Rowan Williams on Dostoevsky

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"Terrorism, child abuse, absent fathers and the fragmentation of the family, the secularisation and the sexualisation of culture, the future of liberal democracy, the clash of cultures and the nature of national identity - so many of the anxieties that we think of as being quintessentially features of the early 21st century are omnipresent in the work of Dostoevsky, his letter, his journalism and above all his fiction. The world we inhabit as readers of his novels is one in which the question of what human beings owe to each other is left painfully and shockingly open and there seems no obvious place to stand from which we can construct a clear moral landscape. Yet at the same time, the novels insistently and unashamedly press home the question of what else might be possible if we saw the world in another light, the light provided by faith."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury * Culture-WatchPoetry & LiteratureReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEuropeRussia

5 Comments
Posted September 29, 2008 at 6:09 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy-keep thinking about these things. Phil. 4:8

Contrasted with…

“Terrorism, child abuse, absent fathers and the fragmentation of the family, the secularisation and the sexualisation of culture, the future of liberal democracy, the clash of cultures and the nature of national identity - so many of the anxieties that we think of as being quintessentially features of the early 21st century are omnipresent in the work of Dostoevsky, his letter, his journalism and above all his fiction. The world we inhabit as readers of his novels is one in which the question of what human beings owe to each other is left painfully and shockingly open and there seems no obvious place to stand from which we can construct a clear moral landscape.

Perhaps less time focussed on the ills of the world and more time spent meditating on our blessed hope is in order.  Just a thought…

September 29, 8:27 am | [comment link]
2. Mary Miserable wrote:

Fr. Harmon, thank you for this article.  When abortion-on-demand became legal and welcomed by some women as the ultimate liberation, a Catholic theologian likened such a response to Raskolnikov’s argument that “to kill somehow gave him a sense of growth.”  I think this is the problem for Americans trying to come to terms with abortion.
Years ago in an Inquirer’s class our priest said that the reason the Church cautions against promiscuity is not because of unplanned pregnancy or prudishness but because of treating one’s body as an object. 
Yet, this teaching is what the Church has now discarded through its steadfast commitment to a woman’s right to choose, reducing the sanctity of life to an “ancient notion” no longer respected in American society.  This is a terrible blow for Episcopalian women, but there isn’t anything more we can do to abouot it.

September 29, 9:18 am | [comment link]
3. NWOhio Anglican wrote:

S&ToN;:

You’ve left out the money quote from the paragraph you quoted, and so not only obscured the meaning but made it out to say something it did not say.

The last sentence, which you leave out, is

Yet at the same time, the novels insistently and unashamedly press home the question of what else might be possible if we saw the world in another light, the light provided by faith.

If a US bishop had similarly misquoted, say, Bp. Orombi, you’d be up in arms.

September 29, 11:41 am | [comment link]
4. Stuart Smith wrote:

If you read Dostoevsky…esp. Brother Karamazov and The Idiot…you are struck with his prophetic vision of the 20th century’s obsession with utopian socialism and the belief that man can not only do without God, but do it better!  Dostoevsky has been misunderstood by God-haters such as Freud, but D. stands as a man drawn by the beauty and Truth of Jesus Christ, while torn apart by Russian’s sad journey to the edge of insanity.

September 29, 2:35 pm | [comment link]
5. Mary Miserable wrote:

“The most challenging task for an awakened Christian consciousness is to correlate the two kingdoms - earth and heaven.”
This is from a fascinating article entitled “The Russia Idea in the Present Day” by Hegumen Benjamin (Novick) printed in Pro Ecclesia Vol II, No. 4, around 1996.
Unfortunately, it is not in their web archives, but perhaps Fr. Harmon could obtain it for us.

September 29, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
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