In Western civilization we are going through a period of rationalism where the prevailing educational, entertainment and media elites, who influence the culture, have rejected any allegiance to divine authority in faith and morals. Truth is what a person wants to believe and the only facts that are considered relevant are scientific and materialistic. Traditional Christian beliefs and virtues are derided and regarded as bigoted, backward and superstitious. The supernatural is presented as demonic with zombies, aliens and mutants; objects meant to scare us and relegated to horror, sci-fi and Halloween series.
The debate between traditional and conservative beliefs and rationalistic and materialistic ideologies is not new. In 1862 Ivan Turgenev wrote his classic novel, FATHERS AND SONS, which depicted two sons returning from university after several years away from home. At the university they have imbibed the ideas of nihilism. Arkady and Bazarov define a nihilist as “a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept any principle on faith, no matter how much that principle maybe surrounded by respect.”
The novel turns on the discussions between the generations about their convictions. Arkady asserts that the younger generation “smash things, because we’re a force” which is seen to end up as so much mindless destruction – see the mobs and terrorists today. The two sons may be strong, independent minded and self-assured but their arrogance seems to epitomize the hubris of all those who challenge fate and bring about their own ruin. Bazarov sees himself as a great man who will cure moral diseases by reforming society.
What the two sons do not anticipate is that they will fall in love. Arkady finds that he prefers life with Katya, helping his father to run their estate to the rootless life of people like Bazarov. He finds happiness in love leading to marriage which he had formerly derided.
Bazarov also falls in love with Odintsova. She forces him to confront the likelihood of personal happiness, to acknowledge the emotional turmoil, the revolution that is literally occurring within him. “You’re still young and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What are you preparing yourself for? What sort of future awaits you? I mean, what purpose do you want to achieve, where are you going, what’s on your mind? In short, who are you, what are you?”
Unable to commit himself to marrying her he goes back home to his parents who love him, and in the process of helping a local doctor he contracts typhus from a patient. He says to Odintsova who comes to visit him in his sickbed, “And I used to think, after all, I’ll do a whole mass of things…There’s a task to be done and I’m a giant! And now the giant’s only task is to die decently.”
The last light he sees – that of the candle before the icon – to one who had repudiated religion and was independent of superstition he is horrified with the threat of divine consolation; but the novel’s last words promises the hope of everlasting life. “No matter how passionate, sinning, rebellious in the heart hidden in the grave, the flowers growing on it look at us serenely with their innocent faces; they speak to us not only of that eternal peace, of that great peace of ‘impassive’ nature; they speak to us also of eternal reconciliation and of life everlasting…”
The rationalist is defeated by two great forces of life: love and death. We are all touched by the love of others and by our own mortality. God is love and he has given us eternal life in his Son. That is the victory of faith.