With Leo at The Dan

By Ken Greatorex

Vic Skeptics recently moved Skeptics Café to the new venue of The Dan O’Connell Hotel (a.k.a. “The Dan”) in Carlton. We’ve been fortunate in the past with long tenures at good venues.

I arrived chez Dan with a few misgivings:

Could I park within a comfortable distance of the venue?

Would the venue suit us?

Would enough people turn up?

Would the topic be sufficiently relevant and interesting for such a “landmark” Skeptics event?

My first query was answered when I was able to find an unrestricted spot three minute’s walk from The Dan. Later I interviewed several audience members who had also driven to the venue and had each found a relatively nearby place to park. We’d posted a map of the area with parking suggestions. It’s been updated: https://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/events/skeptics-cafe-is-moving/.

The function room allocated is comfortable, spacious, well served with audio-visual equipment and (above all) isolated from extraneous noise. It allows for wheel-chair access and there’s a good menu of regular meals and specials with drinks at bar prices.

Initially there was a small crowd, but it swelled appreciably.

At 8 pm Lana Bavykina rose to present Why was Tolstoy Excommunicated by the Orthodox Church?

This proved to be a fascinating insight into the life and times of writer Count Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina). The thread that ran through the presentation was Tolstoy’s relentless self-appraisal throughout his eighty-two year life-span.

Born and raised in the Russian Orthodox faith, he discarded his religion as a young man; however, his constant searching led to readopting a religious stance in later life. During this period he became increasingly disillusioned with Orthodox dogma and ritual, which he saw as pro-monarchical, irrelevant and unhelpful to ordinary people.

Tolstoy’s public commentary on Orthodox ritual, like much of his other writing, was the more powerful because it adopted the technique of “distance“. In other words, it was delivered without emotion, as a visitor with no previous experience might make a factual report of what appeared to be taking place. Any inherent perception of silliness was therefore formed in the mind of the reader rather than the writer. (Lana illustrated this approach with a Nathan Pyle cartoon of aliens brewing a pot of tea.)

The Church found this form of criticism insidious, leading to their summary excommunication of Tolstoy by letter. By this stage, Tolstoy had more or less developed his own highly humanistic form of religion, with an enthusiastic  following. Some of those followers, lacking Tolstoy’s aristocratic background were actually jailed for their beliefs.

An extra dimension to Lana’s presentation was created by the use of chemist Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky’s early colour photographs of typical Russians, created by taking three monochrome images in rapid succession, developing each as a separate primary colour and combining the result.


What was one of Skeptics Cafés shorter presentations gave rise to an unusually high number of questions and comments. We were well served.

Skeptics Café

From 6pm

Third Monday of the month

The Dan O’Connell Hotel

All welcome.


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