Putin's 'Favorite' Philosopher's Thoughts on a Christian Understanding of Family Life (Ivan Ilyin)

Originally appeared at: Global Orthodox

In the collected works of the eminent Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, there are many valuable and useful reflections for the present generation on the family. These reflections include ideas on the family’s meaning, place, and importance in the life of man and country, on what makes up family happiness, which inspires all entering into marriage, and on what foundation it is built. Accordingly, the issue of education of children was of no less concern to the philosopher. 

Given the plight of the modern family, it would be wise to listen to at least some of the theses of Ilyin and try to deeply penetrate and reflect on them. After all, many families in Russia continue to disintegrate. In the first 7 months of 2021, Russians registered 493,508 marriages and 370,469 divorces. During the same period last year these figures were 368,361 and 278,813 respectively. Such an increase in the ratio of divorce to marriage has already been called an epidemic. And who counted how many dysfunctional families there are in Russia, where there is no peace and harmony between the spouses? There are only squabbles, scandals, and mutual accusations. We can only assume that there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands. 

In exploring the problem of the family, Ivan Ilyin placed at the center of the issue, not what many supposed to be the issue, the material situation, not how much money a husband brings in or does not bring, but rather the spiritual condition of the individual. 

"The family is disintegrating, not because of the acceleration of the pace of history, but because of the spiritual crisis experienced by humanity," the philosopher reflects. - This crisis undermines the family and its spiritual unity, it deprives it of the main thing, the only thing that can unite it, fuse it and turn it into a kind of solid and worthy unity, namely, a sense of mutual spiritual belonging." 

What is a spiritual crisis? It is a crisis of spiritual values - moral, ethical, religious. It is a crisis of culture. For many today spirituality is brought up through computer games, or through watching tedious unintelligent melodramatic serials, action and detective movies, and aggressive cartoons, or through different kinds of rock music. It is everything that divides people rather than unites them; everything that fosters selfishness, hedonism, greed, a disregard for the sacred, and emasculates the best feelings in man - kindness, mercy, compassion. 

According to Ilyin, the human family, unlike the "family" of animals, is an island of spiritual life. "And if it does not conform to this, it is doomed to decay and disintegration. History has shown and confirmed this with sufficient clarity: the great crises and disappearances of peoples arise from spiritual-religious crises, which are expressed above all in the decay of the family." 

Let us think about these lines of the philosopher, priceless in its wisdom and truth: "The family is the original cell of spirituality - both in the sense that it is in the family that man first learns (or, alas, does not learn!) to be a individual soul, and in the sense that the spiritual strength and skills (or, alas, weakness and inability), received from the family are then carried into the state and public life. This is why the spiritual crisis affects first of all the original cell of spirituality; if spirituality falters and weakens, then it weakens first of all in family tradition and in family life. But once shaken in the family, it begins to weaken and degenerate in all human relationships and organizations: a sick cell creates sick organisms. 

Ivan Ilyin wrote these lines back in 1935 in his work The Way of Spiritual Renewal. He wrote not only for his contemporaries, but also for us, the descendants of the once great Russia. But do we understand that the troubles of the modern family lie in spiritual depravity, in the loss of culture and of relationships in the family, in the absence of respect for the hierarchy established by God? According to Ilyin, the family is the primary basis of such concepts as fatherland, homeland, or nation, and as the bosom of natural human solidarity. 

The philosopher also deduces a peculiar formula for marriage: "The formula for marriage does not sound like this: 'I long for' or 'I desire', but rather like this: 'in love and through love I create a new, better, and freer human life'... It sounds not like 'I desire to enjoy my happiness,' for this would be a formula that takes marriage to the level of mere mating; but rather 'I want to create my free spiritual hearth and in this find my happiness...' 

"The real family," the thinker writes, "arises out of love and gives one happiness... The family, internally fused with love and happiness, is the school of mental health, balanced character, and creative enterprise." 

And if there is no love? This tremendous creative power, this supreme moral state of man, then disaster ensues. "A family deprived of this healthy centripetal, wasting its strength on convulsions of mutual disgust, hatred, suspicion, and 'family scenes,' is a real breeding ground for sick characters, psychopathic tendencies, neurasthenic lethargy, and vital 'failure'... 

This often happens in the modern family. All values are turned upside down. Women cheat on their feminine nature, men cheat on their masculine nature. The soul yearns for freedom and love, but being in the grip of a perverted understanding of self, of relationships, of the world, it suffocates and blindly surrenders itself into the hands of cunning manipulators, who skillfully impose patterns of behavior, tastes, and lifestyles... 

And one more thesis of Ivan Ilyin, which is worth studying carefully is that, "The family is the primary, natural, and at the same time sacred union... and we are called to build this union on love, on faith, and on freedom - to learn in it the first conscientious movements of the heart; and - to rise in it to further forms of human unity - the fatherland and the state." 

I would highlight the key word family - a sacred union. Let's look in the dictionaries of the Russian language. Sacred means to be holy, divine, inviolable, filled with reverence, deeply revered, something that cannot be infringed upon. In other words, family is all these things as well. 

The word sacred is commonly used more in religious vocabulary. But it doesn't have to be that way. Both religious and ethical considerations establish the sanctity of the family. It is the family that should be the ideal of proper human relationships between people of different generations. It is here that notions of individual freedom as independent of instinctive motivation for one's behavior and independent of external manipulative influences on instinctive programs of behavior should be formed. The family "demands" that all its members continuously and generously give something of themselves to it, accounting for their age, socio-functional, and cultural-psychological differences.

It forms, as Ivan Ilyin emphasizes, not only a genetic, but above all a spiritual and moral unity. It is, above all, a special environment most natural for the personal and psychological development of the child. After all, here in a completely informal setting, in the process of daily life, a child sees the relationship between adults and people of different sexes at first less consciously, and then more and more consciously learns moral behavior and experience in solving problems, including everyday life. 87 years later, the main message of Ivan Ilyin's work is to affirm and substantiate the thesis that the family is the top priority national project, everything else is secondary, in modern parlance.

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