the knowledge he needed impossible.

Levin is fortunate enough to recognize that his modern, sophisticated view of the world is not only inadequate but in fact prevents him from seeing the world as it actually is. How to escape such a philosophical dead end? Only by the grace of God, of course. And in Levin’s case that grace took the form of humility, at least enough to recognize that his convictions had failed him.

It’s hard enough to accurately discern God’s economy without the added obstacle of confidence in our convictions! But I know from direct, repeated experience that Tolstoy is exactly right.

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