Do I exist? Great question. And does that rock over there really exist? Another great question. For idiots. Yet those are the two questions that have tortured all of the great idiots of the last 500 years in the Western philosophical world of ‘Enlightenment’. That, my friend, is Vladimir Solovyev’s distillation of all Western post-Enlightenment philosophy. He says that they are all either rationalists or empiricists. Among the rationalists we have Kant, Hegel, Leibniz-Wolff etc. And with the empiricists we can include Bacon, Locke, Hume, Mill, etc.
According to Solovyev, the rationalist asks himself if he can prove his own existence. The empiricist, on the other hand, tries to prove the existence of that rock over there. And since neither the object’s nor the subject’s existence can be ‘proven’, to the satisfaction of these same geniuses, the net result is paralysis. How convenient.
So what is the purpose of gazing at your (or your neighbor’s) navel? To reach paralysis, evidently. Or else, to avoid making real contact with yourself. Or that rock over there. And the resulting paralysis of this existential enervation is simply the byproduct of this endless loop of self-doubt.
So what does Solovyev mean by all of this? Simply that both forms of this type of thought, whether by faux reasoning or measuring, misses the salient point. And that point is this: if either you or that rock over there don’t exist (in the simple fashion that our senses present to us), then nothing matters. Why? Because at least half (if not all) of sensual reality doesn’t exist. Ergo, why bother? With anything?
Solovyev, as summarized by Egbert Munzer in his fascinating book Solovyev, Prophet of Western-Russian Unity is simply pointing out that by failing to take our sensory data at face value, we become unable to act upon that same input. Why react to that rock’s presence if you’re not sure if it really exists? Or if you really exist? In short, each of these approaches yields exactly nothing. Nothing rational, nothing measurable. Nothing, period. No wonder so many Western ‘thinkers’ deny the reality of free will. If you can’t act (because you can’t be sure you exist), what’s the point of the will? And what then is the difference between the East and the West?
Well, so what? What’s wrong with thinking about your existence? Or trying to measure what your senses perceive? Why, nothing is wrong with that, nothing at all. As long as you believe your beliefs. And doubt your doubts. And don’t confuse the two. So here is the handy man’s way out of this Western ‘Enlightenment’ conundrum of existential wondering if there is anything beyond your navel. See that rock over there? Now forget, for a moment, the paralyzing question of whether it really exists. And whether you really exist. Instead, just walk over there and pick it up for a second, eh? Now then, smack it directly into your forehead. Hard! When you wake up, you will be forever cured of the question of whether either of you actually exists.
Now let’s assume you’ve done this (and lived). What’s next? Philosophically speaking, that is. Well, in order to make any actual progress, now that the ‘will to paralysis’ is gone, we have to get down to business. And let’s forget about rocks, as objects that is. Let’s go for the whole enchilada. We know we are the subject. So let’s deal with the big object. That would be God. And let’s take Solovyev’s approach and see where it leads.
Solovyev’s way of understanding life was to see things as part of the All-One. No, not in a pantheistic way. Rather, in an organic way. Organic, in the original sense of the word. And the original sense of the world. In other words, the creation was One, and all the constituent parts were interconnected, each having an organic (that is, a systemic) role to play in the workings of the organism as a whole. But because he was not a pantheist, Solovyev didn’t believe that the individual parts of the whole lacked their own individual personality. He was not a Hindu. Or a Buddhist. Or a Confucian. Or any of those myriad Eastern mystical belief systems that reduced you to an indistinct drop of water in a vast impersonal ocean. Yes, he studied all of them. But he never took the bait.
No, he believed in the eternal uniqueness of each being. Think of it as your body, and each cell was not only unique, physically speaking, but mentally alive and unique as well. And possessed of its own will. Now we can see the problem of mankind better. We usually don’t feel like acting in a manner that benefits the entire body, versus our own particular desires. Imagine what our bodies would do if our cells acted this way. Wait—they do! That’s why we become dissipated, diseased, and dead. So, is this the fate of organic mankind? Actually, yes. Unless there is some kind of intervention. An external intervention. Why external? Because physicians do not heal themselves, do they? They die too, if I’m not mistaken.
Yes, I know. That’s pretty damned obvious, at least to those of us who aren’t physicians today. So let’s get back to Solovyev, and his version of spiritual (and thus mental) health. Which, if it is correct, should lead to physical health, right? So let’s look at philosophy as Solovyev saw it.
He said that the real danger in Western Enlightenment thought systems was that neither the rational nor the empirical approach allowed the subject and object to form a relationship with each other, thus resulting in true knowledge of each other. After all, if one or the other (or both) didn’t really exist, how could there be any interaction between them? And without interaction, how could there be any relationship, of any kind? Not only that, how could they ever become united? Or better yet, to realize their inherent and intended unity. After all, if we are all part of the All-One, isn’t that the goal? To become re-united, for the purpose of ‘peaceful co-existence’, as we used to say during the years of détente? Yes, you knew I would drag Russia into this, right Komrade?
Anyway, back to the task of correctly detecting what we (the subject) are, and what that thing over there (the object) is. And then we can establish (or re-establish) a relationship with it, for the furtherance of organic unity. Okay then, so in the example I’ve proposed, let’s define ourselves, now that we no longer doubt our existence. Well, it’s pretty simple. We are unique individuals, and we die. Therefore, we are not immortal. We are finite. On the other hand, the object I’ve proposed, (God), is also an individual, but He does not die. So then, we can now see the big difference. Immortality versus mortality. And let’s see what this implies.
If you are immortal, you must be infinite and omnipotent. You possess the power to resist entropy. That is, the power of death. This means that God is of an unchanging nature. Because the only change for Him would be death. Why is that? Well, if you are infinite and omnipotent, all potentiality and actuality is within your grasp. How could you possibly change? What could you change into that you didn’t already contain and subsume? So what does this have to do with anything? Simply this; God exists, unconditionally, as He is. He is Being what He is. He’s not becoming anything else. After all, if He’s infinite, what else is there that He could become that He isn’t already? Nothing. Been there, done that. Amen.
But we, on the other hand, don’t really exist unconditionally. After all, we didn’t exist prior to our parents, and we likely won’t exist (here, at least) in another 100 years. And that’s being optimistic. Yes, I know, I do seem to state the obvious, don’t I? But sometimes, or quite often actually, mankind avoids the obvious. So let’s allow Solovyev spell it out for us. He says that Man is always in a state of becoming. Man is not static. He doesn’t simply exist, as God does. Man changes, God doesn’t. And therein lies the whole tale. So let’s complete the equation, the equation that Western Enlightenment idiots can never grasp, because they can’t (or rather, won’t) get beyond the first premise. And the reason they won’t is because this premise leads inexorably to the conclusion. And the conclusion is a question, a question they don’t like. And they don’t want to answer it . And the question is this; what exactly are we becoming?
So let’s see where we are with this equation. Let’s state what we now know: God is Being, Man is Becoming. And now we are to that point where the unspoken question is literally screaming at us to ask: Being what? Becoming what?
Well, in God’s case, it’s simple, because He is simple. Why is He simple? Because He has no parts. He is One. So he can’t fall apart. Pretty simple. But is eternal being the finality of His essence? That He simply is? I say no. There is something beyond simple, unconditional Being. And so, let us ask, what exactly is He being? And the Christian answer is, He is being Good. Infinitely good, in the fullness of meaning. Eternally, infinitely, omnipotently Good. Now if you don’t believe in the existence of this version of God, you’ve got a problem. Why? Because whatever ersatz brand you do believe in has to fall short of what I’ve just described. Because I’ve already claimed every inch of that turf. By definition. What could be better than the ultimate Good? Good luck with Allah. Or Buddha. Or Confucius. Or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or Darwin. Or yourself. Or whoever.
But this is only part of the equation. What about us? You know, mankind? Where do we stand in this cosmic comedy? And it is a comedy, you know. Because it has a good ending. But back to mankind, eh? Yes, we have our part to play as well. And since God doesn’t change, we get all the action parts, right? Yep. We are the actors in this play. And God is the audience. And the producer. And the cool part of this play is that we get to write our own lines. And script our own actions. That’s what this is all about. What are we becoming? What character will emerge from our own self?
So now, back to the question: what exactly are we Becoming? Now there are only two choices, you know. And here they are; we’re either Becoming Better, or Becoming Worse. And those two gradations are in strict relation to The Good I’ve described above.
So here is where Solovyev sees us. We, as conditional beings, are in a constant state of flux. And the ether of time is what allows us this flexibility, this freedom of will, and then of action. And the choice is ours, alone. What will we become? Will we become better, or will we become worse, as measured against the Golden Rule of The Unconditional Being?
Now this is where Solovyev takes us to the concept of God-Manhood in Solovyev’s Lectures on God-Manhood. The process of becoming a God-Man like Jesus. But whereas Jesus has always been God, in the fullness of that concept and Being, we have to become Him. Which will take forever, if we can even imagine such a thing. This is the purpose of infinity, from our point of view. Why is that? Well, scripture tells us that we are to become as gods, e.g. Psalm 82: 1-5.
Notice I didn’t capitalize that word ‘god’. And the reason is because, if we have chosen (by our actions) to become Better in this life, then in the next life, which is un-ending, we can continue this progression. And we have eternity to do it. An eternity to absorb the intricacy of the infinite. Which of course, we can never completely do. And how could we ever become ‘God-with-a-capital-G’? How could we? It’s physically and meta-physically impossible. But we can get close to it. And closer. And closer. And closer…
But this is no Sisyphean task I’ve described here. It’s not work, my friend. It is pleasure. Pure pleasure. Ahhhhh! And even though we know, from the outset, that we can never eat all the courses on the Big Buffet of Being, we’ll never have to stop eating. We never get full. And we never lose our appetite. And every bite of knowledge and wisdom is better than the last. Yet, on the other hand, if we chose to Become Worse in this life, then guess what awaits us in the coming eternal infinity? Better bring some Tums. Better bring a lot. An infinite amount, to be precise.
‘Yeah, yeah, so what?’ you say. What’s this got to do with Russia? Well, everything. At least, to Orthodox Russia. And is there any other kind of Russia? Which is to say, the Russia of President Vlad and Patriarch Kyrill. And as long as they are in the front seat of this Armata T-14, that’s everyone in Russia today. So what do I mean by this? Well, remember when I said that God is simple, and he does not change? Whereas we can and do change, continuously? And that it is our trajectory of action (and attitude) that determines our fate? Well, there’s the magic word, Komrade: action.