Reading for Wednesday 01/10 – 5.12

Now this is a spectacular chapter.  One of the biggest philosophical questions – at least between atheists and Christians – has been this question that Pierre and Andrei are talking about here.

After Pierre comes clean about being a freemason, Pierre talks about how belief in a God and a life beyond this one helps him make sense of all the suffering and wrong in this world.  Pierre’s ideas are more New Age than Christian – he believes that everyone is part of a vast whole, which is closer to Eastern religion.  But the point, for this discussion, is that there is something beyond this life.

Andrei, far less easily convinced, however, at least wants there to be something beyond this life, otherwise, how do you explain things like your wife dying suddenly?  [Side note: for the first time, we see the incredible remorse in Andrei that he never had a chance to patch things up with his wife before she died – brilliant writing again, Leo . . .]

And this has always been the issue, even till today.  Our modern world has pretty much done away with the spiritual in the name of rationalism and science – but a purely rational world (where what you see is what you get) is a pretty miserable place.  And I think that’s why there’s so much spirituality (of varying kinds) in books, films, music, etc.

Some would say that we’ve evolved all of this need for spirituality as a way to cope with death and the miseries of this life.  Others would say that if there’s a vast feeling that there’s something beyond this life – there must be something real at the bottom of it, right?

Tolstoy never really shows his hand.  If he does believe that there’s a truth that explains it (whether it be God or a universal soul or whatever), he doesn’t give it away.  If this were a novel written by a Christian, this would be the evangelism chapter where Andrei starts to get converted.  If it were a novel written by a non-Christian, Pierre’s beliefs would be shown to be well-meaning but incorrect.

Instead, Tolstoy gives us the much more inscrutable ending.  Andrei thinks back to that moment, lying on the ground with his war wound – looking at the vast sky.  Back then he thought there was something beyond this life, but he didn’t know what it was.  Now he thinks that way again, but he tries to shut himself off from that thinking.

But, we’re left with that last sentence:  “Pierre’s visit was for Prince Andrei an epoch, from which there began, though outwardly unchanged, a new life in his inner world.”

See you tomorrow.

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 5.12 – Something Beyond This Life

  1. I, too, thought this was a fantastic chapter.

    Well, here the big moral and spiritual discussion continues between Pierre and Andrei and, as always, I just love this sort of writing – thinking, at each phrase, at each view of the world, if and how it fits in with my own thoughts on life, the universe and everything. But, as well as all that, it’s just such great writing – the way Pierre’s animation seems to be captured so well, as are Andrei’s doubts and cynicism. And then, in the true Tolstoyan manner, that great sky that Andrei saw on the field of Austerlitz makes another appearance and, in just a few words, Andrei’s life is changed.

    I know the whole thing left me wondering what it really was that brought about this change for Andrei – was it Pierre’s passionate speech about the eternal, or was it seeing the sky again, or was all of this just the catalyst after the real crisis in Andrei’s life, the death of his wife, and the realisation that brought to him about how much he had hurt her? I guess Tolstoy is showing us that it was all of these. Our lives might have decisive turning points – but those turning points are only the coming together of a million and one other influences.

    But, as you point out, Matt, Tolstoy leaves it to us to decide with whom we are to agree, and to what extent. And I think he shows us, too, how intensely personal these beliefs are – not just personal in the sense of being different for each of us, but also personal in the sense of being profoundly shaped by our experiences of the world. For me, the sky in this chapter was a great metaphor for this. The sky, has always been there – vast and massive – but it is only when Andrei notices it, experiences it, that it really has any meaning.

    Anyway, all of that aside, it was just great writing – the way all those threads came together here. In fact I liked the writing so much that I read it out to my dogs. But they just fell asleep. Oh well.

  2. The chapter is more or less on how Pierre and Andrei are on that raft, going to (Andrei’s place?) and Pierre sorta’ ‘witnesses’ him with the Masons’ way of believing in God.

    (I was kinda’ annoyed with the way Pierre said the Masons had the ONLY way of believing)

    Anyway – it looks like Andrei is gonna’ become a Mason!

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