You know what happens to a compass placed next to a metal bar? It goes haywire, pointing this way and that – anyone who then uses it as a navigational aid will go nowhere fast.
The same goes for the moral compass placed next to the secular modern ethos. People can no longer orient themselves in a kaleidoscopically changing landscape, especially when the landscape becomes a battlefield.
This brings me to TV Rain (Dozhd’), the independent Russian channel thrown out of Russia and now licensed to broadcast out of Latvia. (And there I was, thinking that all those former Soviet republics suppress everything Russian, including the language. Wasn’t that the point, Vlad?)
The channel’s current mission is to exonerate the Russian people from the crimes committed by the Russian government. Dozhd’ founder, Natalia Sindeyeva put it in a nutshell: “Putin isn’t Russia, Russian people aren’t Putin. And it’s not the Russian people who are bombing the Ukraine.” Well, it’s certainly not Bolivians.
I could write a plump tome on that subject, but in this abbreviated format I’d rather draw your attention to another statement by Miss Sindeyeva, one that has created a maelstrom of comments in the émigré press. She expressed empathy for “our poor mobilised boys, freezing in the woods, having nowhere to live, no food, no proper clothes…”
Liberal Russian journalists, most of them now in exile, have joined forces to accuse Miss Sindeyeva of every mortal sin. Prime among them is “universal humanism”, a term they use in the sense of indiscriminate empathy. The Russo-German columnist Igor Eidman has thus summed up the prevailing attitude:
“I am on the Ukraine’s side, wish her victory and look at the situation from the Ukrainian perspective. That’s why I can’t pity Russian soldiers, feel empathy for them. One can pity POWs, but not armed invaders. Even if they are hungry, cold and went to war not of their own accord.”
I unequivocally agree with the first sentence and just as unequivocally disagree with the subsequent ones. But in order to make a cogent argument, I have to remove the moral compass from any proximity to the iron bar of the modern ethos.
The lump of metal in question goes by the name of ‘humanism’. The word has been forced to do so many jobs that its real meaning has fallen by the wayside. For most people, including those Russian journalists, the word has got to mean love of man. Yet the full stop is premature there.
I’d suggest that the true, historical meaning of humanism is professed love of man as a way of cocking a snook at God. Humanism yanked morality out of heaven and tossed it to the ground, where it shattered into an infinite number of fragments.
Human beings, now empowered by their cognate ism, were each freed to pick up whichever fragment they fancied and use it as their moral guide. Except that a closer look revealed that newly acquired wasn’t so much freedom as anarchy. The demise of collective morality left people to their own devices – and vices.
As humanism gathered pace, it predictably proved to be rather inhuman. The 20th century, the first humanist one from start to finish, produced more violent deaths than the previous five millennia of recorded history combined.
People were being taught a lesson: morality can’t conquer on earth unless it comes from heaven. But they didn’t heed the lesson – they could no longer think in those terms.
Trained to believe that every man is his own judge, they failed to detect the incongruity of being both player and referee in the game of morality. They didn’t notice that the arrow of their moral compass was spinning around faster than the second hand of a stopwatch.
Hence the muddle in which those Russian commentators found themselves: their sights were set wrongly. Attacking Miss Sindeyeva’s “indiscriminate humanism”, they targeted the adjective instead of the real culprit, the noun.
In pre-humanist times, the argument wouldn’t have arisen. It would have been nipped in the bud by this imperative sentence: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”
This commandment is often misinterpreted as a statement of pacifism. So it would be, if expressed by someone like Tolstoy, his disciple Gandhi or any of their current followers. When expressed by Christ, it was a statement of higher, divine morality reflecting the new understanding of man vouchsafed to an uncomprehending world.
Men were told to love one another not because they were all equally lovable, but because God loved them all equally. And He loved all human beings not because they were angelic but because they were indeed human, creatures made in the image of God and endowed with life everlasting.
That kind of love didn’t mean awarding identical marks to every deed men commit during their earthly life, far from it. But it did mean a promise of salvation in eternity, which is an act of love at its most sublime.
That’s what loving one’s enemy means: a hope for his eternal salvation. Each person, including our mortal enemy, is entitled to this core love based on the respect for his humanity, as created by God.
Feeling for his earthly suffering is corollary to that. This shouldn’t stop a soldier from shooting an evil invader point-blank or eviscerating him with a bayonet. That type of violence is just when it stops or deters violence that’s unjust. But it doesn’t preclude love – and even empathy.
I support the Ukraine’s resistance to Russian fascism as strongly as Mr Eidman does. And I’m not even as ready as Miss Sindeyeva is to exculpate the Russian people in general from the evil war they are fighting against the Ukraine.
I too hope the Ukrainians will drive the Russian invaders out, which has to mean wishing they kill more thousands of the soldiers Miss Sindeyeva describes as “our boys”. And yet that bloodlust doesn’t prevent me from feeling empathy for those youngsters, freezing and starving in the icy, brick-hard Ukrainian mud.
You decide whether this makes me a moral relativist or a moral absolutist. I’m sure it’s the latter, but those ‘liberal’ journalists might disagree.
P.S. Early this morning, Ukrainian drones hit the Engels base of Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers near Saratov on the Volga. Two of the bombers used for terrorist missile attacks on the Ukraine were destroyed.
Apparently, the new drones, designed and manufactured by the Ukraine herself, carry a 75 kg payload to a range of up to 1,000 km. Since Moscow is but 500 k from the Ukrainian border, this gives Putin yet another headache. Well done, Ukraine!