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A Confession

Part 1


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I was baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith. 
I was taught it in childhood and throughout my boyhood and youth. 
But when I abandoned the second course of the university at the age
of eighteen I no longer believed any of the things I had been
taught.

Judging by certain memories, I never seriously believed them,
but had merely relied on what I was taught and on what was
professed by the grown-up people around me, and that reliance was
very unstable.

I remember that before I was eleven a grammar school pupil,
Vladimir Milyutin (long since dead), visited us one Sunday and
announced as the latest novelty a discovery made at his school. 
This discovery was that there is no God and that all we are taught
about Him is a mere invention (this was in 1838).  I remember how
interested my elder brothers were in this information.  They called
me to their council and we all, I remember, became very animated,
and accepted it as something very interesting and quite possible.

I remember also that when my elder brother, Dmitriy, who was
then at the university, suddenly, in the passionate way natural to
him, devoted himself to religion and began to attend all the Church
services, to fast and to lead a pure and moral life, we all -- even
our elders -- unceasingly held him up to ridicule and for some
unknown reason called him 'Noah'.  I remember that Musin-Pushkin,
the then Curator of Kazan University, when inviting us to dance at
his home, ironically persuaded my brother (who was declining the
invitation) by the argument that even David danced before the Ark. 
I sympathized with these jokes made by my elders, and drew from
them the conclusion that though it is necessary to learn the
catechism and go to church, one must not take such things too
seriously.  I remember also that I read Voltaire when I was very
young, and that his raillery, far from shocking me, amused me very
much.

My lapse from faith occurred as is usual among people on our
level of education.  In most cases, I think, it happens thus:  a
man lives like everybody else, on the basis of principles not
merely having nothing in common with religious doctrine, but
generally opposed to it; religious doctrine does not play a part in
life, in intercourse with others it is never encountered, and in a
man's own life he never has to reckon with it. Religious doctrine
is professed far away from life and independently of it. If it is
encountered, it is only as an external phenomenon disconnected from
life.

Then as now, it was and is quite impossible to judge by a
man's life and conduct whether he is a believer or not.  If there
be a difference between a man who publicly professes orthodoxy and
one who denies it, the difference is not in favor of the former. 
Then as now, the public profession and confession of orthodoxy was
chiefly met with among people who were dull and cruel and who
considered themselves very important. Ability, honesty,
reliability, good-nature and moral conduct, were often met with
among unbelievers.

The schools teach the catechism and send the pupils to church,
and government officials must produce certificates of having
received communion.  But a man of our circle who has finished his
education and is not in the government service may even now (and
formerly it was still easier for him to do so) live for ten or
twenty years without once remembering that he is living among
Christians and is himself reckoned a member of the orthodox
Christian Church.

So that, now as formerly, religious doctrine, accepted on
trust and supported by external pressure, thaws away gradually
under the influence of knowledge and experience of life which
conflict with it, and a man very often lives on, imagining that he
still holds intact the religious doctrine imparted to him in
childhood whereas in fact not a trace of it remains.

S., a clever and truthful man, once told me the story of how
he ceased to believe.  On a hunting expedition, when he was already
twenty-six, he once, at the place where they put up for the night,
knelt down in the evening to pray -- a habit retained from
childhood.  His elder brother, who was at the hunt with him, was
lying on some hay and watching him.  When S. had finished and was
settling down for the night, his brother said to him:  'So you
still do that?'

They said nothing more to one another.  But from that day S.
ceased to say his prayers or go to church.  And now he has not
prayed, received communion, or gone to church, for thirty years. 
And this not because he knows his brother's convictions and has
joined him in them, nor because he has decided anything in his own
soul, but simply because the word spoken by his brother was like
the push of a finger on a wall that was ready to fall by its own
weight.  The word only showed that where he thought there was
faith, in reality there had long been an empty space, and that
therefore the utterance of words and the making of signs of the
cross and genuflections while praying were quite senseless actions.
Becoming conscious of their senselessness he could not continue
them.

So it has been and is, I think, with the great majority of
people.  I am speaking of people of our educational level who are
sincere with themselves, and not of those who make the profession
of faith a means of attaining worldly aims.  (Such people are the
most fundamental infidels, for if faith is for them a means of
attaining any worldly aims, then certainly it is not faith.)  these
people of our education are so placed that the light of knowledge
and life has caused an artificial erection to melt away, and they
have either already noticed this and swept its place clear, or they
have not yet noticed it.

The religious doctrine taught me from childhood disappeared in
me as in others, but with this difference, that as from the age of
fifteen I began to read philosophical works, my rejection of the
doctrine became a conscious one at a very early age.  From the time
I was sixteen I ceased to say my prayers and ceased to go to church
or to fast of my own volition.  I did not believe what had been
taught me in childhood but I believed in something.  What it was I
believed in I could not at all have said.  I believed in a God, or
rather I did not deny God -- but I could not have said what sort of
God.  Neither did I deny Christ and his teaching, but what his
teaching consisted in I again could not have said.

Looking back on that time, I now see clearly that my faith --
my only real faith -- that which apart from my animal instincts
gave impulse to my life -- was a belief in perfecting myself.  But
in what this perfecting consisted and what its object was, I could
not have said. I tried to perfect myself mentally -- I studied
everything I could, anything life threw in my way; I tried to
perfect my will, I drew up rules I tried to follow; I perfected
myself physically, cultivating my strength and agility by all sorts
of exercises, and accustoming myself to endurance and patience by
all kinds of privations. And all this I considered to be the
pursuit of perfection. The beginning of it all was of course moral
perfection, but that was soon replaced by perfection in general:
by the desire to be better not in my own eyes or those of God but
in the eyes of other people. And very soon this effort again
changed into a desire to be stronger than others:  to be more
famous, more important and richer than others.