How Dostoyevsky Came to Believe that Beauty Will Save the World

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How did Dostoevsky come to believe that beauty will save the world? He served his four-year sentence in a labor camp in Omsk where I was born. The barracks where the prisoners were kept are still there to this day and now form the “historical part of the city” with Dostoyevsky’s monument at the entrance.

Four years of hard labor in Siberia in the middle of the 19th century were tantalizing. And yet, in this furnace, Dostoyevsky’s main philosophical ideas were forged, which he later fleshed out in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Scholars agree that during this time, a radical shift happened in his thinking from looking for external solutions to the world’s problems to discovering beauty as the only solution to evil.

The pinnacle of his “beauty-will-save-the-world” narrative is his poem The Great Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.

The 90-year-old cardinal arrests Jesus and makes a strong case for why the system of the world based on worshiping external authority is the only solution for those weak and unruly human beings to live happily. He scoffs at Jesus for believing in humans too much. They don’t want freedom. They want bread and someone to bow down to.

We – the system of the world – provided them with all that. Don’t you dare ruin it! It’s the only way to keep evil in check. Jesus doesn’t respond. He is silent. After the old man finishes his tirade, Jesus stands up and kisses him gently. The old man doesn’t execute him as he promised. He lets him go. Why?

Because he met with the ultimate beauty. Jesus’s kiss awakened him to a sudden realization that haunted his dreams for many years. Suddenly, he knew in his heart that all his arguments were a bunch of baloney.

There’s beauty in the world that makes a man forget all about bread and security. It is the beauty of seeing someone readily becoming a willing sacrifice for you. The Grand Inquisitor understands that Jesus is ready to die again as many times as necessary so people can be free. So, he lets him go, unable to resist the inner call of Beauty.  

Dostoyevsky’s famous phrase “Beauty will save the world” sums up his whole philosophy and strangely resonates with the insights of other great thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. One of them was Victor Hugo, who, according to Dostoyevsky, was his source of inspiration.

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G.K. Chesterton on the Fallacy of Success: The Curse of the Midas Touch

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What is the curse of the Midas touch?

“There is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey.” G.K. Chesterton (On the Fallacy of Success).

What is success? We all seem to have some idea of what it is. And if we don’t, there are thousands of people out there who will teach you. There are thousands of online courses, tens of thousands of YouTube gurus, and millions of books out there that promise to lead you to success in 5 simple steps.  

People with the “Midas touch” are universally praised and revered. They can use every opportunity to make money. They are able to turn everything they touch into gold. And yet, as G.K. Chesterton says, the Greeks have enshrined the “instinct that makes people rich” in the most telling myth about King Midas.

Midas, the affluent ruler of Phrygia, lived in a lavish palace with his beautiful daughter and was leading a life of extravagance. Despite his immense wealth, Midas was fixated on the pursuit of gold, believing it to be the ultimate source of happiness.

His avarice was such that he spent his days counting his golden coins, and occasionally he would even “bathe” in golden coins.

One day, a satyr by the name of Silenus was passing through Midas’s famous rose garden. He was so tired after days of feasting with his patron Bacchus that he lay down on the ground in total exhaustion to take a nap. Midas found him there, invited him in, and took care of him.

After several days, he took him back to Bacchus, the god of wine and pleasure. Bacchus was so glad to see Silenus that he promised to fulfill any one wish of Midas. After some consideration, Midas blurted: “I want to turn everything I touch into gold.” Bacchus advised him to think twice before making such a wish, but Midas didn’t listen.

The next day, Midas started touching everything in his castle. First, a small table turned into gold. Then, he touched a chair, a carpet, the floor – everything! Midas was ecstatic. Finally, his dream came true. He could have anything he wanted. He kept running around and touching everything he saw.

Finally, he sank down on his golden chair exhausted. He reached out for some grapes, but the moment he started chewing, he nearly broke his teeth – the grape became golden in his hand. He leaned over to enjoy the smell of a rose on his table, but as soon as he touched it, it turned into gold between his fingers and lost its fragrance.

Slowly, Midas started to realize what had happened to him. He touched a slice of bread, and it turned into gold. He touched a glass of water, and it turned into gold. Suddenly, fear gripped his soul. “What have I done!” he muttered and lay down on his couch. The pillow under his cheek turned into gold as well.

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Rene Girard on How to End Violence in the World

Is it possible to end violence in the world?

In our day and age, violence is legitimized and sacralized – as it’s always been. Nations rise and declare war on each other on the grounds that seem perfectly justifiable.

Since times immemorial, people have believed in sacred violence because there seems to be no other way to set things right when you have been wronged. If a member of another tribe kills someone you love, it is impossible to replace this person by finding an equivalent. There is no equivalent.

How do you then compensate for the loss? How do you appease the wrath? What do you do with the pain? What sacrifice is sufficient to restore peace in your soul?

The usual reasoning goes like this: I must make the offending party pay with something they hold dear. They must sacrifice someone they love. It can’t be just anyone. It should be someone pure and perfect, a holy sacrifice. A king, a maid, or a child. There is a strong mythology developed around the sacred victim because it seems to be the only workable solution.

“The victim becomes sacred and the process of sacralization remains a fundamental structure of all archaic religion.” Rene Girard

When the sacrifice is made (usually by violence), peace is restored. Wrath seems to be appeased. Or is it? In any case, it seems to work for a time – at least, it dulls the pain well enough.

What is the theory of Rene Girard?

Rene Girard, a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher, said that people have only two ways of dealing with violence in this world. One is to look for a scapegoat. The other one is to become a scapegoat – willingly.

The first way is pagan. All pagan religions sooner or later come up with the idea of a scapegoat – someone who will bear the guilt of all.

The second one was epitomized by Christ – an innocent scapegoat who willingly takes upon himself the guilt of all the transgressions.

Rene Girard says,

“Christianity must be the religion of the end of sacrifice, because it says that there is only one victim, who is God.”

Pain always pushes us to look for a scapegoat. Until our pain is healed, we will need a sacrifice to appease our own anger. We will lash out. We will demand a sacrifice. We are hurting, so we need to hurt. We can’t just leave it like this. So, we will ALWAYS find a scapegoat – someone who will pay the price.

The trouble with this approach is that it DOES NOT heal the pain that caused the violence in the first place – it only dulls it for a while. By lashing out against our chosen scapegoat, we feel a temporary relief from our pain but the root of it remains. We will be relieved for a while until something else or someone else triggers our pain again.

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How Powerful Are the Ents?

The Gentle Power of Growing that Splits Rocks.

How powerful are the Ents?

“My business is with Isengard tonight, with rock and stone.” Treebeard.

What can be more vulnerable than a gentle sprout springing from under the ground? You can easily step on it and trample it underfoot. You can knock it off with a stick or break it with your fingers. And yet, in Tolkien’s lore, the power of growing things prevails over the power of the Machine.

In The Lord of the Rings, The One Ring is the epitome of the ultimate Machine, a technology used to control other wills. In Tolkien’s philosophy, the Machine is an external technique or device designed to subdue reality to my will.

By the last [the Machine] I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognized. . . The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines.

Saruman didn’t believe in the power of growing. He didn’t care for growing things. He believed in the Machine. He believed in forcing. Forcing is the opposite of growing. Growing is allowing things to be as they are. Forcing is imposing your will upon another. As Treebeard says of Saruman,

He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for living things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” 

Ironically, Isengard was defeated by “the things that grow” – the Ents and Huorns (trees) who were roused enough to unleash their hidden power. But where does this power come from?

There are two types of magic in The Lord of the Rings. One is black magic called the Machine, and the other one is Art. The Machine is using external means to bulldoze reality into my mold. Art is the magic that grows out of who I am. Hobbits and elves love “all things that grow” because they are attuned to the “deeper magic.”

For all hobbits share a love for things that grow.

Saruman wasn’t attuned to the “deeper magic,” the magic of growing – the magic that grows slowly and is rooted in the soil.

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Gandalf

What does Aslan say about the “deeper magic”?

C.S. Lewis mentions this “deeper magic” in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan says of the White Witch:

The Witch knew the Deep Magic…but there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.

In Magician’s Nephew, we see this deeper magic unfold in the way Narnia springs into existence from the primeval darkness — as an echo of The Song. The deeper magic of Aslan’s Song makes all things grow. All living things literally spring out of the ground, from the soil of the earth.

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Who is Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair?

Who is Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia?

When someone asked Augustine, “What is time?” he answered, “When you don’t ask, I know. When you ask, I don’t.”

We all know what time is, and yet it’s hard to say what it is.

To understand time, the Greeks personified chronological time as Chronos/Khronos (Χρόνος), who later was mixed with a Titan Cronus – the one who devours his own children. And this conflation is quite understandable since we are all born into this world in chronological time and, eventually, chronological time will consume us.

The Romans called Chronos Father Time. Chronos, the chronological time, gives life and takes it away. That’s why the Romans associated Chronos with Saturn, the god of the underworld.

The first time we meet Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is in The Silver Chair. He is a bearded giant asleep in the underworld. He is the largest of all giants.

“Who’s that?” asked Puddleglum…

“That is old Father Time, who once was a King in Overland,” said the Warden. “And now he has sunk down into the Deep Realm and lies dreaming of all the things that are done in the upper world. Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands. They say he will wake at the end of the world.”

Father Time is sleeping. When I first read that years ago, something stirred in me and I thought,

“Hm… we don’t yet know time for what it is. We only know the Time that sleeps. I wonder what it’s going to be like when it awakens?”

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What is Polarization and How to Avoid It?

What is polarization? Is it possible not to become polarized? Whether it’s politics, gender, religion, or parenting, sometimes not taking sides seems impossible.

In his book The Wisdom Pattern, Richard Rohr says there is a “third way.”

“This is a position that refuses to become polarized. This is a position that recognizes the ego at work both in excluding and oppressing the other, as well as in claiming moral superiority through a continuous victimhood narrative.”

Two like charges repel each other. But if I reverse one of them, they will attract. My ego will always push away the other ego. They are too alike. I need to reverse my charge to start attracting.

What is polarization and what causes it?

To explain the phenomenon, Peter Kreeft, the philosophy professor at Boston College, gave the following illustration.

Imagine two people standing on top of two opposite hills, each at the farthest possible distance from each other. Even if they shout at the top of their lungs, they won’t hear much.

But the more each one descends into the valley, the closer they will get to each other. The closer they are to each other, the less they will need to “shout.” The closer they become, the less they will need to second-guess the meaning of each other’s words.

Eventually, they will reach the lowest point in the valley, where they won’t even need to whisper. Silence is more than enough for communication. The closer you are to God, the closer you are to the Other.

This does not mean that there are no more differences between them; it means they are above them. When we go down we go up. The differences are still there, but they are not all that important.

There, at the deepest depth, all differences are transcended, not eradicated. Overemphasizing differences is a symptom of superficiality – not going deep enough. There can be no mutuality or understanding on the surface. Only isolation and polarization.

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What is a Name According to the Inklings? A Label or a Portal into Being?

What is a name according to the Inklings?

When Frodo stabs a Ringwraith at Weathertop with his sword and cries out in Elvish, “O Elbereth Gilthoniel!” he doesn’t know what he is doing. Later, Aragorn explains what happened at that moment,

More deadly to him [the Witch-king] was the name of Elbereth.

But why is the name of Elbereth (Varda) so deadly to the Witch-king? Isn’t it just a sound?

It turns out, it’s not. In our divided consciousness, we tend to separate the name from its bearer. We do so subconsciously because modern consciousness perceives everything in fragments. We think that the name is merely a sound, and the thing it denotes is a physical object that exists separately from its name. But that’s not what we find in the Inklings.

In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Elvish languages seem to represent the one proper language, or “language as it should be.” It is the primal proto-language not yet divided by the curse of Babel. It proceeds from the consciousness that perceives the world as a Whole, and in it, words are always one with what they name. In fact, words contain what they name as in a “house.”

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke of words as “the house of being,” not labels or tags on things. He said,

For words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are.

So, what is a name according to the Inklings? It is a portal that ushers the invocator into the invisible realm concealed behind the sound.

For the Inklings, the name and the named are one. The named one is IN the name. The Lord of the Rings was written from a different consciousness than ours as Tolkien himself seems to indicate – it was the consciousness of participation, not separation. Tolkien said,

I have long ceased to invent… I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself.

For a participated consciousness, there is no difference between the name of a thing and the thing itself. The thing exists in its name. That’s why words always effect what they name. The name is not a denotation; it’s an invocation. That’s why Elbereth was really there at Frodo’s call. There is no other explanation for Frodo’s survival – if Varda wasn’t there, Frodo would have been consumed by the Darkness. But she was there fully present in her name.

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Death by AI: The Fundamental Flaw of AI According to Goethe

What is the fundamental flaw of AI?

Recently, someone sent me AI-generated art and said, “How cool is that?” I looked at it, showed it to my wife, and we both said, “It looks kind of dead.”

It’s so mathematically perfect that there’s no life in it.

I immediately imagined myself seeing that picture in an art gallery hanging next to Monet. No comparison.

No doubt, AI-generated art is okay in the sense that it looks like art. But it’s not properly art. Because art is not created mathematically. It’s created inspirationally. It has a soul.

AI-generated “art” may look perfect, but it’s dead because it’s soulless. It cannot have a soul because no one inspired it.

It takes inspiration to have a soul. AI-generated content may read fine, even perfect, but is it food for the soul?

I experimented with ChatGPT, asking it to create a short story based on Russian folklore. It came out fine, readable, passable, recognizable characters that I knew from my childhood, but it was drab and meaningless.

But why? What is the fundamental flaw of AI?

The answer is deeply philosophical and spiritual – not technical or mathematical.

According to Martin Buber, there are two ways of relating to the world. One is called “I-It,” and the other “I-Thou.”

The “I-It” model is seeing the world as separate from myself. It’s literally “I” and “It.” There’s no connection. I am a subject, and the world is an object out there.

I can only observe it from the outside, gather data about it, measure it, and conceptualize it.

In the “I-It” pattern, we believe we only know something when we have studied it externally by amassing data about it. If I gather all the data about the Sun, I know what the Sun is. If I gather all the data about that person, I know what that person is.

But do I really know that person by collecting data about them? No. I have only created a mental concept of that person based on the data collected and mistaken that concept for reality.

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What Happens When You Heal Your Inner Child?

A parent holding a child's hand

How do you heal your inner child? What is it in the first place?

Your inner child is your inner guidance system that tells you what you need to be happy.

Your inner child is that part of you that always knows what you would have been if you had been loved perfectly.

It’s an inner sensor of love or its absence.

Your inner child is a flower inside you that blooms or fades depending on how much love you feel.

The inner child is that part of me that always tells me the absolute truth about how I feel right now.

If I feel bad inside but keep smiling on the outside, my inner child will be kicking and screaming – and I will feel inner conflict.

If I neglect him for too long and he feels desperate, he will hide – making me feel sad and lost.

If I really hate doing something but try to convince myself otherwise, my inner child will not be fooled. He will break the truth quite bluntly:

“I want to get out of here!”

You may ignore this still small voice for a long time – or even try to silence it entirely – but it will ALWAYS manifest itself in your subconscious through feelings, dreams, and those serendipitous moments when life catches you unawares.

Your inner child is your inner GPS system to always guide you towards perfect love.

The inner child knows what it feels like to be loved perfectly and always protests when you acquiesce to something less.

The more we neglect that voice, the further away we are from perfect love.

The more we want to control, the more inner conflict we feel.

Inner conflict indicates a struggle between what your inner child feels and what your controlling mind craves.

The difference between my inner child and me is that I can lie to myself, and he cannot.

He is my innermost treasure to point me to what I need to be truly happy.

But if I want to connect to this inner GPS system and allow it to lead me to real joy and fulfillment, I need to first recognize my inner child and start listening to him.

It’s not easy at first – the inner child has been hurt. He doesn’t trust me. I have been mistreating him for so many years.

Why would he go out of hiding? Why would he crawl from under the bed?

He will, eventually, if I keep showing up for him with RELENTLESS EMPATHY.

That’s what a loving parent does! They give the child RELENTLESS EMPATHY and UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE.

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The Effect of the “Distant Forest” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle – Whispers Amplified by Imagination

leaf

As I got off the phone with an old friend this morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being under some spell.

He had shared a video with me from 12 years ago when we were much younger, my daughter was 10, and my son was 6.

We had a picnic around a fire, cooking hotdogs, chatting, and enjoying a warm summer evening in Siberia.

As I watched my daughter’s cute chubby face chewing on the hotdog and my son’s frantic hopping and jumping over the fire, I teared up.

“This is Paradise,” I thought. “Why didn’t I see it then?”

“Paradise,” echoed my friend on the other side of the conversation.

“Hmm…,” I thought to myself after I hung up. “Why is it that we tend to see an experience as ordinary when we are in the middle of it? And when there’s some distance between us – whether it’s time or geography – it transforms into something else.

Why didn’t I see all that before? It was an ordinary evening. Yes, I enjoyed it very much, but now I almost see it as a doorway into some inexplicable magic. A picture of another world.

Is my memory playing a trick on me, so am I imagining something that wasn’t there?

Or maybe it’s the other way around – my memory shows me something that was there, but I was too close to it to see it for what it is.

“You can’t recognize a person’s face when you are too close to it,” said the Russian poet Sergey Esenin.

But how do I know that my memory is not deceiving me?

Owen Barfield said in his poem The Tower:

But many times, the secret-breathing world
Whispers to thee, yet whispers with a voice
Which memory shall warehouse as a shout.

This world is breathing secrets, but we often don’t hear its whispers until something amplifies them for us into a shout.

Our memory is that shout that amplifies the whispers that we didn’t hear.  

But what are those secrets that we tend to overlook because we are too close to reality to recognize its face?

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