Thursday, August 7, 2008

Solzhenitsyn: The Battle of Good and Evil Over Nations

When I was in my teens, I read two Russian writers whose works came often to mind through my later years: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 - 3 August 2008).
I was more interested in Dostoevsky's dramatic inner study of the human soul: the psyche of the criminal, the petty thief, the man caught in the midst of political chaos. Solzhenitsyn was harder to read as his realistic accounts were based on personal experience of imprisonment and exile.

What would this great writer, who outlived the Soviet dictatorship and passed away on 3rd August 2008, have said about Malaysia's current state? Never be overconfident in your trust in man. There are no such steroetypes as good people on one side and evil people on the other side as painted by comic books and some local political blogs. The individual human soul is the battleground of good and evil.
Read this excerpt of his most famous book:

"So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't."

- The Gulag Archipelago (1973) [p. 169]

The political instability we see today in Malaysia is not a fight between good people and evil people. Rather, it should be seen as a struggle between leaders who wish to be perceived as good and who will paint their rivals as evil.

So who is fooling the Rakyat? Don't we all know that both good and evil has a stake in every person? With the resources of the Internet and books written by people like Solzhenitsyn, the enlightended Rakyat is wise enough to see through these political games and demand capable governance from their elected leaders.
Coincidentally, many of Solzhenitsyn's views on the life of nations are reflected in my thoughts about Malaysia in this blog. Just as Russia needed to repent for the crimes of the Soviet era, Malaysia needs to repent for "the sins of the fathers" that are visited on the children. Instead of pointing fingers at our leaders who do not hold the keys to the nation's salvation, we should be willing to make a frank assessment of our own vices and sins and make penitence for them as one nation.
In other words, the way forward for Malaysia (apart from the neccesary though overplayed reforms of democratic institutions) lies not in political action but in a quiet moral revolution. And this moral revolution can only start when we first acknowledge that the priorities of our lives, in the past five decades, based on pursuing self-centred material well-being and race-based priorities have made a desert out of our spiritual lives. While most Malaysians may consider themselves a religious lot, many are far from accepting personal responsibility for the sins of the nation (like bureaucrats, they will say: "my conscience is clear and my hands are clean.")
Some religious ideologues of this country mistakenly believe the way to make people become good and turn them from evil is to establish religious rules of law as santified by the state. This is what Solzhenitsyn had to say about the foolishness of imposing morality by legal or political means:
"After the Western ideal of unlimited freedom, after the Marxist concept of freedom as acceptance of the yoke of necessity- here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-restriction! Restriction of the self for the sake of others"
- From Under the Rubble (1981) [p. 136]
This moral freedom is a fundamental truth for all religions and not only for Christians. In God's eyes, a moral person is one who is willing to restrict/forfeit his own needs out of love for others. He is not doing good for the sake of some heavenly reward or to accumulate some points in a universal scorecard.
As a nation, when will Malaysia know her true destiny in the family of nations? Can she solve her political problems by recognising them as spiritual problems? Only then will we see that the right solution is not a political one but a true intellectual and spiritual examination of the past, the present and the future.
Postscript: A Merdeka Day Prayer, written by Elaine Yeoh as a letter to Malaysiakini, also calls out for national repentance.

1 comment:

Allen Tan 陈亚伦 said...

How did your article end up in Micah Mnadate? I tried to submit my article, but they told me they didn't accept outside writers.

Do You Want To Know God?

Do You Want To Know God?
Say this: Heavenly Father, I have sinned against You. Forgive all my sins. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I give you my life to do as You wish. I want Jesus to come into my life & heart. In Jesus's name. Amen