Selections from Berdyaev’s “Destiny of Man”: Ethics, paradise, hell, and the herd instinct

This one really got me thinking so I have assembled my favorite passages here:

There is something tragic in the fate of philosophic knowledge. It is very difficult for philosophy to vindicate its freedom and independence, which have always been threatened on different sides. Philosophy, in the past dependent upon religion, is at present dependent upon science. It is for ever menaced with being enslaved either by religion, or by science, and it is hard for it to retain its own place and pursue its own way.

The knower’s religious faith and religious life are bound to influence his philosophy; he cannot forget them in his cognitive activity. Nor can be forget his scientific knowledge. But the fact of a philosopher having religious faith and scientific knowledge is certainly not a disadvantage; the trouble only begins when religion and science become an external authority for his thought. Both religion and science may enrich philosophical knowledge, but they must not dominate it from without.

It might be said that science is based upon the alienation of man from reality and of reality from man. The knower is outside reality, and the reality he knows is external to him. Everything becomes an object i.e. foreign to man and opposed to him.

The historical method which overloads memory and objectifies ideas, regarding them entirely from outside, is as fatal to philosophy as subjective idealism or naturalism… It results in a relativism which is made absolute. This is how the creative power of knowledge is destroyed and the discovery of meaning becomes impossible. It is enslavement of philosophy by science– scientific terrorism.

Philosophy is based upon the assumption that the world is part of man and not vice versa.

The meaning of things is revealed not through their entering into man who is passive in relation to them, but through man’s creative activity reaching out to meaning beyond an unmeaning world.

If knowledge is objectification, then it can never reach its goal. This is the tragedy of knowledge: existence is irrational and individual, but we can only know the rational and the general.

Moral knowledge is the most bitter and most fearless of all for in it sin and evil are revealed to us along with the meaning and value of life. There is a deadly pain in the very distinction of good and evil, of the valuable and the worthless. We cannot rest in the thought that that distinction is ultimate. The longing for God in the human heart springs from the fact that we cannot bear to be faced forever with the distinction between good and evil and the bitterness of choice.

I should like to work out a system of ethics which is not tyrannical i.e. not normative. All normative theories of ethics are tyrannical… Ethics is bound to contain a prophetic element. It must be a revelation of a clear conscience, unclouded by social conventions.


Chapter 2: The origin of good and evil

The very distinction between good and evil which is the result of the Fall becomes the source of atheism. Ethics springs from the same source as atheism, and this throws a sinister light upon it. The traditional doctrines of theology do not solve the painful problem of evil. The ordinary theological conception of the creation of the world and the Fall turns it all into a divine comedy, a play that God plays with Himself. One may disagree with Marcion, the Gnostics and the Manichees, but one cannot help respecting them for their being so painfully conscious of the problem of evil. Evil is generally said to be due to the abuse of freedom with which God endowed his creatures. But this explanation is purely superficial. The freedom through which the creature succumbs to evil has been given to it by God i.e. in the last resort is determined by God. Freedom is a fatal gift which dooms man to perdition. It is impossible to rationalize this idea and to express it in terms of positive theology. It is precisely the traditional theology that leads good men, inspired by moral motives, to atheism. The ordinary theological conception of freedom in no way saves the Creator from the responsibility for pain and evil.

When we pass to negative theology [what we can’t know] we begin to breathe more freely as though coming out of a prison-house. Mystery, docta ignorantia have a profound significance… God is the infinite mystery that underlies existence– and this alone makes the pain and evil of life endurable. They would be unendurable if the world and man were self-sufficient, if there were nothing beyond, higher and deeper and more mysterious. We come to know God not because rational thought demands his existence but because the world is bounded by a mystery in which rational thought ends. Consequently, all systems of positive theology are exoteric and do not touch upon the last things. Mystery negative theology brings us closer to the final depths. The limit to rational thought is set by a mystery and not by taboo.

It is extraordinary how limited is the human conception of God. Men are afraid to ascribe to Him inner conflict and tragedy characteristic of all life, the longing for his “other”, for the birth of man, but have no hesitation in ascribing to Him anger, jealousy, vengeance, and other affective states which, in man, are regarded as reprehensible. There is a profound gulf between the idea of perfection in man and in God. Self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, stony immobility, pride, the demand for continual submission are qualities which the Christian religion considers vicious and sinful, through it calmly ascribes them to God. It becomes impossible to follow the Gospel injunction, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” That which in God is regarded as a sign of perfection in man is considered an imperfection, a sin.

Fate is the pre-Christian tragedy. Freedom in the Christian tragedy.

Tragedy means a conflict between polarities, but it need not necessarily be a conflict between good and evil, the divine and the diabolical… The greatest tragedy is suffering caused by the good and not by evil, and consists in our being unable to justify life in terms of the distinction between good and evil… The most tragic situations in life are conflicts between values which are equally noble and lofty. And this implies that tragedy exists within the Divine life itself. The appearance of evil and of the diabolical is something secondary.

The good who create a hell and relegate the wicked to it are an instance of tragedy.

Chapter 3: Man

Hardened selfhood– the result of original sin– is not personality. It is only when the hardened selfhood melts away and is transcended that personality manifests itself.
The struggle that takes place within the genus is for the self-assertion of the individual and not of personality. The individual’s struggle for existence and power within the genus has nothing to do with the value of personality. The struggle for personality and its value is spiritual and not biological. In that struggle man inevitably comes into conflict with society, for metaphysically he is a social being. But personality only partly belongs to society; the rest of it belongs to the spiritual world. Man is bound to determine his relation to society but he cannot be morally determined by society.

Ethics must begin by opposing the final socialization of man which destroys the freedom of spirit and conscience. The socialization of morality means a tyranny of society and of public opinion over the spiritual life of man and his moral valuations. The enemy of personality is the community, but not communalty or sobornost.

Society is an object of moral valuations and cannot be the source of them.

There is a demonical element in man, for there is in him the fathomless abyss of freedom, and he may prefer that abyss to God.

Chapter 4: The ethics of the law

The terrible thing about moralism is that it strives to make man into an automaton of virtue. The intolerable dullness of virtue that gives rise to immorality, often of an extremely thoughtless kind, is a specific consequence of the ethics of law which knows of no higher power. In truth, the ethics of law is built up without any reference to God’s help, as though God did not exist. It is inevitable that men should at times rebel against the dull legalistic virtue, and then return to it. Such rebellion is a moral phenomenon and demands careful consideration.

It was against Pelagian moralism and rationalism i.e. against legalism in the Catholic church that Luther rebelled; but in its further development Lutheranism, too, became legalistic. The legalistic element was strong in Christianity at all times, and even the doctrine of grace was interpreted in that sense. Pharisaism was by no means overcome. Moralism in all its forms was essentially pharisaical. Asceticism assumed a legalistic character. A moralist as a type is a stickler for the law who does not want to know anything about the concrete, living individual. Amoralism is a legitimate reaction against this. The imperatives of legalistic ethics are applicable only to very crud, elementary instances– one must not indulge in a vice, steal, commit murder, tell lies– but they are of no help in the more subtle and complex cases which demand in individual, creative solution. The law has been made for the Old Adam, vindictive, tyrannical, greedy, lustful and envious. But the real problem of ethics lies deeper; it is bound up with the individual complexity of life, which is due to conflicts between higher values and to the presence of the tragic element in life. And yet it is generally supposed that the business of ethics is to teach that one ought not to be a pick-pocket!

The religious form of legalistic ethics is to be found in pharisaism. It is a mistake to imagine, as many Christians do, that Pharisees were morally and religiously on a low level and to use the word almost as a term of abuse. On the contrary, pharisaism was the highest point reached by the Jews in their moral and religious life. And, indeed, starting from the hard-set ground of the Old Testament religion of the law it was impossible to rise higher. But it was this pure and lofty form of Judaism that Christ denounced. The thing that impresses one most in reading the Gospel is the rebellion against pharisaism, the denunciation of its falsity as compared with the New Testament truth. That means the denunciation of legalistic morality, of the idea of justification by the law, and of complacent self-righteousness. The Gospel puts sinners and publicans above the Pharisees, the unclean above the clean, those who have not fulfilled the law above those who have fulfilled it, the last above the first, the perishing above the saved, “the wicked” above “the good.” This is the paradox of Christian morality which the Christians have found it hard to understand and accept. Christians imagine that the Gospel denunciations refer to Pharisees who lived in the distant past, and themselves join in rhetorically denouncing them as villains. But in truth those denunciations refer to ourselves, to us who are living to-day, to the self-righteous, to the morally “first” and “saved” of all times… But what does this paradox mean? Why shall the first in the moral sense be last and vice versa? Why is it better to be a sinner conscious of his sin than to be a Pharisee conscious of his righteousness? The usual explanation is that the sinner is humble while the Pharisee is proud, like the Stoic, and Christianity is first and foremost a religion of humility. It seems to me that this explanation does not go to the root of the disquieting problem. The Pharisees stood on the confines of two worlds, at the dividing line between the ethics of law and the ethics of grace and redemption. The impotence of the ethics of law to save from sin and evil had to be manifest in them. The difficulty of the problem lies in the fact that the precepts of legalistic ethics are fully practicable. One can fulfill the law down to the smallest detail and become pure according to the law. This was precisely what the Pharisees did. And then it appeared that the perfect fulfillment of the law and perfect purity do not save, do not lead to the Kingdom of God. The law sprang up as a result of sin, but it is powerless to free man from the world in which he found himself after plucking the fruit from the tree of knowledge. It is powerless to conquer sin and cannot save. Pharisaism i.e. the ethics of law, is mercilessly condemned in the Gospel because its adherents do not need the Saviour and salvation as sinner and publicans need it, because if the final religious and moral truth were on the side of the Pharisees redemption would be unnecessary. Pharisaism means rejection of the Redeemer and redemption and the belief that salvation is to be found by fulfilling the moral law. But in truth salvation means rising above the distinction between good and evil which is the result of the Fall i.e. rising above the law engendered by that distinction. It means entering the Kingdom of Heaven, which is certainly not the Kingdom of the law or of the good as it exists on this side of the distinction.

Chapter 4: the ethics of redemption

The ethics of the Gospel is based upon existence and not upon norm, it prefers life to law. A concrete existent, a living being, is higher than any abstract idea, even if it be the idea of the good. The good of the Gospel consists in regarding not the good but man as the supreme principle of life. The Gospel shows that men, out of love for the good, may be vile and hypocritical, that out of love for the good they may torture their fellows or forget about them. The Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath– this is the essence of the great moral revolution made by Christianity, in which man for the first time recovered from the fatal consequences of distinguishing between good and evil and from the power of the law. “The Sabbath” stands for the abstract good, for the idea of the norm, the law, and fear of defilement. But “the Son of man is the lord of the Sabbath.” Christianity knows no abstract moral norms, binding upon all men and at all times. Therefore for a Christian every moral problem demands its own individual solution, and is not to be solved mechanically by applying a norm set once for all. It must be so, if man is higher than “the Sabbath”, the abstract idea of the good. Every moral act must be based upon the greatest possible consideration for the man from whom it proceeds and for the man upon whom it is directed. The Gospel morality of grace and redemption is the direct opposite of Kant’s formula: you must not act so that the principle of your action could become a universal law: you must always act individually, and everyone must act differently. The universal law is that every moral action should be unique and individual, i.e. that it should have in view a concrete living person and not the abstract good.

Such is the ethics of love. Love can only be directed upon a person, a living being and not upon the abstract good. To be guided in one’s moral actions by the love for the good and not for men means to be a Scribe and a Pharisee and to practice the reverse of the Christian moral teaching. The only thing higher than the love for man is the love for God, Who is also a concrete Being, a Person and not an abstract idea. The love of God and the love of man sum up the Gospel morality; all the rest is not characteristically Christian and merely confirms the law. Christianity preachers love for one’s neighbour and not for “those far off”. This is a very important distinction. Love for “the far off”, for man and humanity in general, is love for an abstract idea, for the abstract good, and not love for man. And for the sake of this abstract love men are ready to sacrifice concrete, living beings. We find this love for “the far off” in humanistic revolutionary morality. But there is a great difference between humanistic and Christian love. Christian love is concrete and personal, while humanistic love is abstract and impersonal; Christian love cares above all for the individual, and humanistic for “the idea”, even though it be the idea of humanity and its happiness. There is, of course, a strong Christian element in humanism, for humanism is of Christian origin. Christianity affirmed the supreme value of man through the words of Christ that man is higher than Sabbath and His commandment of love for one’s neighbour. But just as in Christianity the Scribes and Pharisees began to gain the upper hand, and “the Sabbath”, the abstract idea of the good, was set above man, so in humanism its Scribes and Pharisees put the idea of human welfare or progress above man as a concrete living being.

A false interpretation of “good works” leads to a complete perversion of Christianity. “Good works” are regarded not as an expression of love for God and man, not as a manifestation of the gracious force which gives life to others, but as a means of salvation and justification for oneself, as a way of realizing the abstract idea of the good and receiving a reward in the future life. This is a betrayal of the Gospel revelation of love. “Good works” done not for the love of others but for the salvation of one’s soul are not good at all. Where there is no love there is no goodness. Love does not require or expect any reward, it is a reward in itself, it is a ray of paradise illumining and transfiguring reality. “Good works” as works of the law have nothing to do with teh Gospel and the Christian revelation; they belong to the pre-Christian world. One must help others and do good works not for saving one’s soul but for love, for the union of men, for bringing their souls together in the Kingdom of God. Love for man is a value in itself, the quality of goodness is immanent in it.

There are two ways of feeling towards one’s neighbor. There is pity. Pity means sharing the desolateness of the creature, its sense of being forsaken by God. And there is love. Love means sharing the life in God and His gracious help. Pity is not the last and the highest state, love is higher– love for others in God. But pity is one of the loftiest human feelings, a true miracle in the moral life of man, as Schopenhauer rightly pointed out, though he gave a wrong explanation of it. The burning, poignant sense of desolation and the readiness to share it embraces the whole of the animal world and all created things. Pity inevitably forms part of love, but love is greater than pity, for love knows others in god. Love mean seeing the other in God and affirming him in eternal life; it is the radiation of energy needed for that eternal life. The Christian ethics of the Gospel is founded upon the recognition of the significance of each human soul which is worth more than all the kingdoms of this world. Personality has unconditional value as the image and likeness of God. No abstract idea of the good can be put above personality.

Chapter 5: the ethics of creativity

the ethics of creativeness differ from the ethics of law first of all because every moral task is for it absolutely individual and creative. The moral problems of life cannot be solved by an automatic application of universally binding rules. It is impossible to say that in the same circumstances one ought always and everywhere to act in the same way. It is impossible if only because circumstances are never quite the same. Indeed, the very opposite rule might be formulated. One ought always to act individually and solve every moral problem for oneself, showing creativeness in one’s moral activity, and not for a single moment become a moral automaton. A man ought to make moral inventions with regard to problems that life sets him. Hence, for the ethics of creativeness freedom means something very different from what it does for the ethics of law. For the latter the so-called freedom of will has no creative character and means only acceptance or rejection of the law of the good and responsibility for doing one over the other. For the ethics of creativeness freedom means not the acceptance of the law but individual creation of values. Freedom is creative energy, the possibility of building up new realities. The ethics of law knows nothing of that freedom. It does not know that the good is being created, that in every individual and unrepeatable moral act new good that had never existed before is brought into being by the moral agent whose invention it is. There exists no fixed, static moral order subordinated to a single universally binding moral law. Man is not a passive executor of the laws of the world order. Man is a creator and an inventor. His moral conscience must at every moment of his life be energy. Life is based upon energy and not upon law. It may be saw, indeed, that energy is the source of law. The ethics of creativeness takes a very different view of the struggle against evil than does the ethics of law. According to it, that struggle consists in the creative realization of the good and the transformation of evil into good, rather than in the mere destruction of evil. The ethics of law is concerned with the finite: the world is for it a self-contained system and there is no way out of it. The ethics of creativeness is concerned with the infinite: the world is for it open and plastic, with boundless horizons and possibilities of breaking through to other worlds. IT overcomes the nightmare of the finite from which there is no escape.

The soul is afraid of emptiness. When there is no positive, valuable, divine content in it, it is filled with the negative, false, diabolical content. When the soul feels empty it experiences boredom, which is a truly terrible and diabolical state. Evil lust and evil passions are to a great extent generated by boredom and emptiness. It is difficult to struggle against that boredom by means of abstract goodness and virtue. The dreadful thing is that virtue at times seems deadly dull, and then there is no salvation in it. The cold, hard-set virtue devoid of creative fire is always dull and never saves. The heart must be set aglow if the dullness is to be dispelled. Dull virtue is a poor remedy against the boredom of emptiness. Dullness is the absence of creativeness. All that is not creative is dull. Goodness is deadly dull if it is not creative. No rule or norm can save us from dullness and from evil engendered by it. Lust is a means of escape from boredom when goodness provides no such escape. This is why it is very difficult, almost impossible, to conquer evil passions negatively, through negative asceticism and prohibitions. They can only be conquered positively, through awakening the positive and creative spiritual force opposed to them. Creative fire, divine Eros, overcomes lust and evil passions. IT burns up evil, boredom, and the false strivings engendered by will directed towards an object, towards the valuable and divine contents of life. Purely negative asceticism, preoccupied with evil and sinful desires and strivings, so far from enlightening the soul, intensifies its darkness. We must preach, therefore, not the morality based upon the annihilation of will but upon its enlightenment, not upon the humiliation of man and his external submission to God but upon the creative realization of beauty. The ethics of creativeness can alone save the human soul from being warped by arid and abstract virtue and abstract ideals transformed into rules and norms. The ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty must cease to be norms and rules and become vital forces, an inner creative fire.

A perfect and absolute realization of the good would make it unnecessary and lead us completely to forget moral distinctions and valuations. The nature of the good and of moral life presupposes dualism and struggle i.e. a painful and difficult path. Complete victory over the dualism and the struggle leads to the disappearance of what, on the way, we had called good and moral. To realize the good is to cancel it. The good is not at all the final end of life and of being. It is only the way, only a struggle on the way.

Chapter 6: Concrete problems of ethics

The conventional falsity of socially organized groups (I include among them schools of thought and ideological tendencies) deprives man of the freedom of moral perception and moral judgment. The moral judgment is made not by a free personality in the presence of God, but by the family, the class, the nation, the party, the denomination, etc. This does not imply that in order to make truthful, free and first-hand moral judgments a man must be cut off from all social and super-personal unities– from his family, his people, his church, and so on; it means that he must consider at first hand, in the light of his own conscience, the judgments of the social groups which influence him and separate truth from falsity in them. Our conscience is confused and polluted not only because of the original sin, but because we belong to various social units, which find falsity more useful than truth for purposes of self-preservation. What an amount of conventional falsity accumulates in family life! And it is regarded as essential for its existence and self-preservation. How many feelings are concealed, how many false ones expressed, how conventionally false the relations between parents and children, husbands and wives, often are! Hypocrisy acquires the character of a family virtue.

The herd-morality, concerned with masses and averages, prevents the upward flight of the soul and adapts everything to its own purposes– love, mystical experience, and creativeness. It allows only the universally binding, the average, the conventional. It not only puts up with socially useful falsity, but actually demands it and makes it a norm of communal existence, cutting man off from the first sources of life. The herd-mentality distorts and perverts religious revelation and turns Christinaity into a religion of the law. Mystical experience, love and creativeness are not part of the herd-life, but the church, the family, and civilization are. This is a profound tragedy. It is impossible simply to renounce the herd-life. That life is the consequence of man’s fall into the sinful world, the world of falsity. And the final victory over it is the victory over sin. However loft a man’s spirit may be, he must bear his share of the world’s burden. The moral problem is to share that burden in the name of love an yet to have no share in the world’s falsity. The falsity required by the herd-life must not be accepted. We must live that life without taking part in its falsity. This creates a tragic conflict which cannot be solved by human resources alone. The falsity in which the herd-life abounds and which it requires as a good must be opposed not by lofty abstract ideas (which are frequently used to cover up the falsity) but by a lofty spirit, by creative spiritual force. And these must be derived from the gracious primary source of life.

Inwardly, freedom of conscience is repressed and perverted by sin, and struggle for the purity of free conscience means struggle with sin. But outwardly it is repressed and violated by the “herd-man”, always jealous and despotic. Social violence to the freedom of conscience is done not only by the state and the church, which makes use of the machinery of the state, but also by “public opinion”– opinion of the family, the nation, the class, the party, and so on. And it is perhaps the most difficult question of ethics to decide how we are to struggle for the purity and freedom of conscience against the tyrannical public opinion of definite social groups to which on belongs? The “free” democratic public opinion is constantly doing violence to personal conscience. A struggle must be waged for the originality, the first-hand character of moral acts.

A fanatic is a person incapable of entertaining more than one thought at a time. He sees everything in a straight line and does not turn his head to see all the complexity and variety of God’s world. A fanatic does not see concrete human beings and is not interested in them, he sees only his idea and is interested in it alone. He is completely devoted to his idea of God, but he has almost lost the faculty of contemplating the living God.

A paradoxical moral imperative might be formulated as follows: in your striving for perfection you must strive for the perfect fullness of life and never allow a moral principle as such to become predominant to the exclusion of everything else. A fanatic may be full of vital energy, but he is an enemy of life, he is blind to it and spoils it. Asceticism has a truth of its own without which moral life would be impossible, but ascetic fanaticism means a hatred of life and hostility to human beings. The same must be said of religious fanaticism. It is possession by one idea which crowds out everything else, and for its sake men spoil their own lives and other people’s. Every idea can become the source of fanatical madness– the idea of God, of moral perfection, of justice, freedom, love, knowledge. When this happens, the living God, the living perfection, the actual justice, love, freedom, and knowledge disappear, since everything living and concrete can only exist in the full and harmonious correlation of parts in a whole. Every value turns into an idol and becomes a lie and a deception.

A fanatic of orthodoxy who denounces heresies and exterminates heretics has lost the vital fullness and harmony of truth, he is possessed by one emotion only and sees nothing but heresy and heretics everywhere. He becomes hard, forgets about the freedom of the spirit and has but little attention to bestow upon men and the complexity of individual destinies. Heaven preserve us from being obsessed by the idea of heresy! That obsession plays an enormous part in the history of Christianity and it is very difficult to get rid of it. A conviction has been bred for centuries that a religious fanatic, who mercilessly denounces heresies and heretics, is more religious than other men, and those who think that their own faith is weak respect him. In truth, however, a religious fanatic is a man who is obsessed by his idea and completely believes it, but is not in communion with the living God. On the contrary he is cut off from the living God. And for the sake of the fulness of divine truth, for the sake of freedom and love and communion with God, it is essential to uproot in oneself the evil will to denounce heresies and heretics. A heresy should be opposed by the fullness of truth and not by malice and denunciations. Fanatical denunciations of heresies sometimes assume the guise of love and are supposed to be inspired by love and pity for heretics. But this is hypocrisy and self-deception. Heresy hunters simply flatter themselves and admire their own orthodoxy.

Not to succumb to suspiciousness and evil imaginings is the first rule of moral and mental hygiene. 

Strive for freedom, but never forget about truth, love, justice– or freedom will become empty, false and meaningless. Strive for the fullness of live. Strive for truth, love, and justice, but do not forget about freedom. Strive for goodness and perfection, but heaven forbid that you should forget about freedom and try to realize goodness and perfection by force. Strive for real spiritual unity and brotherhood. But if it cannot be attained, let multiplicity have free play and give a chance to a free search for the still undiscovered single truth. Search for the liberation of human emotions, but do not allow yourself to be overpowered by feelings or let them become detached from the fullness of life which includes thought and life of the intellect, will and moral life, relation to God and the religious life. Only the spirit synthesizes the soul; without it the soul disintegrates into elements of thought, sensations, volitions, emotions, etc.

By a phantasm I mean all that fails to take man out of himself to his “other”, to overcome self-centredness and is self-seeking, regardless of reality and not rooted in it. Lust and phantasms do not bring man into contact with the world, other men and God. This is the curse of lust; this is why it is essentially uncreative. Production of phantasms is not creativeness, which always implies transcendence of life itself.

A man who does good works may think that he deserves salvation and is on the way to perfection although he is isolated and does not care for other men or even feel the need for friends and brothers. That means that he has no love which truly unites us to others and brings us to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Love for the creature is general… has not been at all developed in Christian ethics. It is a problem for cosmic ethics and has yet to be formulated. Christianity gained strength and was victorious through its ascetic attitude to teh cosmic life, through renouncing all that is natural and created, including the natural man. It has not worked out an ethics of love for the world, for all created things and all living beings. Even love for one’s neighbor, for man who bears the image and likeness of God, was understood solely as a means of salvation, as an ascetic exercise in virtue… In this respect, a creative completion of Christian ethics is particularly necessary. Love cannot merely be a means to salvation and redemption. Love is the creation of a new life.

My life is determined not only by the love for living beings, but also by the love for values– truth, beauty, righteousness– and these two kinds of love may come into conflict. The conflict is so real and poignant that it is equally revolting when personal love is sacrificed to the love of truth and righteousness and when truth and righteousness are sacrificed to personal love. The whole of the Platonic doctrine of Eros is abstract is character: through a series of abstractions for the sensuous world of living beings the mind gradually ascends to the world of ideas, where there can only be love of truth, beauty, the highest good, and so on. Plato calls us to sacrifice the love for living beings, for persons, to the love of ideas. His Eros is not personal, it does not know the mystery of personality and of personal love, it is idealistic. This was the limit of Greek thought. Christianity alone transcended that limit and revealed the mystery of personality and personal love. From the point of view of abstract idealism there can be no solution of the conflict between love for ideal values of truth, goodness, and beauty. Christianity solves it in principle through the revelation of the God-man and love for God and love for men; but in practice the tragic conflict remains and can only be solved through experience and creative effort.

Love of values must be understood as an expression in this world of the love for God and the divine. It is godless and inhuman to love such “far off” entities as Nietsche’s superman, Marx’s ideal communistic state, the moral law and abstract justice of legalistic morality, the state, the revolutionary utopias of perfect social order, the scientific truth of “scientism”, the “beauty” of the aesthetes, or the abstract orthodoxy of religious fanatics. Love of Truth must at the same time be love of man and vice versa. Abstract love for man must not be opposed to the love for concrete, living men whom one meets in life.

Tragic conflicts between these two kinds of love bring much pain and difficulty in actual life. No smooth and rational solution to them is possible, and no general rules can be prescribed. Their solution is left to man’s creative freedom. But the principle upon which it must be based is the principle of the divinely human love which is always concrete and personal and not abstract and general. In our sinful world human feelings may undergo terrible transformations that the highest of them may become false and evil. Even the idea of love may prove to be false and evil and lead to great miseries. Much evil is perpetrated in the name of love– love of God, love of men, and especially love of ideas and goodness. When love of goodness and ideas becomes abstract and fanatical, all is lost and nothing but evil comes of it.

Suffering is a consequence of sin, and at the same time redemption from sin and liberation from it. This is the meaning of Christ’s suffering on the cross. This is implied in all ideas of a suffering God. Consequently, our attitude to suffering is complex. To have compassion, pity, and mercy on those who suffer is an absolute moral duty. To help the suffering, the poor, the sick, the prisoners, is an absolute moral imperative. But suffering is a sign of sin and may bring deliverance. It would be monstrous to conclude from this that we ought not to pity and help the suffering, and that it would be a good thing to increase the amount of pain in the world. This kind of argument is sheer hypocrisy on the part of those who do not want to help and pity their neighbors and have no sympathy for anyone or anything in the world. God preserve us from resembling Job’s comforters who, instead of helping and pitying Job were condemned by God, and Job who struggled against God was justified.

Suffering may be of two kinds– unto life and unto death; it may raise and purify man or crush and humiliate him. Compassion must make us strive to free our fellow creatures from the crushing and humiliating kind of suffering and to help them to feel the regenerating and purifying effect of it. Only bigots and hypocrites want to increase their fellows’ sufferings as a means to moral regeneration. It is godless and inhuman. The human thing to do is to pity and help the sufferer, however sinful and wicked he might be. For after all, every one of us is sinful and wicked. The dreadful thing is that the sufferer often takes advantage of his suffering in order to torture and exploit other people. We ought to help our fellow men to bear their cross of suffering and to understand the meaning of it, but not to lay upon their shoulders a heavy cross ostensibly for their spiritual salvation. The conception of punishment as a moral duty to impose suffering in order to reform and regenerate the criminal is false and always has a touch of bigotry and hypocrisy about it.

For every gift which raises only to a relatively higher position implies service and responsibility, and presupposes spiritual struggle and suffering unknown to those who have not that gift. All true creators know this.

The life of the masses is always merged in the collective unconscious. That unconscious, with its instincts, emotions and affective states, must be ennobled and sublimated. This is precisely what true reilgious faith does. Spiritual life is a whole in which separate mental elements are synthesized. There may be more truth and wholeness in the unconscious than in consciousness which introduces division and separation. But this may only be the case when the unconscious is hallowed, purified from resentment and ennobled by lofty religious symbolism. From the point of view of Christian and creative ethics the social problem is solved by improving the life of the masses, by engaging them in creative activity, raising them and increasing the significance of labor, but not by giving them the mastery and letting power rest with the collective whole.

Christianity proclaims the cult of voluntary poverty, carried out to perfection by St. Francis. Christianity affirms the positive value and blessedness of poverty. Such an attitude to poverty and wealth is certainly not to be found in socialism. In its prevailing form socialism wants wealth and bases itself upon the lust of wealth and the envy of the poor for the rich. When socialism is victorious the poor become rich and vindictively strive to make the rich poor. The conception of asceticism is alien to socialism.

Chapter 7: Hell

Man’s moral will ought never to aim at relegating any creature to hell or to demand this in the name of justice. It may be possible to admit hell for oneself, because it has a subjective and not an objective existence. I may experience the torments of hell and believe that I deserve them. But it is impossible to admit hell for others or to be reconciled to it, if only because hell cannot be objectified and concieved as a real order of being. It is hard to understand the psychology of pious Christians who calmly accept the fact that their neighbors, their friends and relatives will perhaps be damned. I cannot resign myself to the fact that the man with whom I am drinking tea is doomed to eternal torments. If people were morally more sensitive they would direct the whole of their moral will and spirit towards delivering from the torments of hell every being they have ever met in life. It is a mistake to think that this is what people do when they help to develop other men’s moral virtues and to strengthen them in the true faith. The true moral change is a change of attitude towards the wicked and the doomed, a desire that they too should be saved, i.e. acceptance of their fate for oneself, and readiness to share it. This implies that I cannot seek salvation individually, by my solitary self, and make my way into the Kingdom of God relying on my own merits… Moral consciousness begins with God’s question, “Caun, where is thy brother Abel?”. It will end with another question on God’s part: “Abel, where is thy brother, Cain?”

“It is sad that one does not see any good in goodness”: Gogol
These words express the deepest problem of ethics. There is very little good in goodness, and this is why hell is being prepared on all sides. The responsibility of good for evil, of “the good” for “the wicked”, is a new problem for ethics. It is unjust to lay the whole responsibility upon “evil” and “the wicked.” They have come into being because “the good” will have to give an answer to God, but His judgment will be different from the human. Our distinction between good and evil may prove to be a confusion. The “good” will have to answer for having created hell, for having been satisfied with their own righteousness, for having ascribed a lofty character to their vindictive instincts, for having prevented “the wicked” from rising up and for speeding them on their way to perdition by condemning them. Such must be the conclusion of the new religious psychology of ethics.

Chapter 8: Paradise

The so-called moral life is not heavenly, and paradise is not the triumph of “the good.” The good and the moral life are always to some extent poisoned by judgment, division, constant rejection of “evil” and “the wicked.” In the realm of “the good” there is no divine liberation, lightness, wholeness, and radiance. Paradise means cessation of care, escape from Heidegger’s world of anxiety, and acquisition of spiritual wholeness. But moral life is weighed down by care, by the anxiety of struggling against evil, and there is division in it– the division of mankind into the good and the wicked. Heaven conceived as a correlation to hell would be the kingdom of the good, opposed to the kingdom of evil. There could be no wholeness in that kingdom and it would be poisoned by the proximity of hell with the everlasting torments of the wicked. The idea of an eternal realm of bliss by the side of an eternal hell is one of the most monstrous human inventions– an evil invention of “the good”. We live in a world of sin, on this side of good and evil, and it is extremely difficult for us to conceive of heaven. We transfer to it the categories of our sinful life, our distinctions between good and evil. But paradise lies beyond good and evil and therefore is not exclusively the kingdom of “the good” in our sense of the term. We come nearer to it when we think of it as beauty. The transfiguration and regeneration of the world is beauty and not goodness. Paradise is theosis, deification of the creature. The good is relative to an untransfigured and an unregenerate world. Beauty alone is liberation form the burden of care; goodness is not yet free from care. An eternal life on the other side of death, in which there would be a division into heaven and hell, the realm of the good and the realm of the wicked, would be weighed down by care and give man no peace, no perfect wholeness or joy. The tragic process of struggle against hell would be bound to begin in any case. Hell cannot help attacking heaven, for it is its nature to seek expansion. The idea of hell as a final triumph of God’s truth and justice in untenable and cannot reassure those who are in heaven. Hell is bound to be a torment to heaven, and heaven cannot exist beside it.

The idea of paradise is based upon the supposition that perfection involves bliss, that the perfect, the beautiful, the righteous, the holy are in a state of blessedness. Life is God is bliss. The idea of the bliss of the righteous is the source of hedonism. Hedonism was heavenly before it became earthly. “Man is born to happiness” is the contention of the earthly hedonism; “man is created for bliss” is teh assertion of the heavenly hedonism. Pain, misery, suffering are the result of sin. There was bliss in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Blissful, blessed, is the same as righteous, holy, obedient to God. The new paradise to which the righteous will return will be a state of bliss. The identity of righteousness with bliss is the identity of the subjective and the objective ie wholeness. We who live in a world of sin are ruled by its laws and bear its stain, have difficulty grasping this. We regard heavenly bliss with suspicion. In a sinful world tragedy, suffering, dissatisfaction are a sign of a higher and more perfect state. The idea that happiness is the end of life and a criterion of good and evil is the invention of those who whole the lowest moral theories– hedonism, eudaimonism, and utiliarianism. We rightly consider the pursuit of happiness a snare and a delusion. There can be no lasting happiness in our world, though there may be moments of joy and even of bliss as an escape from this life and communion with another, free world in which there are no cares and burdens. And indeed man never does strive for happiness- he strives for objective goods and values the attainment of which may bring happiness. The idea that happiness is the end of life is the product of reflection and self-analysis.

The morality of the transcendent good does not by any means imply indifference to good and evil or toleration of evil. It demands more not less. A morality based upon relegating the wicked to hell is a minimum and not a maximum morality; it renounces victory over evil, it gives up the idea of enlightening and liberating the wicked; it confines itself to distinctions and valuations and does not lead to any actual change and transfiguration of reality. Religious morality based upon the idea of personal salvation is a minimum morality, a morality of transcendental egoism. It invites man to settle down comfortably while other people and the world are in misery; it denies that everyone is responsible for everyone else and rejects the essential oneness of the created world.

The least admissible form of aristocracy is the aristocracy of salvation. There may be an aristocracy of knowledge, beauty, of refinement, of the fine flower of life– but there cannot be one of salvation.

There are two different kinds of good– the good in the conditions of our sinful world that judges and makes valuations on this side of the distinction between good and evil and the good which is the attainment of the highest quality of life, the good on the other side of the distinction, which does not judge or make valuations but radiates light. The first kind of good has no relation to the heavenly life; it is the good of purgatory, and it dies together with sin. When that good is projected into eternity, it creates hell. Hell is precisely the transference of the life on this side into eternity. The second kind of good is heavenly; it is above and beyond our distinction between good and evil and does not admit the existence of hell beside it. It is a mistake to think that only the first kind of good may serve as a guide in our life here, and that the second kind can have no guiding significance. On the contrary, it leads to a revaluation of values and to a higher moral level; it strings not from indifference to evil but from a deep and painful experience of the problem evil presents. The first kind of good does not solve the problem of evil.

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