FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 8

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Ever since, by his beloved brother’s
deathbed, Levin had first glanced into the questions
of life and death in the light of these new convictions,
as he called them, which had during the period from
his twentieth to his thirty-fourth year imperceptibly
replaced his childish and youthful beliefs ­he
had been stricken with horror, not so much of death,
as of life, without any knowledge of whence, and why,
and how, and what it was.  The physical organization,
its decay, the indestructibility of matter, the law
of the conservation of energy, evolution, were the
words which usurped the place of his old belief. 
These words and the ideas associated with them were
very well for intellectual purposes.  But for
life they yielded nothing, and Levin felt suddenly
like a man who has changed his warm fur cloak for
a muslin garment, and going for the first time into
the frost is immediately convinced, not by reason,
but by his whole nature that he is as good as naked,
and that he must infallibly perish miserably.

From that moment, though he did not
distinctly face it, and still went on living as before,
Levin had never lost this sense of terror at his lack
of knowledge.

He vaguely felt, too, that what he
called his new convictions were not merely lack of
knowledge, but that they were part of a whole order
of ideas, in which no knowledge of what he needed was
possible.

At first, marriage, with the new joys
and duties bound up with it, had completely crowded
out these thoughts.  But of late, while he was
staying in Moscow after his wife’s confinement,
with nothing to do, the question that clamored for
solution had more and more often, more and more insistently,
haunted Levin’s mind.

The question was summed up for him
thus:  “If I do not accept the answers Christianity
gives to the problems of my life, what answers do
I accept?” And in the whole arsenal of his
convictions, so far from finding any satisfactory answers,
he was utterly unable to find anything at all like
an answer.

He was in the position of a man seeking
food in toy shops and tool shops.

Instinctively, unconsciously, with
every book, with every conversation, with every man
he met, he was on the lookout for light on these questions
and their solution.

What puzzled and distracted him above
everything was that the majority of men of his age
and circle had, like him, exchanged their old beliefs
for the same new convictions, and yet saw nothing
to lament in this, and were perfectly satisfied and
serene.  So that, apart from the principal question,
Levin was tortured by other questions too.  Were
these people sincere? he asked himself, or were they
playing a part? or was it that they understood the
answers science gave to these problems in some different,
clearer sense than he did?  And he assiduously
studied both these men’s opinions and the books
which treated of these scientific explanations.

One fact he had found out since these
questions had engrossed his mind, was that he had
been quite wrong in supposing from the recollections
of the circle of his young days at college, that religion
had outlived its day, and that it was now practically
non-existent.  All the people nearest to him who
were good in their lives were believers.  The
old prince, and Lvov, whom he liked so much, and Sergey
Ivanovitch, and all the women believed, and his wife
believed as simply as he had believed in his earliest
childhood, and ninety-nine hundredths of the Russian
people, all the working people for whose life he felt
the deepest respect, believed.

Another fact of which he became convinced,
after reading many scientific books, was that the
men who shared his views had no other construction
to put on them, and that they gave no explanation
of the questions which he felt he could not live without
answering, but simply ignored their existence and
attempted to explain other questions of no possible
interest to him, such as the evolution of organisms,
the materialistic theory of consciousness, and so
forth.

Moreover, during his wife’s
confinement, something had happened that seemed extraordinary
to him.  He, an unbeliever, had fallen into praying,
and at the moment he prayed, he believed.  But
that moment had passed, and he could not make his
state of mind at that moment fit into the rest of
his life.

He could not admit that at that moment
he knew the truth, and that now he was wrong; for
as soon as he began thinking calmly about it, it all
fell to pieces.  He could not admit that he was
mistaken then, for his spiritual condition then was
precious to him, and to admit that it was a proof
of weakness would have been to desecrate those moments. 
He was miserably divided against himself, and strained
all his spiritual forces to the utmost to escape from
this condition.

 

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