Dostoyevsky’s Possessed in Modern Day America

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“Peter Verkhovensky meet John Styn. John, Peter is the descendant of godless liberal enlightenment thinkers who now wants violence and revolution. Peter, John is the descendant of an ex-Baptist minister who likes to hug a lot.”

That’s what went through years ago when I clicked on a Yahoo feature story about a website called “Hug Nation” that promotes actual and cyber hugging. Hugs, hugs, hugs; it’s all about hugs. Young John Styn started it with his elderly grandfather, Caleb Shikles.

Relevant excerpts: “Hug Nation was the brainchild of Caleb’s grandson, John Styn, a Burning Man disciple, artist and Internet pioneer with pierced nipples, washboard abs, shocking pink hair and a dizzying creative energy. . . [Caleb] went to college, got married and became a Baptist preacher. A civil rights and anti-war activist, he worked with Martin Luther King for a week during a trip to Denver.”

A few things stand out about Caleb. He’s an ex Baptist minister, though he apparently didn’t lose his faith entirely (his funeral was held at a United Church of Christ church). He lived in California. He was part of the civil rights movement and an anti-war activist. Based on the foregoing and a few other things I read about the man online, I’m reasonably certain he had a strong leftward bent. I think it’s safe to say his faith was probably the watered-down version that’ is more interested in what faith can do for the world rather than how the world can bring us to faith.

Now shift to his grandson: Burning Man dude, artist, piercing, body-obsessed, pink hair, into digital striptease, a guy that cyber-disclosed his sexual insecurities.

When I see such things, I immediately think of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed: Enlightenment thinking derogating into something much more severe. Folks like the elder Verkhovensky espousing civilized Socialist views; his son Peter espousing anarchist violence. “All of them in their various ways and their varying degrees of unbelief assume that man can find happiness without God by reconstructing society in accordance with one or another of their utopian plans.” Arther Trace, Furnace of Doubt: Dostoyevsky and The Brothers Karamazov.