Now the reason why these mysterious secrets won’t have any effect on holding Pierre (long term) to the Mason’s is because he doesn’t really care about all that. He only wants to be good and do good, nothing else to him really matters (and he’s correct), but the Mason’s have got to him first and are trying to corrupt him just as their ceremonies are corrupt. No real truth is secret, not even in science.
Tolstoy is warning us against those who only want to take advantage of us – this is why he got into trouble with the Orthodox church because his view of organized religion was quite low. Tolstoy didn’t stand on ceremony and hollow ritual, he felt all that replaced the truth people were really seeking. And though I think he actually had a more nuanced view of what these rituals were about, I think he felt many people would only get caught up in the ritual and lose sight of the teaching tools they were meant to be. Easier to worship a cross than who actually hung on it.
half chapter update
This is how we know the Mason’s are false: they claim to possess a knowledge that nobody else has, a powerful knowledge that not every Mason will attain. They hold this “knowledge” over the heads of desperate people, like Pierre, because they know he will never attain this knowledge yet will always feel as if he is at fault for not attaining it and will try harder. It’s a scheme.
I never fully trusted Bazdéev the first time I read this, I think maybe because Tolstoy has him wearing that death’s head ring and because it seemed so convenient that here was this person offering out a hand of the brotherhood to someone whom everyone else had been wanting something from.
Yet Bazdéev’s arguments are not all bad: virtue and charity are noble pursuits, but his path is misguided and secretive
Tolstoy’s genius can actually be seen in full in this chapter where Pierre meets the old Mason. The first time I read the novel I thought that what this old Mason was teaching was what Tolstoy was teaching because it’s a very convincing argument – only later do we learn how false it is. Tolstoy gives us the opposition’s best argument and then over 1000 pages tears it down.
What’s interesting about Pierre is what’s also interesting about Hamlet: they question everything and seem unable to make up their minds for what seem to be good, logical reasons. Their questioning covers all the ground most of us cover only partially when we reflect; few people are so reflective to such a degree. Yet we can relate to uncertainty and a feeling of “what is the point of life?”