The New Religion and the New Marriage by Constantine Pobedonostsev (1827-1907)

November 14, 2014

NFTU: Constantine Pobedonostsev was an interesting and powerful figure in late 19th century Russia. A Conservative of a European variety (as opposed to the British and American tradition), he was one of the most powerful decision making leaders in the Russian Empire. He was adviser to tsars, member of the Imperial Senate and Council of the Empire, and later appointed Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod (a lay position made to facilitate actions and coordinate movements and documents of the Synod of Bishops). He was a well-known jurist and supported measures of juridical reform in the Empire.  He also had a generally negative attitude to Jewish society, believing it to be unhealthy and even ‘parasitic’, as opposed to Christian society.  Pobedonostsev’s most well-known work that has been translated into the English language is “Reflections of a Russian Statesman”. Here he tries to express to a secular and liberal and hostile crowd his thought on various matters, religious, philosophical, political and juridical.  It is perhaps here we find him at his best. This is, of course, not to exonerate all his views. He was generally opposed to the restoration of the Patriarchate; and he had little sympathy for the restorative proposals of  Met. Anthony (Khrapovitsky); he supposedly had little trust in the competency of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.  In general, the Chief Procurator was not at all favourable to general religious toleration on the level then experienced in the US or the UK. He believed in a form of Russian Nationalism that is best expressed as “One Tsar, One Nation, One Religion”.

He was, of course, the subject of a great deal of slander, libel, and vilification by the Anti-Monarchist Socialist press (which generally had free reign in the Tsarist period, despite modern ideas).  After the events of the 1905 Revolution, he resigned from public life, unable to accept the new compromises into the form of monarchical government (compromises which paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution). It is difficult to render an entirely negative judgment upon him, despite his problems, because many of his predictions were far from erroneous.  Starting off as a conventional political liberal of the 19th century European style, he gradually abandoned these views, and went to the ‘extreme’ of a De Maistre type European Conservative (minus Papism and a few other points).  Pobedonostsev, although sympathic on some counts to the general attitude of the Slavophiles, was not a Slavophile.  It might be better to place him somewhere between the Pochvennichestvo  movement (a similar movement to the Slavophiles; except, they tended to be able to see some positive benefits in Peter the Great, while also able to criticize the reforms) and some of the Zapadniks (though, certainly not on the count of ‘liberal political reforms’). The Pochvennichestvo movement was later to prove more acceptable by Tsar Alexander III and St. Nicholas; Pobedonostsev, however, would not have been sympathetic with their plan of ecclesiastical reform.

In the below section, reproduced from  his book, we see the Chief Procurator’s opposition to the destructive forces of materialism, liberalism, atheism, Darwinism and eugenics.  He mocks the ideas of founding a ‘new religion’ without God; of the rejection of the First Cause and the fallacious appeal to the ‘eternity’ of time (if time is eternal, how can there be one movement to the next?). He says, “But it is incredible that common-sense, rejecting a first cause, can believe in the eternity of matter, and trust that movement alone, although through eternal time, is capable of producing all that may be conceived“; he openly calls this new religion of atheistic materialism founded upon Darwinism a ‘new superstition’, stating, “Surely, if this capricious infatuation with theory constitutes the new religion, that religion is nothing better than a new superstition.” He foresees terrible and dark consequences for mankind (for which he was proven right in the 20th century).

The second area of attack for Pobedonostsev is what he finds to be the repugnant, monstrous, evil and ridiculous promotion of the then new theory of “Eugenics”.  In particular, he focuses on Darwin’s proposal for restrictions of marriages; the presentation of ‘pedigrees’; the ‘extirpation’ of certain classes.  He finds all this to be immoral and repugnant and against even a basic understanding of humanity. But, if man has no immortal soul created by God as the materialists and ‘liberals’ argue, what is to stop this?  The Chief Procurator says of Darwin (but more generally of the Eugenicists and their materialist followers), “He will not ask himself the question, Will the strong be stronger for having destroyed the weak? He knows not the truth that all strength grows in action, experience, and practice.

The book, which can be accessed for free on google books, is surely worth the read.


The New Religion and the New Marriage

We are told that our religion is drawing to its end, that a new faith will replace it, the dawn of which is on the point of appearing. God grant that this may be delayed, and that, if it must come, it may not be for long! For it will not be a time of enlightenment, but of darkness.

The ancient faith contains all that human nature has of sincerity–the sincerity of direct sensations and conscience, the sincerity which, from the depths of our spiritual nature, corresponds to the words of divine revelation. This is a living truth, and its roots are sunken in the souls of all. Of it was said:  “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.”

The ancient faith was founded on the consciousness of every man of a living soul which is immortal and one, a living soul he confounds neither with Nature nor with humanity. By this he knows himself before God and before his fellow-men, by this he wishes to live eternally. By this he enters into the free alliance of love with others, and, as he lives in his soul, so he answers for it himself. Through this the existence of his Creator is revealed as simply as his own life, and by this simple feeling, independently of reason, he maintains his faith.

The prophets of a new religion appear. Some laugh at the ancient faith, and would destroy it, without the will to create anew. Others appear more serious; they seek supreme wisdom, and strike to impose on us a wisdom of their own. Each offers us his own conception of truth, his favourite system of religion, for all apprehend the necessity of religion, and each would create one himself. How pitiable are these creations! They lack the power to draw the living soul and inspire it with a living idea, for not one of them sets the living Spirit of God in the centre of his faith.

In recent times many various systems have appeared from the pens of philosophers, each at will attempting to construct for humanity a faith without God. Each would constitute his system on the basis of reason, by its nature an absurdity. For human reason in a straight path, ignoring and rejecting no facts of Nature or of the human soul, can never eliminate the idea of God. The true source of atheism is not in the mind but in the heart, for, as the prophet said, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”   In the heart, that is, in the will, is the source of all error, however reason may seek to explain it. Error is born by the desire of the heart for full freedom, by rebellion against the commandments, and against Him Who is the beginning and the end of all commandments. To free oneself of the commandments, there is no other path than to reject their supreme authority, and to replace it by the authority of self. The oldest of human histories is repeated from generation to generation, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” This has been the source of atheism from immemorial time.

It is wonderful, indeed, how reason deceives itself. Without God it seems that there can be no religion, yet such a religion is proclaimed by atheists. They say, “In the place of these outworn tales of God let us put the truth. God is nowhere visible, while Nature and humanity are actual facts. Humanity  is not only a fact, it is a force able, by the paths of reason and experience, to attain in the course of centuries unimaginable perfection. This idea of progression contains such internal force and profundity that it is enough to compensate man for religious sentiment, and to bind the race in the universal religion of humanity.”  Is this not the Biblical, “Ye shall be as gods”? Such are the doctrines of modern Positivist science, and of the so-called Utilitarianism.

From another side appears the celebrated apostle of the Tubingen school, the pillar of Biblical Criticism, who lived to an old age in denial of the historic foundation of Christianity. This is Dr. Strauss, the author of the “Life of Jesus”; the author of the “The Old and New Religion,” in which he himself says he has made his confession, and given to the world the result of all his learned labours and philosophical speculations on God, on Nature, and on humnaity. In youth, in the “Life of Jesus,” he undertook, with some respect and caution, the analysis of those facts consecrated by the traditional belief of man, touching with tenderness the fundamental ideas of faith. In this work is seen a remnant of respect for God. But later we find a furious irritation against the Godhead, as a false and pernicious fable which has corrupted the minds of mankind.

But while rejecting God, by a strange inconsistency of thought, he does not abandon the religious feeling. In himself he feels the necessity, and affirms the existence, of religious devotion. What is the object of this devotion, which at the same time has power to possess and inspire the soul? not a personal divinity which exists not, but the world (Universum) which constitutes the source of all good and power—which exists by the law of pure reason. We demand, he says, for this Universe the same devout feeling as a good man of the ancient faith cherished towards God.

What is this Universe, and what its spiritual element? Answering that question, Strauss reveals himself as a disciple of the Positivist philosophy, and of the new materialism. The doctrine of Kant and of Laplace on the exclusive activity of mechanical forces in the planetary system, he applies absolutely to all the phenomena of animal and spiritual life; he regards the soul of man as nothing better than the result of the complex interaction of mechanical forces. The soul as a spiritual essence Strauss rejects.  As might be expected, he accepts triumphantly the theories of Darwin on the Origin of Species, limiting not their application to the phenomena of the external world, but extending them capriciously to all the manifestations of life. The imperfection and inconsistency of Darwin’s reasonings do not alarm him in the least. All doubt is eliminated by his new religion, by faith in his own hypothesis, incompatible, he tells us, with the existence of God. It matters not that such abstract hypotheses as spontaneous generation remain unproven. He cannot say how or when, but without doubt some day they will be proven.  In considering the origin of man, he does not trouble to explain and reconcile the origin of his intellectual powers, his moral ideas, and his aesthetic conceptions. All is explained by the magic words, “Natural Selection.” Surely, if this capricious infatuation with theory constitutes the new religion, that religion is nothing better than a new superstition.

The doctrine of Darwin could not have appeared at a time more opportune for the prophets of the new religion. It enlightened them with a new light, it gave them the keystone which they sought to crown the vault of their system. They seized upon his teaching with eagerness, and then proclaimed that the ancient faith was finally overthrown and annihilated. From every point they hastened to apply his principles to all the phenomena of social life, deducing conclusions of which, it may be, Darwin never demanded. As often happens, the pupils out-distanced the master, and the day is near when they will condemn him as a reactionary.  Meantime, the doctrines of Darwin, restricted in application to the facts from which they sprang, hardly justify those apprehensions for the safety of the faith which they awakened in its jealous adherents. The system of Galileo, the theories of Newton, all new discovered geological science, in their day awakened more agitation and fear; yet the faith of believers has in no way suffered. So will it be with the teachings of Darwin. As yet, these are not recognized as confirmed science, and the first enthusiasm they awakened is beginning to wane. They are accepted without reserve only by the dii minorium gentium.  Leading men of science are beginning to learn that these doctrines in reality are hypotheses, more or less in accord with probability, but still unconfirmed by sufficient data; and that the conclusions drawn by the illustrious scholar from his numerous experiments, in reality are bold and ingenious generalisations, which leave a great field for question and incertitude.

These propositions, exalted to the dignity of absolute truth, are echoed by the masses as verbum magistri, they are catch-words on the lips of the base chatterers of Liberalism, and, on the other hand, they lend to many serious minds a basis for new intellectual combinations.  Who has not Darwin on his lips to-day? Who does not play with the phrases, Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, the Struggle for Existence? The discoveries of Darwin have forced not only superficial thinkers, but earnest and studious men, to make strange leaps in their reasoning, and to make still stranger speeches, which, to an healthy judgment, seem nothing better than fantasy or madness. This is the more common among those who wish, with the aid of Darwin’s teaching, to construct or perfect a system of cosmology independent of God. But above all, the doctrines of Darwin are most useful to the reasoning of modern materialism. Man, in the opinion of Darwin, has wrongly appropriated to himself and to his soul a privileged position in the universe; of the animal creation he fancies himself alone under the immediate and personal direction of divinity. This, says Darwin, is a “pernicious idea.”  Like every other animal, man is nothing more than a product of the successive and illimitable evolution of natural forms of animal life. To those who wish to do so, it is easy to conclude from this that there is no God and no immortal soul.  It follows, further, from the teaching of Darwin, that all existing forms of life have sprung–as all their successors will spring–from the eternal and unceasing progression of matter, one form evolving another, with fresh developments and proper instruments to supply its needs. To those who are so inclined, it is easy to deduce from this that creative power is constituted by this eternal movement, and is inherent in matter which therefore holds in itself the future of Nature and humanity, being capable of indefinite progress and perfection; hence there is no need to seek and external ultimate creative power, or a Providence directing the universe and humanity. It may easily be conceived how such reasoning accords with the tastes of those who have rejected God, and put their faith in humanity. But it is incredible that common-sense, rejecting a first cause, can believe in the eternity of matter, and trust that movement alone, although through eternal time, is capable of producing all that may be conceived.

It will be an unhappy time–if ever it should come–when the new cult of humanity shall dominate the world. The personality of man at once would lose its value, and the moral barriers existing against violence and arbitrary power would soon be destroyed. In the name of a doctrine, for the attainment of an imaginary end–the perfection of the race–will be sacrificed without scruple the most sacred privileges of personal freedom. Conscience will not be considered, for the very idea will be denied. Our present day reformers, trained in a school of conceptions, ideas, and sentiments which they afterwards abjure, are in no state to realise the terrible emptiness which the moral world will present when these ideas shall have been destroyed. Whatever the infatuation of modern lawgivers, modern administrators, and modern authority, over all nevertheless inevitably hangs, though sometimes unconsciously, the conception of a human personality which cannot be crushed as a worm. This conception is rooted in the knowledge that every man has a living soul, one, indivisible and immortal, enjoying therefore an absolute existence which cannot be destroyed by any human power. Hence there is no criminal who, in the midst of his crime, does not look on the living soul he injures with terror and respect. Uproot this sentiment, and what will be the fate of our legislation, our government, our social life?  The friends of individual freedom strangely deceive themselves when in its name they join the rising cult of humanity.

But happily we may hope that the dawn promised us in the future by the humanist philosophy will never be revealed to mankind, or, at least, will not be revealed to all, or for long. Of the consequence of the new doctrines on religion and life we may judge by some of their political applications indicated form time to time. Here is a specimen of the application of Darwinism to the sphere of practical legislation. A favourite speculation of Darwin treats of the benefit to human restrictions on the liberty of marriage. In the beginning of his treatise Darwin explains that one of the essential elements of Christianity is the personal responsibility of men for their souls and their independence in the spiritual sphere from one another. In consequence of this it is assumed that men have a right to dispose, on their own responsibility, of their bodies also. This right, according to Darwin, must give way to the action of the new law which he has discovered, the so-called doctrine of evolution. Man has a right to dispose of his body and to seek the satisfaction of his bodily needs only in so far as is compatible with the normal development of the race. Thus in measure as the science of Darwinism from its observations of material life, makes new generalisations from the law of evolution, legislation must restrict the personal freedom of man even in the satisfaction of his organic needs.

After citing statistics, gathered from two or three learned works on the physiological influence of heredity on the human organism. Darwin declares that in England one in every five hundred is insane, that this insanity proceeds in many cases from hereditary disposition, transmitted by marriage and birth, and that the number of lunatics increases in geometrical progression. Thus humanity is threatened with the infinite spread of an evil against which measures must be taken. Our author then proposes the rigorous restriction of the liberty of the marriage contract. It is necessary, he tells us, to improve and strengthen the physical organism in the human race, and for this end we must take artificial measures to compensate for the weakening of the forces of natural selection. Only with such conditions, we are assured, is human progress possible. Mens sana in corpore sano.  The triumphs of the medical art in this matter are not of general advantage, but a general evil. Darwin has no doubt that the level of health in contemporary society has become lowered to an alarming extent, and that medical art, by sustaining the weaker organisms, can only increase the evil for future generations. It is necessary, he tells us, to lessen the number of the weak in conflict with the strong in the struggle for existence.

The following are the means by which Darwin proposes that legislation shall attain this end. The legal obstacles to marriage, which now exist, shall remain in force. In addition, the law shall, in the first place, recognise the appearance in one of the parties of certain diseases as cause for obligatory divorce. What are these diseases? Darwin gives a long list of ailments transmitted by heredity; we find there diseases of the lungs, of the stomach, of the liver, gout, scrofula, rheumatism, and others; so that every married person who does not enjoy herculean health must tremble daily for the security of the marriage contract, with all the more reason because its dissolution would accord with the interests of the State, or, we should rather say, with the interests of mankind. That Darwin had in view the institution of an inquisitorial process, we must assume, because, in the second place, he proposes to establish a general system of medical inspection to search for the diseases mentioned above, on the model of the German system of testing the fitness of recruits. Darwin proposes to establish the following rule. No one may contract marriage without producing evidence that he has never suffered from insanity. But that is not enough. He must produce an untainted pedigree–that is, he must prove that his parents, and even his most distant relations in ascendant and collateral lines, have never suffered from such complaints. All this is necessary, that among the mass the capacity for happiness may be augmented by the extermination of disease–the chief obstacle to happiness.

Is it possible to establish such restrictions? asks Darwin, and answers, Of course. Restrictions of a similar nature already exist in the marriage laws of many countries. As evidence of this, he adduces three pages of examples of the different restrictive laws, mostly from barbarous countries, citing indiscriminately the regulations of Prussia, Siam, China, and Madagascar, even of the Ostiaks and Tunguses. If we may judge by appearance, he is pleased by every restriction of marriage, and every facility for divorce. He ends his dissertation without considering the simple question, What end will be served by legal restrictions on marriage, when it will be impossible to prevent natural unions with the same effect in the birth of children? It may be, indeed, this question has occurred to the author; if so, he has found a reply, which he gives, in the example of Japan, where prostitution is not only tolerated, but even protected by the State, as a means of preventing an undue increase of population.

Thus reasons the herald of Darwinism. It is plain that to him the fundamental law of life is the preservation of the strong and the extirpation of the weak. And apparently he would establish this principle as a law of civil society. It is a strange specimen of the infatuation of a scholar with a principle discovered by himself. The legislator of a future society is to accept such ideas as these, and to acknowledge in life and progress no other motives than the interests of physiology–of moral factors he will not even dream. To him all organisms, weak and strong, are numbers, abstract quantities, for the purpose of mathematical calculation. He will not ask himself the question, Will the strong be stronger for having destroyed the weak? He knows not the truth that all strength grows in action, experience, and practice; that the strong will have no occasion to prove and develop their strength when there shall be no weak who require assistance and protection; and that the weakest, trained in favourable conditions, may become strong, and be capable of transmitting their strength to future generations.  And lastly, will the victors in the struggle of nature be capable of ministering to the perfection of the race, if their strength be sustained by a mechanical process at the expense of the weak?