The Christian Values of Alexander Solzhenitzyn
“Men, in order to do evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good.”
The quote is about humility. Its not about ethics. If you read it as a rejection of ethics, I don’t think you’re thinking contextually or concretely.
Plus, this kind of thinking strikes me as a bit wrong-headed. Lets not try to be ethical, because bad people wrap what they say is good in the language of the ethical.
You don’t stop being Mother Tereasa because there are Hitlers out their who claim to be ethical. You double down on being Mother Teresa.
Jesus lived a life of love, kindness, compassion, honesty, service, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness. The historical role of these values in fostering positive relationships is hard to ignore. That’s what I will defend as the core of the ethical life. In fact, if more people did this tomorrow, 99% of the worlds problems would disappear in the twinkling of an eye. They would dissolve as the emotionally rooted problems they are.
What one needs to confront is that emotions can be good or bad, so doing away with emotions or suppressing emotions isn’t the answer. That’s how you end up like Sheldon or Spock and somewhat detatched from reality. That same detatchment from reality and empathy is what results in draconian final solutions.
Contrarily, when we apply the Golden Rule to such situations, we have a tool that has an ethical core—one in which the humanity of the other person is taken seriously. The Golden Rule is the bridge from where we are to a better world relationally and civilizationally.
In fact to return to Alexander Solzhenitzyn
“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
Silence in the face of real evil is a tragedy.
Beyond that I think looking at the heart of the message provides illuminance in the face of darkness. Tim Keller highlights:
“At the heart of the Christian faith is a man dying for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness rather than retaliating. The cross reveals a God who is so committed to justice that the cross was necessary. Sin and evil cannot be overlooked—they must be judged. Yet at the same time it shows us a God who longing that he was willing to bear the cost and take the judgement himself. He refuses to chose between truth and love—he will have both, and the only way for that to happen is if he pays the price for forgiveness himself.
“This becomes the Christian model of self-donation, or sacrificial love and forgiveness. But the cross doesn’t simply give us an inspiring example. Through faith in the cross we get a new foundation for an identity that both humbles us out of our egotism yet it so infallibly secure in love that we are enabled to embrace rather than exclude those who are different.” ( An Invitation to Skeptics, p. 147)
Finally, I would reference my article about the inherent contradiction between humanism and atheism. You have to pick one. You can’t have both.
I highly recommend the above article if this is an issue that you’ve been wrestling with or that you really want answers about.
Best of luck in your search for answers, my friend.
Its worth noting that elsewhere that AS highlighted this theme of humility:
“Pride grows on the human heart like lard on a pig.”
This quote which provides the basis for the ethical life is quite compelling and artful:
“… What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary -property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life -don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why?
“Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.”
…. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
…. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
You could also read the first quote as about the heart. I think the other quotes I point to including the one above point out the larger purpose, message, and context that Alexander Solzhenitzyn is speaking into and about. Its only when you de-contextualize the original quote that the message is ultimately lost or rather distorted.
But more importantly, this further points to Alexander S’s alignment with Christian values and Christianity: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1319589.From_Under_the_Rubble