Religious Rebirth (written in Belgrade, 1971)
Essay by Mihajlo Mihjajlov
From his book Underground Notes (RKP – 1976)
Translated by Maria Mihajlove Ivasic and Christopher W Ivasic
Planetary consciousness, the birth of which can soon be expected, leads to the existential questions which, in their turn, are decided by each man separately, depending on his feeling of the link between his own existence and the whole life of the planet, the life of the universe, which means depending on his religion. Because religion is the very LINK.
In the last century, Dostoyevsky sought to prove that there is only one idea without which human life is impossible, and that is the idea of the immortality of the human soul. In our century, Teilhard de Chardin took the same view, but in relation to the whole of mankind: it is impossible to believe in progress and the future of mankind without belief in the immortality of mankind.
Today, when there are no more questions which are exclusively political, religious, medical, chemical etc, the idea of the immortality of the human soul assumes not only a universal but a practical political meaning. Never before has the question of personal immortality been posed so sharply to each man – not theoretically but in fact – as I the present totalitarian societies. If physical death is the end, then slavery is justified. Then, it is indeed better to be a living slave carrying out unquestioningly the directions of the party than not to be at all. And vice versa, if the soul, the “I” of each of us, is immortal, then the worship of outside violence is the loss of the soul, which is worse than the loss of life. Thus in totalitarian societies one can observe the rebirth of the religious life’s purpose, which the 19th century seemed to have completely rejected.
It is extraordinarily instructive to read Soviet underground or semi-underground literature such a Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago, works by Solzhenitsyn, the novel-confession All Flows by Grossman, Reminiscences by Nadezhda Mandelstam. In all these works, one feels that the prison of totalitarianism was not undeserved. The longer the punishment lasts, the more clear it becomes that man was, of course, guilty, not politically, but metaphysically. Analysing Stalin’s purges, one unavoidably concludes that the Biblical proverb – those who live by the sword shall die by the sword – was empirically proved in the history of the Russian Revolution. The more one reads the memoirs of Soviet prisoners , the more one becomes permeated with the paradoxical conclusion that there was NO INJUSTICE done but that a mystical justice was manifesting itself all the time. The worst punished were men who believed in communism; that is, in the compulsory reorganization of the world.
On the other hand, who can forget, in Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, the character of Aloysha the Baptist who even in the horror of the labour camp was living a full emotional life and about whom the author himself wrote that “prison is to him like water off a duck’s back”. So, the paradoxical consciousness – inherent only in the people who went through the hell and purgatory of totalitarianism – that in the world there is no real justice leads towards consciousness of one’s own responsibility for one’s own and the world’s destiny. Society is not guilty, the world is not bad, but man himself is guilty, although his sin almost always lies in the obedience to external violence, or the active faith in violence. Thus, simultaneously with the psychology of personal guilt, a free man is born.
The religious, philosophical question about where there is justice in the universe becomes in our time a practical question ; and on its answer depends everything – our life, history and the future of mankind. Since this question is most acute in Russia, the religious rebirth can be expected to come from there. The Soviet Union, like the Roman Empire, has prepared the soil for the planetary religious rebirth.
Religious rebirth is not a theoretical of ideological matter. There is no need for an all-embracing theory giving precepts of what to do. Rather, one has to be able again to feel in oneself that internal compass which every minute of life shows the only right direction for action, to have faith in it, and to follow its directions, despite any deadly threats.
About this, Pasternak wrote in Dr Zhivago – “The whole tragedy started from the fact that we ceased to believe our own opinion.”
To live trusting out inward feelings means to live a religious life. But what punishments and purges are still awaiting us in order that we might be capable of so living? Even in his time Plato thought that “the ancients were better than we are and were living closer to the gods”. And it seems to our epoch that Plato himself lived in an enchanted epoch of closeness to gods.