Philip Yancey, in his book ‘Soul Survivor‘, writes how novelists understand the psyche better than any psychiatrist or psychologist. In novels, he says, are the most exquisite and accurate descriptions of human nature and we should go there to learn more of our brethren. Yancey recommends Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as being among the greatest novelists and so I have re-embarked on reading ‘Anna Karenina’ which I began reading fourteen years ago and gave up on about two-thirds of the way through. I had a young baby at the time and couldn’t keep myself awake to read it. In ‘Anna Karenina’, Yancey promises that I will gain an insight into faith and the human condition. Tolstoy was a struggling Christian, like us all, who tried to live by rules and formulae to access God, and seems to have overlooked the gift of grace for most of his life.
I imagine it is going to take a while to read through Anna Karenina, so there may be more than a few posts about it. This is the first and it is a quote from page 6, right at the beginning of the story:
Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal paper, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art, and politics had no special interest for him, he firmly held those views on all these subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them—or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly changed of themselves within him. Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society—owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity—to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat.
This seems to me so prescient of social media and the manner in which we, today, surround ourselves by friends and followers who think like us and they in turn impercetibly shape our views. Social media also demands that we are to have a view, we are to like or love the opinions that the people we like share. It’s the same cycle as that which Tolstoy so articulately describes.
For more on Philip Yancey and Soul Survivor, see this earlier post.