Monday, September 21, 2009

Loving Yourself Best of All

In Dostoevsky’s short story, “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” (and yes, it is actually short) a typically Dostoevskian manic is about to commit suicide late one night. But before he picks up the revolver to pull the trigger, he falls asleep in his armchair and has a dream. In his dream he is transported to an Eden-like world of love and understanding. Unfortunately, after a little while his presence in this world corrupts it. As the dreamer watches with great pain while this perfect world falls apart, he comments on how some of the inhabitants try to mitigate the more destructive aspects of its increasing corruption: “But the men arose who began to wonder how they could all be united again, so that everybody should, without ceasing to love himself best of all, not interfere with everybody else and so that all of them should live together in a society which would at least seem to be founded on mutual understanding. Whole wars were fought over this idea.”

I think this passage sums up for me why I just can’t get excited about politics—secular or ecclesial. As long as we are trying to patch up the appearance of corruption, we are merely creating more causes to fight for. If we focus on our own repentance, loving others best of all, then Eden is created in our hearts. Those who are corrupt—or I should rather say those of us all who are corrupt yet do not seek repentance, for all have sinned—will continue to be corrupt and to corrupt whatever system is in place. If the crises of the major banks and savings and loans during the past couple of decades have taught us anything (and I’m not sure they have) it is that even the best accounting systems can be corrupted.

I am not saying that systems are unimportant. I am just pointing out that it is the sad way of the world that fighting is the inevitable result—no matter how noble the cause— when men love themselves best of all.

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