Author Topic: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy  (Read 50480 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #15 on: November 10, 2006, 05:06:41 PM »
And don't forget the state atheism of France in the 1790's.

It is no coincidence that atheism surges forward in times of severe social and/or political dislocation.  When a state pretends to be God's agent on earth and then things don't go well, God inevitably takes the blame in the minds of many.  If it was God who delivered a king in Henry who put the souls of his subject in peril; if it was God who delivered the chaos that attended the financial crisis of the French government; and if it was God who delivered the working conditions of industrial St. Petersburg, and Bloody Sunday, and World War I, then why would there not be an upsurge of interest in having God out of the picture.

It's the theological version of what happened when Nicholas took over the military direction of the war in 1915, was then blamed for the subsequent reverses, and finally was rendered dispensible in the minds of virtually all his subjects.

Humans tend to anthropomorphize their concept of God.  And the results show up in more than paintings and statuary.

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2006, 11:04:49 AM »
This thread is fascinating!

Religion, unfortunately, is not my strong point when studying history.  But what you have all posted here makes so much sense an explains so much.  The workings of a mind which believes itself to be "under the will of God" are so mysterious.

But I do see the point that atheism would be inevitable for those who would blame "God" for their ill fortune.  If God is not delivering, then perhaps he does not exist.

I was just heard something on (of all places) a TV show.  But the question is fathomless.  "Did God create the mind, or did the mind create God?"

The story of the homeless Russian man and his gentle treatment by the people in the store, touched me deeply.  In the 1960s here in the US, a generation tried to bring that kind of humanity to man into being.  I have seen big burly bikers tenderly help a lost and crying child.  I have seen a "long haired" hippy in the 1960s help an old woman who fainted in a store.

But the US legal system and the "sue" mentality of our current culture have made that kind of intervention risky.

So it would not be a disbelief in religion that would stop someone from helpng today, but the fear of legal reprisal.

As for Nicholas II, I can not imagine being so lost in the worldly sense, but so sure of his religious convictions that the will of God was all he needed or accepted.  He did believe, though, that he was "God's chosen conduit" and therefore owed no explaination to anyone for his actions or inactions.

Did his father or grandfather believe that they ruled by "God's will" alone or did they get the difference between His will and theirs.

And finally, where did Nicholas get this all abiding belief.  Did he always have it? Did it come from Pobendonostev?  Did it come to him with Alix and her "notations in his diary"?  I have never read that Alexander III taught him that.  Or because he knew that he was unworthy of ruling "What will become of ...all of Russia?" as he said to Sandro after Alexander III died, that he gradually came to accept the only crutch he had. 

He was not truly ready to be Tsar, but it was "God's will".

Alixz

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2006, 05:48:23 PM »
I have another question.

Didn't the Japanese believe that their Emperors were gods, not just a conduit for God's will on earth?

I know that Japanese religion is much different from Russian Orthodoxy, but Nicholas never thought that he was a god, just the earthly representative of one.




Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2006, 04:21:54 PM »
I was just heard something on (of all places) a TV show.  But the question is fathomless.  "Did God create the mind, or did the mind create God?"

Some years ago Julian Jaynes, a linguistics professor at Princeton, wrote a very controversial book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  Jaynes proposed that the human mind is capable of processing data and organizing thought in different ways.  In his view, human history up until roughly 1100 B.C. was driven by a different thought process than has prevailed since.  Forgive my very crude shorthand description of a very complex phenomenon.  But, basically, he felt that early civilization was built by people whose left and right lobes worked relatively independently of each other, with one lobe communicating with the other via an "internal voice".  For instance, sensory input would be received in one lobe, processed, and then an instruction to the motor center in the other lobe would be communicated via a perceived voice command.  These commands were perceived as "gods" directing human affairs and resulted in the pantheon of gods who were felt in almost all early cultures to direct the minutiae of human affairs.  They were also the source of prophetic utterances, such as Delphic oracles and the Old Testament prophets.  (Although some of these phenemona lasted well beyond 1100 B.C., Jaynes explains that this transition to modern thought processing took centuries and proceeded more slowly in some places than in others.  He gives reasons that are too complicated to go into on this thread.)

Jaynes analyzed the large body of research on stroke and accident victims and found many cases where certain forms of brain damage caused a reversion to bicameral thought modes.  He also analyzed ancient literature for references to specific human action being directed -- literally -- by the gods, such as was the case in the Iliad and the Odyssey, to name but the two most familiar works.  Jaynes concluded these were not just literary constructs, but a recounting of the actual means of thought processing among the ancients.

Jaynes' work has slipped into oblivion over the years.  I had largely forgotten about it myself until my most recent issue of Discover magazine arrived, containing an article on some new bodies of research by which brain scientists are using modern techniques to try to correlate brain function to religious perception or even to the origin of religion.  It's a very controversial area of research, but one particular study caught my attention.  Scientists have found that certain forms of brain stimulation can produce the perception of inner voices issuing directives for behavior -- the very phenomenon Jaynes claimed was the ancient means of human thought processing.

So . . .  did the mind create God, or was it the other way around?  Or both?


As for Nicholas II, I can not imagine being so lost in the worldly sense, but so sure of his religious convictions that the will of God was all he needed or accepted.  He did believe, though, that he was "God's chosen conduit" and therefore owed no explaination to anyone for his actions or inactions.

In a recent interview Meryl Streep (an actress, I know . . . but a darn smart one) made an interesting comment on the modern upsurge of fundamentalism across the major religions of the world.  The gist was that, in increasingly complex times, religious belief offers us relief from the need to think.  Nicholas was a very average man confronting a gathering of forces in an industrializing world that weighed on the faculties of the brightest of his era.  Is it any surprise that he sought out religion as a refuge from the demand to think hard?

We've had long-ago debates on this forum about whether the likes of a Peter the Great or a Catherine II could have handled the issues confronting Russia at the turn of the 20th century.  Nicholas II?  Not a chance.  At least he had his religious beliefs to give him the comfort of feeling he had some help . . . at least until all the wheels fell off the cart.

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #19 on: December 05, 2006, 09:57:58 PM »
Quote
In a recent interview Meryl Streep (an actress, I know . . . but a darn smart one)

I arch my eyebrow in your general direction, and will pray for you.  ;)

Simon
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #20 on: December 06, 2006, 05:40:03 AM »
Now, now, Simon.  I think of you as far more than an actor.  A writer, a director, a producer, a theologian for our modern age . . . Billy Wilder, in fact.   ;D


Alixz

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #21 on: December 06, 2006, 07:34:10 AM »
Tsarfan - Thank you again.  I find this thread to be one of the most intersting in the forum.

Louis_Charles - I didnt know that you were such a renaissance man (but then I didn't even know you were an actor)   :)

The mind is such an amazing thing?  And I know that my mother always said not to discuss "religion, politics, or money" with others, but that is what the Romanovs were all about.  All three and I am loving reading everyone's contributions to this thread.

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #22 on: December 06, 2006, 06:32:25 PM »
Tsarfan - Thank you again.  I find this thread to be one of the most intersting in the forum.

Louis_Charles - I didnt know that you were such a renaissance man (but then I didn't even know you were an actor)   :)

The mind is such an amazing thing?  And I know that my mother always said not to discuss "religion, politics, or money" with others, but that is what the Romanovs were all about.  All three and I am loving reading everyone's contributions to this thread.

Reminds me of that old quote from Alice Roosevelet Longworth: " If you don't have anything nice to say then...come sit down right next to me".

Politics, religion and money are fascinating!

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #23 on: December 06, 2006, 07:05:27 PM »
Some years ago Julian Jaynes, a linguistics professor at Princeton, wrote a very controversial book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  Jaynes proposed that the human mind is capable of processing data and organizing thought in different ways.  In his view, human history up until roughly 1100 B.C. was driven by a different thought process than has prevailed since.  Forgive my very crude shorthand description of a very complex phenomenon.  But, basically, he felt that early civilization was built by people whose left and right lobes worked relatively independently of each other, with one lobe communicating with the other via an "internal voice".  For instance, sensory input would be received in one lobe, processed, and then an instruction to the motor center in the other lobe would be communicated via a perceived voice command.  These commands were perceived as "gods" directing human affairs and resulted in the pantheon of gods who were felt in almost all early cultures to direct the minutiae of human affairs.  They were also the source of prophetic utterances, such as Delphic oracles and the Old Testament prophets.  (Although some of these phenemona lasted well beyond 1100 B.C., Jaynes explains that this transition to modern thought processing took centuries and proceeded more slowly in some places than in others.  He gives reasons that are too complicated to go into on this thread.)

Jaynes analyzed the large body of research on stroke and accident victims and found many cases where certain forms of brain damage caused a reversion to bicameral thought modes.  He also analyzed ancient literature for references to specific human action being directed -- literally -- by the gods, such as was the case in the Iliad and the Odyssey, to name but the two most familiar works.  Jaynes concluded these were not just literary constructs, but a recounting of the actual means of thought processing among the ancients.

Jaynes' work has slipped into oblivion over the years.  I had largely forgotten about it myself until my most recent issue of Discover magazine arrived, containing an article on some new bodies of research by which brain scientists are using modern techniques to try to correlate brain function to religious perception or even to the origin of religion.  It's a very controversial area of research, but one particular study caught my attention.  Scientists have found that certain forms of brain stimulation can produce the perception of inner voices issuing directives for behavior -- the very phenomenon Jaynes claimed was the ancient means of human thought processing.

So . . .  did the mind create God, or was it the other way around?  Or both?

Tsarfan, you might not know this, but a recent novel by the English writer Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces, is based in part on Julian Janynes's work. The story is about two young men, Thomas Midwinter and Jacques Rebière, one English, the other French, who meet in 1880 as students and become close friends. They are both in medical school and training to become "mind doctors;" of course, it is only a matter of time before they decide to set up shop together. Rebière, whose beloved older brother suffers from severe schizophrenia, comes to believe that mental illness is caused by childhood trauma (his ideas are seen to anticipate or shall we say parallel Freud's). Meanwhile Midwinter has come to the opposite conclusion, that the origins of mental illness are to be found in the physical makeup of the brain (and his ideas are, as the author acknowledges in his afterword, taken directly from Julian Jaynes). This book has received mixed reviews, unlike Faulks's previous novels, Birdsong and Charlotte Gray (both of which won raves from critics and readers alike; the latter was even made into a movie), but I thought it was an unusually intelligent work of fiction about the birth of psychiatry and enjoyed it very much. So now I must definitely look up Jaynes...
« Last Edit: December 06, 2006, 07:08:12 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #24 on: December 07, 2006, 06:37:39 AM »
And I'm going to have to seek out the Faulks book.

Actually, Jaynes specifically argued that ancient thought processing was very like what we today would label schizophrenia.  I had hesitated to mention that in my earlier post, because it seems such an outrageous proposition on its face.  However, once Jaynes lays out his full thesis and the context for such an observation is understood, it actually makes sense.

Jaynes' central thesis is that the modern sense of self -- the perception that "I" feel, "I" want, "I" think -- is actually just one of several ways of organizing thought and that it only became the almost universal means of organizing human thought in the first millenium B.C.  He then argues that this ability to form a world view around the centrality of one's own existence arose from the integration of the activities of our two brain lobes through a different means than prevailed in ancient times.

This may sound untenable, but Jaynes explains what he thinks to be the triggering mechanism for this change.  Even at the time he wrote, science knew that the human brain has some ability to "rewire" itself in response to external stimuli.  What was not known at the time Jaynes wrote, but has emerged from recent research, is that some changes to the human organism can be passed to progeny for at least several generations without actually requiring a re-coding of the genome.  While Jaynes had to stretch a bit to explain how the changes in thought organization he proposed had the ability to propogate themselves down generations, it turns out that subsequent research has perhaps provided that answer.

In effect, Jaynes argues that early man operated without our modern sense of self-consciousness.  As absurd as it sounds, he convincingly illustrates that even today we engage in complex activity -- sometimes for prolonged periods -- without remaining totally aware of what we're doing.  For instance, have you ever been driving somewhere and then suddenly realize you have no recollection of the past few miles -- no recollection of the landscape, the buildings you passed, the cars you met on the road?  Yet you were engaging in the very complex motor activities of handling the controls of a vehicle while steering it at speed down a narrow roadway and avoiding obstacles.  You were, in fact, driving while in a state of unawareness that you were doing so.

Jaynes takes these observations of how we function today -- how our modern societies are built around a sense of self-awareness and how we strive for a sense of individual worth -- and draws a fascinating contrast with ancient societies.  In examining the literature of those societies, he finds a remarkable paucity of references to the "I".  The characters of that literature are not portrayed in the first person.  They do not talk of "their" aspirations.  Instead, they are reported as being enmeshed in events driven by the gods or as responding to the dictates of those gods.

Jaynes' point is that the universality of this approach across world literatures was not just the coincidental development of independent literary conventions but rather was reflective of the way in which human thought was organized.

While Jaynes' book is not a treatise on the origin of religion, there are obvious implications.  It's a tome well worth exploring by anyone interested in hearing a novel voice on the topic.

Offline Bev

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #25 on: December 19, 2006, 03:59:53 PM »
Yes, I think they truly believe(d) that they were ordained by God - which is how they rationalize their crimes.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #26 on: December 21, 2006, 06:48:31 AM »
Ivan Lukash was a Russian writer living in Latvian exile in the 1920's.  In the prologue to his novel The Flames of Moscow, he describes the thoughts of a fictional Lieutenant Koshelev who was on duty at the castle the night Emperor Paul was murdered.  Koshelev had been a Mason who once harbored the dream that Paul's policies would pave the way for the eventual establishment of a republic in Russia.  Even though that dream had long-since faded, Koshelev nevertheless found himself regretting the loss of a good man and a good tsar.  These thoughts shortly deliver him up to the passive despair that so marks the Russian attitude about authority, both religious and temporal:

"When Koshelev was on night duty at the barracks he often read the Bible, fitting a candle over the wooden box on which he sat.  He had never read the Bible before, and now, during those night readings, he began to grasp something new -- some humble and painful truth that he could not have put into words; he began to understand that men's talk about changing and improving life never comes true, that life is not in human hands and does not obey men's words and wishes; that the mysterious power of God is alone accomplished in everything that happens on earth.  He thought with emotion of the strange words of St. Paul, that the kingdom of God is not in words but in power."

Lukash, himself in flight from soviet authority, looks back over his shoulder at a Russia in the hands of the Bolsheviks . . . and still sees the hand of God even in such an authority as theirs.

Ivan the Terrible murdering his boyars?  The hand of God.  Peter the Great murdering his son?  The hand of God.  Catherine the Great murdering her husband?  The hand of God.  Alexander I overthrowing his father?  The hand of God.  Nicholas I suppressing all liberal sentiment?  The hand of God.  Terrorists murdering the Tsar Liberator?  The hand of God.  Nicholas II's heir born with hemophilia?  The hand of God.  The military debacles of World War I?  The hand of God.  The Bolshevik coup?  The hand of God.  Stalin's reign of terror?  The hand of God.  Oil oligarchs?  The hand of God.

Having made a national tradition of the Church's teaching that their rulers are the agents of God and not of the people, is there any great mystery to Russia's experience of the 20th century?

Offline Bev

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #27 on: December 21, 2006, 08:57:07 AM »
By claiming that every event is the will of God, no one has to take responsibility and all actions can be justified and/or rationalized.  It absolves humans from guilt by collectivizing it.  This sounds counter-intuitive, but if we're all sinners, then no one person can be blamed or is responsible for any occurrence. 

Are our brains hardwired for religion or religious experience?  I don't know.  One thing that religion does do, is to put members of a social group "on the same page".  Since no two people view reality in the same way, it creates an alternative reality, which since it cannot be seen or sensed, it becomes what people say it is.  It becomes a shared reality in which information is more readily passed on (or controlled by an elitist subculture) and understood.

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #28 on: December 24, 2006, 02:19:34 PM »
By claiming that every event is the will of God, no one has to take responsibility and all actions can be justified and/or rationalized.  It absolves humans from guilt by collectivizing it.  This sounds counter-intuitive, but if we're all sinners, then no one person can be blamed or is responsible for any occurrence. 

Are our brains hardwired for religion or religious experience?  I don't know.  One thing that religion does do, is to put members of a social group "on the same page".  Since no two people view reality in the same way, it creates an alternative reality, which since it cannot be seen or sensed, it becomes what people say it is.  It becomes a shared reality in which information is more readily passed on (or controlled by an elitist subculture) and understood.

I agree with this in part, but there are individualized experiences of the presence of God in the world that do not seem to be dictated by an elitist subculture. Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Francesco of Assisi and Dorothy Day come readily to mind, and there are numerous others. If one admits the existence of a God Who directly intervenes in history through the Incarnation, then one allows the possibility that occasionally the reality-perception is instigated by the other side, so to speak. This does not mean that all of the nastiness Tsarfan listed is God's will (quite the contrary, according to orthodox Christian teaching --- God cannot will evil) and still less that autocracy was actually His subsidiary company. Surely the existence of evil in the world is less an argument for doing away with God than it is for doing away with the evil?

Simon
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Theological Underpinnings of the Russian Autocracy
« Reply #29 on: December 24, 2006, 02:40:37 PM »
This does not mean that all of the nastiness Tsarfan listed is God's will (quite the contrary, according to orthodox Christian teaching --- God cannot will evil) and still less that autocracy was actually His subsidiary company.

I always admire your pithiness, Simon.  But isn't this exactly the theological underpinning of the Russian autocracy -- the notion that the tsar was God's agent on earth?