Berdyaev: Why God and Personality Must be the Highest Ideal

Berdyaev points out that if God and the individual human Personality are not someone’s highest ideal then that person is effectively promising to sacrifice the individual in the name of that supposedly higher ideal. The logic is simple and undeniable.

If someone says that under any circumstances, no matter what competing goods there may be or seem to be, the Personality is sacrosanct and to be protected at all costs, then that person is elevating Personality to the highest level of their morality in the manner that Berdyaev identifies as necessary and has abandoned his former allegiances.

Alternatives to the genuine highest good include the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, well-being, just plain “happiness,” social justice, feminism, equality, the nation, workers of the world, rationalism, science, and progress.

Every one of those “goods” is a murderous cult bent on the immolation of the human individual. If any object to this accusation, let him agree that Personality is paramount and beats out all competing ideals and that his former highest good is now secondary and always, in every situation, to be trumped by God and Personality.

The word “ideology” should be reserved for any doctrine that demotes Personality and God to secondary importance. Thus, Christianity and Judaism, properly understood, are not ideologies. Buddhism, however, has no great truck with either concept – God or Personality – and the fact that “Islam” means “submission” is worryingly suggestive of coercion rather than freedom. It is God’s will that we live in complete freedom and thus moral responsibility. It seems rather tortured to say that we “submit” to God’s will when God’s will is that we be not slaves. “Submitting” to non-slavery is a strange locution – though it is true that many people would like to throw off their freedom for the joys of an apparently clear conscience of the “I was only following orders” variety.

Berdyaev sees Personality as co-creators with God; we in our microcosm and He in his macrocosm. Creativity requires freedom; as does love, friendship and goodness.

If, perchance, the ideology recognizes Personality as a good, Personality is not of the greatest importance to its adherents and Personality will always be sacrificed for the higher ideal. Thus, all ideology is sacrificial.

Dmitry Philosophov [Filosofov] at a meeting in St. Petersburg in 1901 that hoped to create a dialog between intellectuals and those affiliated directly with the Orthodox Church premised his remarks on the Biblical injunction that “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

Philosophov notes:

The Intelligentsia… had assimilated only the second commandment. “In our doctors, our students and women-students, going out in a famine year in service to neighbour, there was an unconscious “religiousness”, insofar as they were faithful with a true love towards the “earth”. But “religiousness” — is not religion. For them the faith in God was replaced by a faith in progress, in civilisation, in the categorical imperative. …In the name of love for neighbor without love for God there cannot be true [undertakings] upon the earth.[2]

God is necessary to render the Personality Divine and sacred. We are made in the image of God and we possess an immortal soul. Bestowed with complete freedom we bear the weight of responsibility for the good and the evil that we engage in. Evil actions could be reduced by turning men into slaves, but good actions too would be fewer and slavery itself is a great evil.

If it were possible to have a genuinely moral philosophy without God, this would in some ways seem a great boon, for many people claim to be atheists. How much easier it would be to gain acceptance of Berdyaev’s point, and actual morality, if it were not necessary to introduce God into the picture.

Unfortunately, atheistic naturalism does not have the conceptual or transcendental resources to elevate Personality to a protected status and ultimate value. Atheist scientists are apt to refer to humans as “animals,” “apes” and as “machines.” The most brutely reductionist among them might call them “collections of atoms” or “the chance results of an evolutionary process.”

Science can be used to identify extrinsic, but not intrinsic value. Since extrinsic value is parasitic on intrinsic value, science has naught to say about value in any real sense.

Utilitarianism announces its adherence to “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people” and thus its embrace of expediency, and rejection of morality. It is explicitly pro-sacrifice. It takes the perspective of the mob against the victim and even when it decides not to kill the victim this time it does so only because murdering the victim would not benefit the mob, not because the victim has an intrinsic inviolable value. Should it be shown that immolation would benefit the mob, the victim dies. It has no way to protect the victim from immolation because it has pledged its fealty to the mob; the “greatest number.”

As soon as the utilitarian expresses outrage that he is being accused of being a sacrificial monster and declares his undying devotion to the sanctity of human life and Personality, then he is no longer a utilitarian. He has renounced his highest ideal for something else – and this something else is the only alternative to moral nihilism.

Professional feminists – spokeswomen, academics, journalists – have feminism as their highest ideal. As such it is to be defended against all comers. All other values are to be subordinated to the highest good – such is the nature of highest goods. The “cause” is paramount. Hence their bewildering lack of interest in truth, women, girls, babies, empirical studies (truth again), not to mention their typically pathological hatred of men as a group and as individuals. Anyone who subscribes to the “patriarchy” conspiracy theory belongs in that group.

Feminists have made a point of attaching their cause to aborting fetuses. Half of those fetuses are female. Women and girls are to be sacrificed as readily as anybody else for the higher ideal. Recently, even infanticide has been promoted as a positive good. The governor of Virginia caused a stir by mentioning the long-standing practice of resuscitating aborted babies so the doctors and mother could decide whether to kill them or not. Late term third trimester abortions of viable babies were already permitted in Virginia. The rule change was only to reduce the number of doctors who needed to be consulted for infanticide from three to one.[3] “Our body our choice” and to hell with female fetuses and babies.

Pertinently, matriarchal societies are famous for their promotion of human sacrifice and specifically of girl babies. The Minoans and Phoenicians were seafaring “thalassocracies.” Not particularly warlike, they were traders, and Minoan murals often seem noticeably cheerful. They worshipped primarily female deities. However, both of these civilizations engaged in human sacrifice on a large scale.

Feminism does not have the female Personality as the highest ideal. Ascribing sex to Personality is an absurdity anyway.

Any woman who renounces or attacks feminism is regarded tautologically as an enemy of the highest good, deserving of all hatred directed at her.

A fashionable highest good at the moment seems to be “well-being.” This is Sam Harris’ favorite paramount good. Logically, it too is sacrificial.

Knowledge is domain specific which means it is hard to apply true principles to new areas of human life. However, this particular crucial insight of Berdyaev’s is, in principle, very easy to apply. Any highest good other than God and Personality is destined to contribute to the proliferation of human misery and sacrificial cults. This is the primary explanation for the perplexing nihilism that seems to permeate modern culture.

[1] Luke 10:27.

[2] Fr. Aleksandr Men’, Russian Religious Philosophy: 1989-1990 Lectures, pp. 75-76. Philosophov goes on to criticize the Church at the time for failing in the second injunction, to love your neighbor as your self.


8 thoughts on “Berdyaev: Why God and Personality Must be the Highest Ideal

  1. Pingback: Berdyaev: Why God and Personality Must be the Highest Ideal | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 04/14/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  3. Marvellous!! Another Berdyaev double broadside in quick succession with particular intensity by Prof. R Cocks! And now he reveals the “key” to his intuition: Lk. 10:27ff (Mt. 22:37-40).
    Christ, quoting OT Dt. 6:5, defines the “key to eternal life” via that greatest dual Commandment (summarising all the Law and the Prophets) — as the “to love the Lord God God with all our mind/heart/soul/strength”… and “to love our neighbour, like unto we love ourself”…
    Strange is it not that a proper love of neighbour is predicated upon a proper love of oneself?
    The Latin word used for neighbour is “proximum” (Slav. “blizhnik” rather than generic “sosed”), i.e. the schmuck is some proximate vicinity, not remotely distant a sort. How strange that we are bid to “love ourself”? Certainly not the sort of the narcissist egoism rampant in our modern culture, a individualistic dehumanising war of all against all…
    The most august nomen a person can take upon oneself, is that of a “christian”, i.e. thru Christ to be a son/daughter of “Our Father”. As such, this implies consciousness of the dignity of being “in the image and likeness of God” innate in both one’s neighbour, and likewise oneself — and thus to comport oneself accordingly…
    Lk. 10:27ff serves as a prelude to the parable of the “Good Samaritan”, which typically is shallowly handled. Quite more to it: Christ is “twisting the shiv” into His fellow hard-hearted Jews, which we see mindful of the Samaritan Woman’s words (Jn. 4:9) that “Jews and Samaritans have no dealings with each other”, i.e. they despise and loathe and “don’t cotten to each other” (pardon my colloquial pun on Latin “non countuntur”)… It is very difficult to love one’s neighbour and perceive in him “the image and likeness of God” when the fellow is raging with hate to murder you, actually or literally… somewhere or other, Christ said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”… And then too, for those who meet with the brunt of this raging hatred, there is that beautiful quote from Leon Bloy, about whom Berdyaev wrote:
    “Lord Jesus, Thou prayest for those, who crucify Thee,
    and Thou dost crucify those, who do love Thee!”
    Please pardon me, Prof Cocks, I said I wouldn’t go on at length in a comment, but I seem to have bent my promise. To steal the mighty thunder in your article in your article is impossible,
    since it is too great, I can but echo it as though from a belfry…
    Yesterday, after the delightful surprise of seeing your most recent post, I stumbled across an also fine Berdyaev article (Berdyaev: Dogma on Man) providing further insights on him, — by a young woman from Moscow St Filaret Institute, name Sofia Vadimovna Androsenko.
    The google-translate seems not to have mangled the English too badly, — if the following link hopefully works:


    • Thank you, niktoosobenno:

      That is high praise and reassures me that I am not mangling Berdyaev too much.

      In Serbian it is “blizu” for “close” and “blizni” for “those close to me” – the “z” in the second word there has a “v” above it that can’t be translated into English. It sounds like the “je” in French. You make me feel like I can almost understand Russian.

      Yes. The profound parable of the Good Samaritan follows. I like the fact that like Socrates, Jesus elicits the “love God and neighbor” comment from his Jewish interlocutor rather than providing the answer himself.

      I look forward to reading the article by Sofia Vadimovna Androsenko – the “wise” Sofia.

  4. It is important to recognise that all ideologies are evil because they are attempts to impose thought on reality and reality comes before, must come before, thought.

    • @wwildblood – Yes. Analytic epistemology gets caught up in trying to prove the existence of the world as a theoretical matter which, of course, it cannot do leading to the usual nihilism about knowledge.


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