After years of literary success and popular acclaim, Leo Tolstoy became dissatisfied with the complacency of the intelligentsia in what it had accepted as life’s meaning (or lack thereof)—in a word, he was suicidal. He had become convinced that no answer to his existential questions could be found in the “chemical compositions of the stars” or “the movement of the sun toward the constellation Hercules.” He writes of this existential crisis in his 1882 Confessions, a mid-life reflection of his purpose. Tolstoy explains that if the nihilist is to be believed—i.e., if man is merely a conglomeration of particles soon to be reduced to a stench and food for worms—it would be impossible to go on living. Suicide would be the only rational response.
What saved him was God. Tolstoy describes an internal illumination, a truth emerging inside him as he found a meaning in life that had previously not fit into the calculus of rationalism.
Confessions isn’t as renowned as Anna Karenina, but it was formative for Andrea Bocelli. The Italian tenor recently toured the United States, attracting a bevy of American fans who packed themselves into stadiums in order to experience the world-renowned vocalist live. Recently, I was among the throng in Columbus, Ohio.
A photo reel of Bocelli’s meetings with the last three popes played on the screen behind him. The concert was especially evocative in the days leading up to Christmas, and fans came dressed in their deep seasonal shades, velvets, and plaids. This is the man who sang “Ave Maria” with such ethereal heft and Puccini’s “Angel di Dio” with providence. Yet that makes it only more difficult to believe that he had ever drifted from God.
Bocelli was formerly agnostic, once saying that the young Andrea wouldn’t understand his rekindled faith: “Over the years I have come to believe that faith cannot be acquired effortlessly: just as any other discipline, it requires commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice. To be committed to faith means we need to comply with simple deeds that may even appear tedious. If we want to improve our faith, we have to submit to prayer.”
What is striking about Bocelli is the apparently seamless ease with which he brings a sensate manifestation of the divine into the secular sphere, unapologetically and emphatically delivering to those seated in the nose bleeds as well as those within reach. He is staunchly pro-life. In fact, he was almost a victim of abortion himself: doctors recommended that his mother terminate her pregnancy due to the prediction that her baby would have a disability.
To many ears, this is a bold statement for someone with such fame to make without a follow-up statement to retract or clarify it. It was Tolstoy’s words – particularly in Confessions – that moved Bocelli to his conviction in God….
Read the entire December 25 story in Crisis magazine.