FAITH COMMENTARY

A mystery solved in literature

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I finally figured it out.

Y’know how a lot of times one person will remind you of someone else, but you just can’t quite put your finger on who that someone else is? That’s the way it’s been with me and our current president, Donald Trump. Of course, The Donald has been around for a long time. I never paid much attention to him until he started his presidential campaign; however, ever since then, I’ve been dogged by the thought that he just reminds me of someone else.

Of course, there are a lot of folks out there who have been comparing President Trump to various historical persons. For progressive folks, he’s that Symbol of All That is Evil, Adolf Hitler. For a lot of conservatives, he’s like the Biblical King David, a seriously flawed man that the Most Holy Trinity is using for a higher purpose. But, for me, the man that our president most closely resembles — and the likeness is actually uncanny — is a literary figure.

The man is one of the main characters in what is perhaps the greatest novel ever written: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s "The Brothers Karamazov." The novel was originally published in Russian, back in the 19th century. There are three brothers in the story, and their dad is named Fyodor — in English, that would be Theodore. Theodore is dishonest; he treats women very badly; he is boorish and boastful; he’s involved in all sorts of shady financial deals; he’s constantly embarrassing himself and his family, yet it doesn’t seem to bother him in the least; he acts like a fool, but he always seems to get the better of his opponents; a lot of what he does appears to be illegal; however, no one can ever prove anything.

Sound familiar?

But the parallels with our current president go even deeper, because Theodore Karamazov upends the lives of all three of his sons — and, actually, the lives of just about everyone else in the novel. In fact, it’s just about impossible to not be effected by the chaos that Theodore generates. One of Theodore’s sons, a young man named Dimitri, resents that dynamic so much, at one point in the story, he cries out, “Why is such a man alive?”

President Trump has that same sort of impact on a lot of folks. There are a great many people who believe that he represents a unique threat to our country and to our way of life. I don’t agree with that assessment; history demonstrates that our democracy has survived presidents that were every bit as coarse and lecherous and unscrupulous. Nevertheless, our current president has a unique talent for producing pandemonium and for getting just about everyone to react to that confusion in some way.

But it is possible to avoid that dynamic, and, in "The Brothers Karamazov," it’s an Orthodox priest who points that out to us. The priest is called Father Zosimas, and, early in the story, he’s talking to Theodore’s youngest son, Alyosha. Alyosha is ready to give up on his family, but Father Zosimas tells him “You are needed there. There is no peace there. You will serve and be of use. If demons raise their heads, say a prayer.”

Of course, the demons that Father Zosimas is talking about are the evil creatures that live in Alyosha’s heart. When dealing with the sort of chaos that our president likes to call forth, one of the big temptations is to demonize other people. But the only demons that can harm us are the ones that have taken up residence in our own souls.

So the key to dealing with folks like Theodore Karamazov and Donald Trump is prayer and peace. That’s how we can all “serve and be of use”. If you would like to learn more about what Holy Orthodoxy has to say on those subjects, just get in touch with me. I’d love to visit with you.

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