Friday, April 06, 2012

Diving Deeper 9 - War and Peace 5

We now begin a short perusal of Book 2 of War and Peace. Much of Book Two concerns Pierre's  (Pyotr Kirilovich) Bezukhov struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts to be a better man. Now a rich aristocrat, he abandons his former carefree behavior and enters upon a philosophical quest particular to Tolstoy: how should one live a moral life in an ethically imperfect world? The question continually baffles and confuses Pierre.

Somewhat near the beginning of this section we are invited into Pierre's thoughts on ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology:

'What is wrong?  What is rights?  What should one love and what hate?  What is life for and what am I?  What is life?  What is death?  What is the power that controls it all?' he asked himself.  And there was no answer to any of these questions, except the one illogical reply that in no way answered them.  This reply was: 'One dies and it's all over.  One dies and either finds out about everything or ceases asking.'  But dying, too, was dreadful.'  (War and Peace, p. 407)

Then, looking at the poor pedlar-woman seeking to sell him goat-skin slippers, he muses to himself:

'And what does she want the money for?  As if it could add a hair's breadth to her happiness or peace of mind.  Can anything in the world make her or me less enslaved to evil and death?   Death which is the end of all things and must come today or tomorrow - at any rate in an instant of time as compared with eternity.'  And again he twisted the screw with the stripped thread, and the screw still went on turning in the same place.  (Ibid., p. 407)

'And all we can know is that we know nothing .  And that is the sum total of human wisdom.' (Ibid., p. 408).

Then he meets a freemason and he debates the existence or non-existence of God with him.  This debate is pure theology:

'I should never be so bold as to assert that I know the truth', said the mason, impressing Pierre more and more with the precision and assurance of his speech.  'No one can attain the truth by himself.  Only by laying stone upon stone with the co-operation of all, through millions of generations from our forefather Adam to our own day is the temple raised which is to be a worthy dwelling place for the Most High God,' said the freemason and closed his eyes.

'I ought to tell you that I don't believe... I don't believe in God,' said Pierre regretfully and with an effort, feeling it essential to confess the whole truth.'  The mason looked at him and smiled...

'Yes, you do not know Him, my dear sir,' said the freemason.  'You cannot know Him.  You do not know Him, that is just why you are unhappy.'

'Yes, yes, I am unhappy,' assented Pierre; 'but what am I to do?  (Ibid., p. 410)

Freemason Symbols
From there on over some five or six pages the two men proceed with a dialogue about belief and unbelief with the freemason presenting the Christian viewpoint.  The freemason proffers strong faith-based arguments to meet Pierre's objections and then states, with respect to belief in God:

'... but in our lack of understanding we see only our own weakness and His greatness.'  (Ibid., p.  411)

'It is not the mind that comprehends Him; it is life that makes us understand,' said the mason. (Ibid., p. 412)

And then he proceeds to talk about "the science of all" which is a deep piece of wisdom as he is explaining faith as a way of embracing the mystery of all in a oneness of apprehension or a oneness of grasping what the mystery of life may be.  His argumentation here is somewhat akin to the arguments for the existence of God put forward by John Henry Cardinal Newman in Victorian times in his extremely closely argued and complex book The Grammar of Assent In other words, it's the whole person in the totality of his/her being - not just with the intellect which is just one part of that being - who answers the "yes" of faith to the revelation of God:

'Supreme wisdom is not founded on reason alone, not on those worldly sciences of physics, history, chemistry and the like, into which intellectual knowledge is divided.  The highest wisdom is one.  The highest wisdom has but one science - the science of the All, the science which explains all creation and man's place in it.  In order to absorb this science it is absolutely essential to purify and regenerate one's inner self, and so, before one can know, it is necessary to have faith and be made perfect.  And for this purpose we have the divine light we call conscience, which God implanted into our souls.  (Ibid., p.412)


William Blake's Ancient of Days: God the Creator
We are not too surprised either, that like Newman, this man of faith, this anonymous freemason finally appeals to the argument from conscience as one of the arguments as to why God exists.  Anyway, this man goes on to lecture Pierre on his indolent and carefree life and on how he has wasted his gifts.  He tells him to examine his life and to have faith and to repent and turn back to God.  This is presented in a very dialogical rather than a hectoring way where the freemason sets out his stall with strong logical argument that breaks Pierre down. The upturn of these five or six pages of argumentation about the existence of God is that Pierre repents and joins the freemasons.  He now, obviously, has renounced his former opinions and has declared his belief in the existence of God.

Pierre has to go through an induction ceremony to become a freemason and has to be instructed in the seven virtues corresponding to the seven steps up to Solomon's Temple.  These virtues were: (i) discretion = secrecy about their Order, (ii) obedience to those of higher rank, (iii) morality, (iv) love for mankind, (v) courage, (vi) generosity and (vii) love of death.

This last one is interesting and ties in with what I have already written many time sin these posts about the meditation on our own death recommended in Buddhism of all strands and indeed in most religions.

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