Remembering Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Andrew Cusack has posted an excellent article: Norumbega: Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918–2008 I remember reading "The Gulag Archipelago" as an undergraduate and beginning to understand something of the psychological modus agendi of a totalitarian regime. It was a most depressing but necessary read. I also remember reading of his Commencement Address at Harvard in which he criticised the moral and spiritual emptiness of the West.

Andrew Cusack's article has many quotations from Solzhenitsyn, I will pick out just one in which he offers a critique of making the law the basis of morality:
“One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it. I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.”
This applies in our society particularly in the matter of the sanctity of human life. We have allowed abortion and passive euthanasia - and many people consider these things right as a result.

Solzhenitsyn criticises the false view of "freedom" arising from the "enlightenment". This is a result of the "Cartesian self" in which the human person becomes the centre of his own universe, faced with a cafeteria of life choices. From among these, he selects according to his own view of the world. At Merton, this was applied to the Liturgical reforms: we are now accustomed to see the Liturgy as something that we choose or create, rather than something that is given to us by God to celebrate with reverence and fear.

Those accustomed to this view of self and the world will doubtless drop their jaw in horror that the "liturgical ceremonies" can be spoken of in the same breath as the totalitarian horrors of the 20th century. There lies the fundamental debate about liturgy: is it something we make up for ourselves, to satisfy the needs of man; or is it something fundamental to our existence which we must receive humbly and carry out exactly, knowing that we are utterly unworthy to be in that sacred realm.

Liturgy and Life was a motto of the 1970s. It was usually taken to mean that Liturgy should be "updated" to reflect the "real life" of the collective (but inevitably contradictory) Cartesian self. Following Solzhenitsyn's analysis, we can see that Liturgy and Life are related in a more fundamental way. Our self-abasement before the Sacred Mysteries leads us into that understanding of self in which our own needs, choices and preferences are subordinated to the higher law of God's provision for us. In society, that higher law is the ultimate "Magna Carta" which no government can legitimately claim to supercede in the matter of killing babies in the womb or dissidents in the gulags.

In the comments box of Andrew Cusack's post, there has developed a slightly bizarre apologetics debate sparked off by Andrew's observations about Protestantism towards the end of the article. I have chipped in but will probably not have time to follow up. If you are in an apologetics mood, go along and have at it!

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