Dostoevsky vs. Superman By Louis Markos

This year marks a century and a half since the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky gifted the world with Crime and Punishment (1866). As novels go, Crime and Punishment is neither a page-turner nor a particularly cheery read. It has a “happy ending,” I suppose, but it takes a lot of pain to get there, and even the resolution is painful. It is, after all, a Russian novel.

The protagonist, Raskolnikov, is a poor, melancholy student who spends far too much time living in his own head. He resents the world around him, considering himself to be a superior human being who shouldn’t be bound by the ethical concerns of the common herd. He has it within him to be a great man, a benefactor, a charismatic leader.

Convinced of his superiority over the laws of God and man, Raskolnikov brutally murders a pawnbroker and her sister, purportedly to steal their money, but ultimately because he feels he has the right to do so. Eventually, though, he discovers he cannot so easily fool his conscience. He confesses and is exiled to Siberia, but there, accompanied by the saintly Sonya, he finds peace and forgiveness.

Crime and Punishment is rightly hailed for its psychological depth and realism, but it has another claim to fame that makes it required reading, especially for Christians concerned about moral relativism’s devastating effects on the modern world. Just as Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his epic poem In Memoriam (published in 1850 but written mostly in the 1830s), wrestled with the implications of Darwinian natural selection more than a decade prior to the publication of The Origin of Species (1859), so Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, exposed the dangers and delusions of Nietzsche’s theory of the übermensch more than 20 years before Nietzsche introduced that figure to the world in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883).

Nietzsche’s Superman

According to Nietzsche, the übermensch (German for “superman” or “overman”) is a person who finds within himself the courage to shake off the chains of middle-class morality—the moral and ethical standards “imposed” on us by religion. Whereas Marx would dismiss religion as the “opiate of the masses,” Nietzsche saw it as a slave ethic, a tool used by weak people to control the strong.

Undaunted by religious codes and superstitions, the übermensch rises above such man-made strictures—moves beyond good and evil—to assert his will to power. Only an individual who frees himself from these strictures can lead society forward to a glorious future. Though it isn’t altogether fair to blame Nietzsche for Hitler, his theories have provided ample justification for totalitarian leaders of all political stripes to cloak their acts of injustice under the guise of tools for advancing civilization.

In Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky presents us with a would-be Nietzschean superman, someone who doesn’t believe the rules apply to him, though he certainly expects others to follow them. The fact he feels the need to justify his actions to himself proves he’s an ethical being on whom the claims of morality are binding. He may consider himself immune to legal punishment, but he cannot escape his own internal judge, the conscience God placed in all of us. Raskolnikov knows he’s committed a crime—and the knowledge of that crime demands the existence of a supernatural standard neither relative nor man-made.

As pain signals something is broken in our body, guilt signals something is broken in our soul. Even as he tries to convince himself of his superman status, Raskolnikov is riddled with guilt and remorse. A modern Freudian therapist would likely tell him that his feelings of guilt are the problem, but they aren’t. The reality of his guilt is the fact that gives the lie to moral relativism, to the false belief man can live and choose and flourish in a world beyond good and evil.

Consequential Ideas

It’s clear to me Dostoevsky saw it as part of his mission as a novelist to warn against the satanic temptation of what would become known as the Nietzschean superman. I say it’s clear since 13 years after Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky began The Brothers Karamazov, a masterpiece that refutes the übermensch in a way no philosophical or theological treatise could hope to do.

Fyodor Karamazov, a depraved and rapacious fool, is the father of three sons who embody, respectively, the physical, intellectual, and spiritual sides of man: Dmitry, a passionate, impulsive soldier; Ivan, an overly rational intellectual who rejects faith in Christ; and Alyosha, a saintly monk who tries to minister to his tormented father and brothers.

During the course of the novel Fyodor is killed, and suspicion falls on the hotheaded Dmitry. In the end, though, we learn Fyodor was killed not by one of his legitimate sons but by his one illegitimate son, the bastard Smerdyakov. This revelation comes as a surprise to everyone, including the reader, but to no one more than Ivan.

You see, for many years the grotesque Smerdyakov has been a disciple of the nihilistic Ivan. Ivan has taught him there is and can be no justice or truth in the world; indeed, since God is dead, all things are permissible. For Ivan, this Nietzschean view of morality as purely relative and man-made isn’t much more than an intellectual game. True, he suffers angst over it, but he sees no need to put his academic theories into practice.

Not so Smerdyakov. Idolizing his half-brother, Smerdyakov takes all Ivan says as gospel truth and builds his own twisted worldview around it. If Ivan is right and morality is purely relative, then why shouldn’t Smerdyakov behave just as Raskolnikov does in Crime and Punishment? That is to say, why should he not commit a crime for its own sake? If he’s not bound by any set moral or ethical code, what’s to prevent him from killing the father he loathes?

The modern Nietzschean who reads The Brothers Karamazov will likely console himself by concluding that Smerdyakov misrepresented and perverted the nihilism of Ivan. But that’s not how Ivan receives Smerdyakov’s proud, remorseless confession of how and why he killed his father. Ivan sees his theories are not only faulty; they’re false, evil, and inherently destructive.

Dostoevsky forces Ivan to see the fruits of his beliefs, to see what a real übermensch looks like—not beautiful and tragic and noble (like Napoleon in exile), but low and mean and grotesque. As a result of this self-knowledge, Ivan renounces his atheism and embraces the God he’d once rejected. Ideas, it seems, do have consequences.

Not Above Falling

Our age may think of itself as radically democratic, but we’re not above falling for the deceptive rhetoric and utopian promises of the übermensch. Indeed, we’re not above becoming one ourselves. Let us take caution, then, and heed the warnings of Dostoevsky, who was prescient enough to see the dangers behind a theory Nietzsche would soon propound.

There is—in each of us—a smug, petty, resentful Raskolnikov or Smerdyakov struggling to get out.

Posted: May 2, 2016
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Democracy vs. a Republic by Rosemary Tennis ( A good illustration)

A Little Refresher…

Katherine's Chronicle

In a Democracy, the majority rules. If the majority decided they wanted your bike, they could take it.

In a Republic, your bike is your property, and you do not owe it to anyone. It cannot be taken against your will, by law.

America is a Constitutional Republic.

Therefore the Constitution is the law of the land by which we are supposed to be protected.

In a Republic, the individual is protected FROM the majority, by constitutional law.

A Constitutional Republic is what we were given. It’s up to us to keep it.

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A Gentle Reminder…

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Gladys Aylward – Touching with God’s Love by Vance Christie

Gladys Aylward (1902-1970), a plucky British missionary to China, was once led of the Lord to minister for several months in China’s second largest prison. At the same time, she was ministering at a nearby leper colony, and the Christians there earnestly prayed for her prison ministry.

Of her daily evangelistic ministry in the prison courtyard, Gladys related: “Rows and rows of horrible, dirty, cruel-faced, degraded men were lined up, with jailers at the end of each row. They were shouting, laughing and jeering. I was so small that a kind of little mound had to be built up for me to stand on. I talked to them, I told them stories, then they trotted off. Day after day I stood on that little mound, my heart hammering wildly, but with the knowledge of the terrible, desperate need of these men driving me on.”

Other Christians joined Gladys in the prison ministry, and after a few months forty prisoners had been converted and were in a class preparing for baptism. But thousands of prisoners still mocked at God’s Word, and the widespread spiritual blessing that the Christians had been diligently asking the Lord to bring to the prison had not come.

One of the prisoners Gladys sought to minister to was a murderer, of whom she reported: “Mr. Shan was young, handsome and arrogant, but there was something about him I felt to be utterly evil. He looked at me in a horribly offensive fashion and said unrepeatable things. I disliked him intensely, but I prayed for him, and I got my friends to pray for him. One day I tried to speak to him, but with an oath he turned and spat in my face, and I felt I almost hated him.”

Chinese prisoners like those to whom Gladys Aylward ministered

Chinese prisoners like those to whom Gladys Aylward ministered

Once after Gladys finished speaking in the courtyard, the prisoners formed into their lines to return to their cells. They always had to move at a trot, and were not to speak or be spoken to as they moved along. But that day, as Gladys saw Mr. Shan approaching, she sensed the Lord’s definite leading to speak to him. She was so agitated that she leaned forward, placed her hand on his shoulder and burst out, “Oh, Mr. Shan, aren’t you miserable?”

He threw off her hand with a horrible curse then angrily asked, “What is it to do with you if I am miserable?” “Because I am so happy,” she replied. “Of course you are,” he shot back. “Doesn’t the door open for you whenever you want to go out?” “Ah, that isn’t the reason,” she responded. “It is because Jesus Christ died for me.”

Shan moved on, and Gladys suddenly realized, to her dismay, that she had just violated one of China’s strictest unwritten laws – that no woman touches a man in public. She left the prison that day depressed and ashamed.

Meanwhile, Shan followed the line of prisoners to an inner courtyard where he sat down on a stone, his head bowed in his hands. Moments later, Dhu Cor, the first man who had been converted in the prison, saw Shan sitting there and asked, “Are you going to be ill?”

“Did you see what she did?” Shan queried.  “What?” Dhu Cor responded.  “She touched me.”  “No. That is a lie!”  “It is no lie. She put her hand on my shoulder.”  “I cannot believe it.”  Another prisoner who had been listening stated, “What he says is true. She did touch him.”

But then Shan gasped, “She touched me as if she loved me!” “Perhaps she does love you,” Dhu Cor replied. “What, a clean woman like her, love me, a murderer, who has cursed her and spat at her?!” Shan asked incredulously. “Yes,” responded Dhu Cor, “I believe she could because she believes that God loves you no matter what you have done.”

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward

Mr. Shan’s heart was opened to the message of God’s love, and he trusted in Christ Jesus as his Savior from sin. His conversion was the beginning of a marked spiritual awakening that took place at the prison. Prisoners spent hours listening to the reading and teaching of God’s Word and hours more on their knees in prayer. So many prisoners were saved that afterward it took three full days of continuous baptisms for all of them to publicly profess their faith in Christ through that means.

The prison warden, convinced by the obvious alteration he had seen in even the most hardened criminals, was converted. He readily proclaimed that what he had been unable to do in five years, the power of the glorious Gospel of Christ had accomplished in one.

This true incident from Gladys Aylward’s ministry is recorded in her autobiography (co-authored with Christine Hunter), Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman. Other worthwhile books on Glady’s remarkable life and ministry include: A London Sparrow, The Story of Gladys Aylward, by Phyllis Thompson; Gladys Aylward, The Courageous English Missionary, by Catherine Swift.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

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A Writing Parody of Adele’s “Hello”

 

 

From Writers Write Facebook Page

 

Posted: April 19, 2016

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Campaign Lies By Thomas Sowell

If you took all the lies out of political rhetoric, how much would be left? Apparently even less than usual this year.

The latest, and perhaps biggest, lie — thus far — is that Donald Trump was cheated out of delegates in Colorado because the voters did not select the delegates.

Two very different questions have gotten confused with each other. One question is whether this is the best way to choose delegates. Most of us would say “No,” but most of us don’t live in Colorado, and each state is allowed great leeway in how it chooses to pick its delegates.

The more fundamental question is whether this was some trick cooked up to deprive Donald Trump of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. That is of course how Donald Trump and his followers automatically depict anything that doesn’t work out to his advantage.

But the Colorado rules were written and known to all before anybody cast a single vote in the primary elections, anywhere in the country.

If the people who ran the Trump campaign were not aware of what the rules in Colorado were, and Ted Cruz’s people were, that is what happens when you hire people who are not up to the challenges of their job. The fact that one of those people has been fired and replaced has gotten much less media attention than Trump’s loudly repeated charges that he was robbed.

With so many primary election rules that vary from one state to another, some of these rules are bound to work out to one candidate’s advantage and another candidate’s disadvantage.

When Trump, for example, wins less than a majority of a state’s votes and yet gets 100 percent of its delegates, you don’t hear other candidates yelling or whining that they have been robbed. But the cold fact is that Trump’s percentage of the delegates is still higher than his percentage of the people who actually voted for him.

Apparently it all depends on whose ox is gored — and who yells the loudest, with the most irresponsible charges. It also depends on how conscientious the media are and how gullible the voters are.

Other political campaign lies have been repeated so often, over so many years, that they have become part of a tradition that is almost never questioned. Demands for “equal pay” for women, for example, proceed without even a definition of what that means.

Some years ago, I was shocked when my research turned up the fact that young male physicians earned substantially more than young female physicians. But, when my research also turned up the fact that young male physicians work hundreds of hours more per year than young female physicians, it was not shocking any more.

Other researchers, many of them female, have found the same pattern in other fields where there are income differences between the sexes. Women work fewer hours annually than men, and do not work full-time and continuously over the years as often as men do.

Among college graduates, women receive more than three-quarters of the degrees in education, while men receive more than three-quarters of the degrees in engineering. When engineers are paid more than teachers — partly because engineers work year round, while teachers work 9 months — do not be surprised by sex differences in earnings among college graduates.

None of this is news for people who have checked out the facts. Researchers — including female researchers — have repeatedly turned up such facts for decades. But the politicians, and much of the media, prefer a moral melodrama, starring themselves on the side of the angels against the forces of evil.

That wins votes, helps TV ratings and lets lots of people feel good about themselves. But this also requires a gullible public.

A very similar game can be played with racial statistics. What if I said that basketball officials call fouls on black players out of all proportion to the share of blacks in the general population? You might well say, “Wait a minute! The proportion of black players is far higher in the NBA than in the population.”

Yet that simple difference between the proportion of blacks in the general population and blacks involved in whatever activity is being measured statistically is repeatedly ignored, both by politicians and the media.

The success of campaign lies depends ultimately on how willing the public is to be stampeded without bothering to stop and think.

Thomas Sowell, a National Humanities Medal winner, is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author. He is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Posted: April 13, 2016
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Review of Not By Sight

Not By SightIn Kate Breslin’s Not By Sight, Grace Mabry is determined to help her nation when Britain finds itself in World War One. After her brother goes missing from the frontlines, Grace doubles her efforts for King and Country. The thought of conscientious objection in the face of battle repulses her, especially when it comes from the upper class of society. But when a powerful heir offers Grace a lucrative job, she takes it in order to help her father keep his tea shop open. Will this new relationship grow into something? Or will betrayal and mistrust rule the day? Whatever happens, it’s bound to be more than meets the eye.

Not By Sight has an intriguing setting and a promising beginning. The portions of descriptive narration are exquisitely drawn and allow the reader to see the British Isles in all their beauty. The characters are believable and empathetic, and the last third of the book if full of twists and turns. The only negative aspect is that the plot takes some time to develop, but if the reader is patient, it is well worth the patience.

Not By Sight is an enjoyable historical romance set in a beautiful landscape, which makes a comfortable pastoral read.

 

I was given a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

 

 

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