The Moving Picture of Ethics in Literature



I think Leo Tolstoy had a hard time with ethics in his culture, particularly in his day, when the socio-political ground was shifting, much as it is today. A devout Christian, he found himself excommunicated for saying that one should gain one’s guidance from within, not from the Russian Orthodox Church, and for likening the church’s rituals and theology to witchcraft.

I’m tempted at this point to write a rant about the rigidity, the inability of all religions to mirror the best practices of human culture, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I think Tolstoy had it exactly right.

He was forced to turn to literature to depict in real life-like characters and stories how the Russian people spontaneously act by ethical rules, which are largely adapted to the minute, the specific cases, of human drama.

The book of his linked above, Hadji Murat, as relevant a story of the interactions of Islamic and Christian cultures as could be written today, is a shining example of how a deep study of the best of literature brings to life the malleability of true human ethics. Literature is also a moving picture of how literature, particularly the novel, has become the ethical device for human interaction, something literature has taken on by default because of the intransigence of religion in promoting ethics as the world continues to change.



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