Saturday, August 9, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Orthodox Christian Intellectual, Dies at 89

This week, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian intellectual, Nobel Prize laureate and convert to Orthodox Christianity, died at the age of 89.

He spent eight years in a Soviet prison camp for criticizing Joseph Stalin, and his widely-read work, The Gulag Archipeligo, was a systematic, gripping critique of the Soviet prison camps. He eventually moved to America, where, in 1978, he gave the commencement address at Harvard University*.

In it, he made the following assessment:
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. ...Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
*Thanks to John Nasr, who sent me a transcript of the speech.

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