Alexander Solzhenitsyn RIP

Posted by on August 5th, 2008

The Russian literary giant (and Nobel Prize Laureate) Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed away this week at the age of 89. Famed for being a dissident in the Soviet Union his star shone so brightly across the world that the authorities dared not harm him but forced him into western exile. An idealistic communist his criticisms of western capitalist decadence shocked many of his supporters, and on his eventual return to post-soviet Russia he once again regained the mantle of being the spokesperson for the russian national conscience.

Much has been written about him and many eulogies are available on the internet, so I will add no more. I shall simply quote from his seminal and epic work “The Gulag Archipelego” this short existential meditation on good and evil – a conundrum that he insists we all face – and a conundrum which many posts on this blog explores.

‘If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner? …

‘If only it was so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.

But the line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?’

Owen Matthews has written an excellent article on Solzhenitsyn for todays Daily Mail, which is well worth a read (particularly for the uninitiated). As well as the philosophical quote from above he reminds us of a more political point made by Solzhenitsyn – and one that I think transcends nations, eras and ideologies and is applicable to all governments and peoples.

He saw himself as a prophet not just for Russia but for all mankind, and in his later years turned to denouncing the corruptions of Russia’s chaotic brand of freedom and the dangers of liberalism.

But for all his unfashionable conservatism, he believed adamantly in the value of human dignity – and that a state abdicated all moral authority to order society if it abused its citizens.

Chad Varah R.I.P.

Posted by on November 10th, 2007

Chad Varah was the founder of the Samaritans, a charity that espoused listening therapy for the suicidal and despairing.

When founded in 1953, suicide was still viewed as a symptom of mental illness and moral depravity, Varah preffered to view it as a symptom of circumstance, whose genesis in individuals could vary for enormous reasons.

He was motivated to found this charity when as a newly ordained priest in the Anglican church he conducted a funeral for a 13 year old girl who had committed suicide upon experiencing her first menstrual cycle. Uninformed about adolescence and sexual development she had assumed it to be a symptom of a sexually transmitted disease and in despair and shame, took her own life. He vowed from that moment to help all people in despair and to offer therapeutic advice on sexual matters without judgement or condemnation.

Consequently upon founding the movement, named by the media after the ‘Good Samaritan’ of Christian scriptures he established certain fixed rules.

  • The Charity was to be secular.
  • It’s therapy was to be listening based.
  • It’s members were to be taken from all branches of society.
  • They should be neither “prudish” nor “preachy” as the problems they would encounter would be of an extremely personal nature, and the aim of the therapy was to listen to the person in need, and not to lecture them.

Chad Varah, mirroring Augustine of Hippo centuries before, freely admitted in his biographies to sexual experimentation before his marriage and his ordination in the church. This he saw as giving him an insight into the angsts and emotions encountered by those who suffered turmoil in an age where sex and sexuality was never openly discussed. He was an advocate of open and thorough sex education. And in later life whilst continuing to minister as a priest he also sat on the board of reference for the Adult magazine ‘Forum’.

He died aged 95 on the 7th November 2007, if not a “saint” as classically defined then perhaps a “model” and “Iconic” figure of the postmodern-paradigm.