This is demonstrably absurd

A Soviet stamp marking Prokofiev’s centenary in 1991

For thirty years, beginning at the age of twelve in a thick notebook given to him by his mother, celebrated Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev kept a daily diary in which he chronicled his thoughts and experiences, and reflected on all things musical and philosophical. He wrote this entry in 1925, at which point he was living in France with his wife having left Russia shortly after the Revolution. In his diary at this time, amidst talk of compositions, rehearsals and performances, can be found numerous headaches and colds being “cured” not by medicine, but by Christian Science, the religion to which he and Lina had recently converted—and fascinating meditations like this one, in which he grapples with the big questions.

The Diary Entry

14 March

I did not read much Christian Science, but I did read some, and thought deeply about certain aspects of it, trying to penetrate to its essence. If God created man, then there must necessarily have been a time when man did not exist. But Christian Science disputes this conclusion, asserting that mankind has always existed. And it is true that, if mankind had a beginning then it must also have an end, which is to say that man cannot be immortal, since nothing that is eternal can be finite at one end. Thus the assertion by Christian Science that man is eternal in the future as he is in the past conflicts with the first proposition, that there was an instant in time when God created man, before which there was no man. Similarly, this proposition is contradicted by the following conclusion: if it is so that there was a moment when God, who is eternal, created man, then eternity must have existed before this moment and after it, which suggests that there must be two eternities, each limited at one end. This is demonstrably absurd, since eternity—illimitableness—that is finite at one end is a contradiction in terms. To reconcile these contradictions it is necessary to conclude that our understanding of eternity as one hour succeeding another and so on without end is incorrect, and that beyond the confines of our own world the laws of time (and therefore doubtless of space as well) are quite other. In all probability our death is the route our consciousness takes to exit from the limits of time and space. But if this is so, that is to say our conception of time is no more than a local conception, then by the same token we are incapable of approaching the question of the creation of mankind. We cannot even pose the question: was there a time (in eternity, which does not contain time) when man did not exist? For this reason, it is impossible to answer yes or no to my first question. In the same way the question asked by some people who, when they contemplate the idea of immortality, become so frightened that they cannot decide which is more terrifying, mortality or immortality, should be hors de combat. Such questioners must likewise have it explained to them that in eternity the concept of time cannot exist.

Further Reading

Sergei Prokofiev’s original diaries are held at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow, written largely in a shorthand—invented by Prokofiev—that features no vowels. Thankfully, his son and grandson spent years deciphering the notebooks, and in the 2000s Faber began to publish them, translated into English by Anthony Phillips. There are three volumes: Diaries 1907-1914: Prodigious Youth; Diaries 1915-1923: Behind the Mask; Diaries 1924-1933: Prodigal Son. As for Christian Science, its Wikipedia page is a good starting point.

Sergei Prokofiev: Diaries 1924 – 1933 by Sergei Prokofiev. Faber and Faber, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

2 responses to “This is demonstrably absurd”

  1. Nguyen Cong Kien Avatar
    Nguyen Cong Kien

    This is the level of thinking and self-debating I wish I could have.

  2. Jenny Pearson Avatar

    For additional information about Christian Science, I would suggest an article by Dr. Thomas Johnsen, a recognised scholar of religious history, who was also a Christian Scientist. You can find the article here:
    What a delight to know that Prokofiev’s diaries have been made more readily available! They provide engaging opportunities to explore his thoughts, experiences, and reasonings on all kinds of subjects, including his growing faith.

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