Carrying on very quickly from the thoughts of the last chapter, Pierre then has a conversation with Bazdeev, the Freemason.  What’s fascinating about this conversation is that, even though the subject is Freemasonry, it actually represents fairly accurately the way many religions attract their followers nowadays.

I’ve noticed that certainly in Christian circles – at least up until recent decades – one of the big pushes for having people convert to Christianity was that it offered you a “solution” to life’s problems.

It’s a bit stereotypical, but many of the more popular stories of people who became Christians later in their life (as opposed to growing up with the faith) tell of people who were rampant alcoholics – until Jesus saved them.  Or they were addicted to drugs.  Or their family life was falling apart.

The problems and situations vary, but the end result was that they were having a major life crisis, and Jesus came along to fix things up.  Of course, today in the West, we’re a bit more cosmopolitan, and so we draw from a vast number of religions, not to mention making up some strange things ourselves.  So we have bits and pieces of Buddhism like meditation and mantras so we can relax.  We have books like The Secret that show us how to put our desires out to the Universe and manifest our dreams.  So there’s a sense in which we’re looking to something beyond what we can see and feel physically every day to help us with life.

But therein lies the problem, I think.  The obvious thing that jumps out (at least to me) is that if religion or spirituality is just a “help” – then you don’t really need it if life isn’t too bad.  I’ve found that several Christian friends of mine (and the thoughts have crossed my mind from time to time) struggle with wondering about the reality of Christianity, precisely because so many people don’t seem to need it.

In other words, anyone can point to someone who was an alcoholic who came to Jesus.  That person was feeling so bad about how their life was going, that a religion that said they were sinful and offered a way out was bound to resonate.  But for the average person out there, who is a “good person” – they look after others, they care for people, they’re a responsible member of society – there’s no real attraction to a religion that offers to fix problems when you don’t feel like you have any problems that want to be fixed.

I don’t want to launch into a huge sermon, but I think it highlights that at least for the last few centuries, Christianity went from being something that was considered true and real – as real as trees, buildings and people – and turned into something that was experienced in your head, without much bearing on the real world itself.

I think the real questions about any religion are to do with how truthful and real it is.  I think that there are some grave limitations to having religion just as a “solution” to life’s problems.

Anyway, we shall be able to pursue this topic as we go through this part of the book and follow Pierre’s strange journey into Freemasonry.  Will he find the solutions he wants?  How helpful will it be?

Stay posted on this rather spiritual section of the one and only War and Peace.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 5.2 – A Solution To Life’s Problems

  1. You really do make some interesting points here, Matt – and interesting that you, as a Christian, and I, as a generally-non-Christian, would so fundamentally agree on such a cornerstone question about spirituality. I, too, have often been perplexed by the ways in which people justify their religious/spiritual beliefs on the basis of what it provides for them – that it provides comfort, hope, certainty and so on. This, too me, is not terribly much connected to whether or not it’s actually true or not – which is precisely your point, too. Mind you, I don’t think that it’s entirely unconnected either – there is part of me that thinks that there is perhaps a degree to which something that truly resonates with us as providing answers to our fundamental questions could, perhaps, only do so because it has some fundamental truth to it – and that’s why, I think, the search for inner honesty (for want of a better way of putting it) is always worth pursuing. It’s so easy to look for answers in other people’s journeys for the truth – which is why, I believe, some Christians put so much store in something like the Bible: because it provides other people’s answers to the questions we all ask. But surely the more real answer is found through people’s own honest, and hard-sought-after, communication with this, supposedly, very personal God with whom we can all have an intimate and real relationship. Someone else’s writings (which is really all the Bible is) might provide us with some indicators of what others have thought in their own journey along that path – but that’s all. The real answers have to be found from within rather than from a book. It’s just that’s so much more difficult to do.

    So in that sense I found myself strangely agreeing with Osip Alexeevich Bazdeev here, persuading Pierre that the answers are not just something someone else can tell you, but something you have to find for yourself. But, getting back to your original point, Matt, they have to be answers that are found through an honest search for the truth, not out of a need to fix up our own personal problems.

    I think the search for truth, the search for what is fundamentally right, is challenging in this way at all its levels – spiritually, morally, politically – and at all levels there is the same temptation to give into convenient answers, or answers that meet our own immediate need. The answers that other people give us are always, in one way or another, going to be generated by those people’s own needs, by their own circumstances, at the time. In that way, we learn about history not just by studying what people did, but also by what they believed.

    This all leaves us, I believe, in the position of needing to find a way to step beyond our natural attraction to neatly pre-packaged versions of the truth, so that our contribution in the global task of building a understanding of truth will, to use Osip’s own metaphor from this chapter, contribute some more building blocks to the edifice that millions of generations before us have begun.

    Sorry to have babbled and rambled on so much … I could go on forever about this, and still feel that I haven’t quite explained what I meant!

  2. QUOTE

    Of course, today in the West, we’re a bit more cosmopolitan, and so we draw from a vast number of religions, not to mention making up some strange things ourselves. So we have bits and pieces of Buddhism like meditation and mantras so we can relax.

    UNQUOTE

    ……………………………….

    My view on this . . .

    I don’t quite think Buddhism is a ‘made-up’ thing. The Buddha was a real person, who practiced and preached a ‘way of living’, a ‘philosophy’ and some actually consider Buddhism to be a ‘religion’.

    Some Buddhists consider their ‘practice’ to be more a philosophy than a religion. Some consider it to be their religion.

    Me? I’m ok with it either way – to me, it’s a darn good practice. I find their leaders’ preachings to be not unlike those of Jesus. I often read or listen to a passage from a Buddhist leader and think to myself – well, this is nothing that hasn’t been said in one way or another by Jesus while he was with us on earth.

    I have also studied with the Krishnas; my daughter being a member of that faith, I’ve attended their ‘rituals’, stayed at an ashram and am very impressed by their teachings. Again, not unlike the teachings of Jesus.

    The Krishnas, btw, respect all other religions, as do the Buddhists.

    I don’t see why the ‘Christians’ can’t do the same.

    I’m often offended by the way people assume religions, other than the ‘established’ faiths, Catholic, Anglican, United, etal, Jewish, Muslim, as being ‘pagan’ and therefore ‘not real religions’.

    Hope my view on this doesn’t offend anyone, but if it does, I’m sure the ‘offendees’ can handle it; they expect members of other faiths to feel ok about the ‘put downs’ against them, so I’m sure they candle the views of someone who does not practice the same religion as they.

    …………………………………….

  3. Here are the characters I’m going to add to my count:

    Adam – the first man

    Only by laying stone on stone with the cooperation of all, by the millions of generations from our forefather Adam to our own times, is that temple reared which is to be a worthy dwelling place of the Great God,” he added, and closed his eyes.

    463

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