Biography ………………………………………………………..… page (1)
Tolstoy’s Confession and Conversion …………………………. (2) thru (4)
Introduction ………………………………….………………………..…. (5)
Christianity Misunderstood by Men of Science …………….… (5) thru (21)
Leo Tolstoy – The Tough Pacifist………………………………(22) thru (31)
Doctrine of Non Resistance to Evil by Force………………….(31) thru (38)
Leo Tolstoy – Count Lev Nidolayevich Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian novelist. His best known works are “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” Childhood, Boyhood and Youth,” etc., as well as several novellas such as, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” and “Hadji Murad.” He is considered one of the world’s greatest authors. In the 1870s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis followed by what he considered an equally profound spiritual awakening as reported by him in his non-fiction work “A Confession.”
Though born into Russian nobility this crisis led him to abandon his title and, through his interpretations of the ethical teachings of Jesus, he became a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. Although, he rejected violent anarchist means of revolution stating that “… there can only be one permanent revolution – a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man.” His conversion from a privileged member of society to the non-violent anarchist was also inspired by his experiences in the army and his travels around Europe as a young man having witnessed a public execution following which he stated to a friend that “… he shall never serve any government anywhere.” His writings on non-violence (expressed here below) were to have a profound impact on Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
Tolstoy also became passionately interested in education and founded 13 schools for children of Russian peasants based on the concept of a democratic education. His educational experiments were short lived however, due to harassment by Tsarist secret police.
His wife, Sophia Andreevna Behrs, who was 16 years his junior, and he had 13 children, 8 of which survived childhood. Tolstoy’s relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical during which time he sought to reject his inherited and earned wealth. (I’d like to mention here of my admiration of her for keeping their home, family and their finances intact during and following his dramatic conversion).
During his last days he had spoken of and written about dying. At 82 years of age he left his home in the middle of winter, in the dead of the night and died of pneumonia at a train station after a day’s journey by train. The station master took him home to his apartment and his personal doctors were called to the scene. To commemorate this event and the author the train station was named after him: Lev Tolstoy Railway Station.
TOLSTOY’S CONFESSION AND CONVERSION
Leo Tolstoy has left us, in his book titled “My Confession” an excellent account of his state of motivational anhedonia which led him to his religious conclusions. Anhedonia is a passive, and sometimes (as in Tolstoy’s case) quite sudden, loss of appetite for all life’s values. Tolstoy’s book shows us how this altered and estranged state stimulated his intellect toward an unrelenting and burdensome inquiry seeking philosophical relief. The renowned psychologist William James (1842 – 1910) in his classic book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” describes Tolstoy’s case as such: “… that whatever in life had any meaning for him was for a time wholly withdrawn. Yet, there are some whom this state eventually leads to the profoundest astonishment.” For them, as James describes it, the strangeness is wrong and the unreality cannot be. A mystery is concealed and a metaphysical explanation must exist. An urgent wondering and question is thus set up; a theoretic activity in a desperate effort to get into right relations with the matter. The anhedonia sufferer is often led to what becomes for them, a satisfying religious solution, a religious conversion.
The phenomenon of religious conversion, or regeneration are, according to James, not infrequently, a consequence, not the origin, of the [spiritual] change operated in the individual. A transformation of the view of all of nature upon the renewed perceiver is as though a new Heaven seems to shine upon a new Earth.
I had a similar experience decades ago which lasted three days. It came on suddenly and unexpectedly and, I was in such an agitated state I could not relax for a moment needing to intellectually (or so I concluded for there seemed no other way) seek assurances that life was indeed meaningful, which I did in fact accomplish. I considered it then, and still do to this day, a spiritual crisis and it did result in a spiritual solution. Yet, neither the crisis nor the solution was nearly as dramatic as Tolstoy’s. It has since become my understanding that this is not at all an uncommon experience. Tolstoy’s lasted for over a year and I cannot imagine having experienced such unrelenting dread and fear for so long a period of time as that. But, being the brilliant individual that he was this experience led to some very profound and meaningful works produced by him; and from those works, the two essays here on this website.
From James’s book we learn that at about the age of 50, Tolstoy relates that he began to experience moments of perplexity, of what he calls an arrest; as if he knew not how to live or what to do. Prior to this, he claims, life had been enchanting; and now, flat sober, more than sober; dead. He writes:
“All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved, good children and a large property which was continually increasing with no effort on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintances than I had ever been. I was loaded with praise by strangers and, without exaggeration, I could believe my name already famous. Moreover, I was neither insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the peasants, I would work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel no bad effects.”
Tolstoy continues, “And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any of the activities of my life. And, I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon my mind by someone. This is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which everyone must understand. What will be the outcome of what I do today? Of what I shall do tomorrow? Of all my life? Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose in which the inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy? These questions are the simplest in the world. From the naïve child to the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an answer, it is impossible, as I experience it, for life to go on.”
“But perhaps, I’ve often said to myself, there may be something I have failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition of despair should be natural to mankind. So I sought for an explanation in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully and protractedly and, with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with indolence, but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together. I sought like a man who is lost and seeks to save himself – and I found nothing. I became convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they recognized that the very thing which was leading me to despair: that being that the meaningless absurdity of life is the only incontestable knowledge accessible to man.”
James goes to tell us that, to prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon, and Schopenhauer. And, he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and society are accustomed to meet the situation: with mere animal blindness, or reflective Epicureanism, snatching what it can while the day lasts (a more deliberate stupefaction then the first), or manly suicide, or merely weakly and plaintively clinging to the bush of life. And, suicide seemed to be the consistent course dictated by the logical, rational, intellect.
“Yet,” says Tolstoy, “whilst my intellect was working, something else in me was working too, and kept me from the deed – a consciousness of life, as I may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in another direction and draw me out of my state of despair. During the whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my heart kept languishing with another pinning emotion. I can call this by no other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God … came from my heart. It was like the feeling of an orphan isolated in the midst of all these things that were so foreign. And, this feeling was mitigated by the hope of finding the assistance of someone.”
James tells us of the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which, beginning with this idea of God, led to Tolstoy’s recovery. He goes on to explain that when disillusionment has gone as far as this, however, there is seldom a satisfactory resolve. For, once one has tasted the fruit of the tree, the happiness of Eden never comes again. According to James, the happiness that does come is not due to the simple ignorance of ill, but something vastly more complex: including evil as one of its elements. But, finding evil is no stumbling block because it is now seen as swallowed up in supernatural good. The process is one of redemption and not of a mere reversion back to natural health. The sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him to be a deeper kind of consciousness than he knew before; a second birth.
I watched a series of seminars online attended by the Dalai Lama and a number of prominent Buddhist monks along with several notable western scientists, mostly physicists. Their mutual intention was to share with one another their respective views of the world. At one point the Dalai Lama inquired as to why westerners were looking toward the Far East and Buddhism for spiritual wisdom and enlightenment when their own religion is a very good one.
“The Kingdom of God is Within You” is a book by Leo Tolstoy from which the piece below titled “Christianity Misunderstood By Men Of Science” is from. There has been over the course of the last century or so (partly due to scientific advancements and thinking) a repudiation of Christianity, and religion in general. In fact, one feels they cannot use the word “religion” without seeming archaic so, in contemporary parlance, the word “religion” is often supplanted with the word “spiritual.” Although, “spiritual” often, and more accurately, refers to non-physical beings and realms.
Initially, as one begins reading this work they might get the impression that Tolstoy’s religious views are too extreme. However, it is important to read this work and the piece below titled “Leo Tolstoy – The Tough Pacifist” carefully and completely before forming an opinion. Regardless of an individual’s religious, societal, and scientific views it is impossible not to appreciate the genius of Tolstoy’s insights as expressed in these works.
CHRISTIANITY MISUNDERSTOOD BY MEN OF SCIENCE – by Leo Tolstoy
The false ideas of men of science on Christianity proceed from their conviction that they have an infallible method of criticism from which come two misconceptions in regard to Christian doctrine.
The first misconception is that the teaching cannot be put into practice due to Christianity directing life in a way different from that of the “social theory of life” (which Tolstoy later elaborates on). To this Tolstoy also explains that Christianity holds up ideals and does not lay down rules. To the “animal force of man” (which Tolstoy also later, further clarifies) Christ’s teachings adds the “consciousness of a Divine Force.” And, to the criticism by men of science that Christianity seems to destroy the possibility of human life (given the nature and strength of its spiritual teachings) Tolstoy explains, only when the ideal held up is mistaken for rule. Yet, to that he adds that the ideal must not be lowered. Life, he continues, according to Christ’s teaching, is movement. The second misconception regarding the ideal and the precepts (or principals) of Christ’s teachings regards the replacing of love and service to humanity with love and service to God. For, men of science imagine that their doctrine of service to humanity and Christianity are identical. Yet, the doctrine of service to humanity is based on the social conception, or theory, of life. Love for humanity, logically deduced from love for self (the animal conception of life) has no meaning. For, humanity is a fiction: marginalized; separated from others, all else and from God, and temporal; mortal, and as well constrained by the ‘laws’ of time and space. Whereas Christian love deduced from love of God finds its object in the whole and not in humanity alone. In other words, Christianity teaches man to live in accordance with his Divine Nature. It shows that the essence of the soul of man is love, and that his happiness ensues from love of God, whom he recognizes as love within himself.
Now I will speak of the other view of Christianity which hinders the true understanding of it, writes Tolstoy – the scientific view:
Churchmen substitute for Christianity the version they have framed of it for themselves, and this view of Christianity they regard as the one infallibly true one. Thus, men of science regard as Christianity only the tenets (religious beliefs) held by the different churches in the past and present and, finding that these tenets have lost all the significance of Christianity, they perceive it as a religion which has outlived its age.
To see clearly how impossible it is to understand the Christian teaching from such a point of view, one must form for oneself an idea of the place actually held by religions in general, by the Christian religion in particular, in the life of mankind and of the significance attributed to religions by science. Just as the individual man cannot live without having some theory of the meaning of his life, and is always, though often unconsciously, framing his conduct in accordance with the meaning he attributes to his life, so too associations of men, within nations, living in similar conditions cannot but have theories of the meaning of their associated life and conduct ensuing from those nation’s theories. And, as the individual man, when he attains a fresh stage of growth, inevitably changes his philosophy of life. The grown-up man sees a different meaning in it from the child. As well here too associations of men, nations, are bound to change their philosophy of life and their conduct to correspond with their and their nation’s development.
The difference, regarding this, between the individual man and humanity as a whole, lies in the fact that the individual, in forming the view of life proper to the new period of life on which he is entering and the conduct resulting from it, benefits by the experience of men who have lived before him who have already passed through the stage of growth upon which he is entering. But humanity cannot have this aid, because it is always moving along a hitherto untrodden track and has no one to ask how to understand life, and how to act in the conditions on which it is entering into and through which no one has ever passed before.
Nevertheless, just as a man with wife and children cannot continue to look at life as he looked at it when he was a child, so too in the face of the various changes that are taking place: the greater density of population, the establishment of communication between different peoples, the improvements of the methods of the struggle with nature, and the accumulation of knowledge, and so on, humanity cannot continue to look at life as of old and must frame a new theory of life, from which conduct may follow adapted to the new conditions on which it has entered and is entering.
To meet this need humanity has the special power of producing men who give a new meaning to the whole of human life – a theory of life from which follow new forms of activity quite different from all that preceded them. The formation of this philosophy of life appropriate to humanity in the new conditions on which it is entering, and of the practice resulting from it, is what is called religion. And therefore, in the first place, religion is not, as science imagines, a manifestation which at one time corresponded with the development of humanity, but is afterward outgrown by it. Rather, it is a manifestation always inherent in the life of humanity, and is as indispensable; as inherent in humanity at the present time as at any other time.
Religion is always the theory of the practice of the future and not of the past, and therefore it is clear that investigation of past manifestations cannot in any case grasp the essence of religion. The essence of every religious teaching lies not in the desire for a symbolic expression of the forces of nature, nor in the dread of these forces, nor in the craving for the marvelous, nor in the external forms in which it is manifested (churches, sacraments, idols, etc.) as men of science imagine. The essence of religion lies in the faculty of men foreseeing and pointing out the path of life along which humanity must move in the discovery of a new theory of life, as a result of which the whole future conduct of humanity is changed and different from all that has been before. This faculty of foreseeing the path along which humanity must move, is common in a greater or less degree to all men. But, in all times there have been men in whom this faculty was especially strong, and these men have given clear and definite expression to what all men felt vaguely, and formed a new philosophy of life from which new lines of action followed for hundreds and thousands of years.
The Three Philosophies of Life
Of such philosophies of life we know three; two have already been passed through by humanity, and the third is that which we are passing through now in Christianity. These philosophies of life are three in number, and only three, not because we have arbitrarily brought the various theories of life together under these three heads, but because all men’s actions are always based on one of these three views of life for, we cannot view life otherwise than in these three ways.
These three views of life are as follows:
- First, embracing the individual, or the animal view of life.
- Second, embracing the society, or the pagan view of life.
- Third, embracing the whole, or the Divine view of life.
In the first theory of a man’s life is limited to his one individuality; the aim of life is the satisfaction of the will of this individuality. In the second theory of life a man’s life is limited not to his own individuality, but to certain societies and classes of individuals: the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation; the aim of life is limited to the satisfaction of the will of those associations of individuals. In the third theory of life a man’s life is limited not to societies and classes of individuals, but extends to the principle and source of life – to God. These three conceptions of life form the foundation of all the religions that exist or have existed.
The savage recognizes life only in himself and his personal desires. His interest in life is concentrated on himself alone. The highest happiness for him is the fullest satisfaction of his desires. The motive power of his life is personal enjoyment. His religion consists in propitiating in worshiping his gods, whom he imagines as persons living only for their personal aims.
The civilized pagan recognizes life not in himself alone, but in societies of men–in the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation and sacrifices his personal good for these societies. The motive power of his life is glory. His religion consists in the exaltation of the glory of those who are allied to him: the founders of his family, his ancestors, his rulers and, in worshiping gods who are exclusively protectors of his family, his nation, his government.
Footnote: The fact that so many varied forms of existence: the life of the family, of the clan, of the tribe, of the state, and even the life of humanity theoretically conceived by the Positivists [positivism is a philosophical theory based on physicalism, or materialism], are actually contrary to the unity of this theory of life. All these varied forms of life are founded on the same conception: that the life of the individual is not a sufficient aim of life: that the meaning of life can be found only in societies of individuals.
The man who holds the divine theory of life recognizes life not in his own individuality, and not in societies of individualities (in the family, the clan, the nation, or the government) but, in the eternal undying source of life – in God; and to fulfill the will of God he is ready to sacrifice his individual and family and social welfare. The motor power of his life is love. And his religion is the worship in deed and in truth of the principle of the whole – God.
The whole historic existence of mankind is nothing else than the gradual transition from the personal, animal conception of life to the social conception of life, and from the social conception of life to the Divine conception of life. The whole history of the ancient peoples, lasting through thousands of years and ending with the history of Rome, is the history of the transition from the animal, personal view of life to the social view of life. The whole of history from the time of the Roman Empire and the appearance of Christianity is the history of the transition, through which we are still passing now, from the social view of life to the Divine view of life.
This view of life is the last, and founded upon it is the Christian teaching, which is a guide for the whole of our life and lies at the root of all our activity, practical and theoretic. Yet men of what is falsely called science, pseudo-scientific men, looking at it only in its externals [matter and the forces that act upon matter – materialists] regard it as something outgrown and having no value for us. Reducing Christianity to its dogmatic side only–to the doctrines of the Trinity, the redemption, the miracles, the Church, the sacraments, and so on–men of science regard it as only one of an immense number of religions which have arisen among mankind, and now they say, having played out its part in history, it is outliving its own age and fading away before the light of science and of true enlightenment.
We come here upon what, in a large proportion of cases, forms the source of the grossest errors of mankind. Men on a lower level of understanding when brought into contact with phenomena of a higher order, instead of making efforts to understand them, to raise themselves up to the point of view from which they must look at the subject, judge it from their lower standpoint. And, the less they understand what they are talking about, the more confidently and unhesitatingly they pass judgment on it. To the majority of learned then, looking at the living, moral teaching of Christ from the lower standpoint of the conception of life, this doctrine appears as nothing but very indefinite and incongruous combination of Indian asceticism, Stoic and Neoplatonic philosophy, and insubstantial anti-social visions, which have no serious significance for our times. Its whole meaning is concentrated for them in its external manifestations–in Catholicism, Protestantism, in certain dogmas, or in the conflict with the temporal power [meaning spatial-temporal properties]. Estimating the value of Christianity by these aspects is like a deaf man’s judging of the character and quality of music by seeing the movements of the musicians.
The result of this is that all these scientific men, from Kant, Strauss, Spencer, and Renan ,etc., do not understand the meaning of Christ’s sayings, do not understand the significance, the object, or the reason of their utterances, do not understand even the question to which they form the answer. Yet, without even taking the pains to enter into their meaning, they refuse, if unfavorably disposed, to recognize any reasonableness in his teachings. Or, if they want to treat them indulgently they condescend, from the height of their superiority, to correct them on the supposition that Christ meant to express precisely their own ideas, but did not succeed in doing so. They behave to his teachings much as self-assertive people talk to those whom they consider beneath them, often supplying their companions’ words: “Yes, what you mean to say is this and that.” This correction is always with the aim of reducing the teaching of the higher, divine conception of life to the level of the lower, state conception of life.
They usually say that the moral teaching of Christianity is very fine, but over exaggerated; that to make it quite right we must reject all in it that is superfluous and unnecessary to our manner of life. “The doctrine, or teaching, that asks too much, and requires what cannot be performed, is worse than that which requires of men what is possible and consistent with their powers.” These learned interpreters of Christianity maintain, repeating what was long ago asserted, and could not but be asserted, by those who crucified the Teacher because they did not understand him.
It seems that in the judgment of the learned men of our time, the Hebrew law–a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye–is a law of just retaliation, known to mankind five thousand years before the law of holiness which Christ taught in its place. It seems that all that has been done by those men who truly understood Christ’s teaching and lived in accordance with such an understanding of it; all that has been said and done by all true Christians, by all the Christian saints, all that is now reforming the world in the shape of socialism and communism is simply an exaggeration, according to these learned men, and not worth talking about.
Let us recall the place and time of Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) and events that followed: In 1905 revolution broke out in St. Petersburg, but Czar Nicholas quickly put an end to it. The day was called Bloody Sunday. Then in 1908 the Russian mystic Rasputin [image below] healed Czar Nicholas’ sick son gaining him considerable influence with the Czar’s family. Still, Rasputin purportedly wasn’t a good man and many in Russia hated him, putting the people at odds with the Czar. In 1914 World War I began and Russia’s involvement led to over 3 million Russians killed. In 1917 the people were growing increasingly unhappy due to lack of food and other supplies and they began protesting and organized strikes, refusing to do their work. These difficulties along with the Army’s severe losses led to the fall of the House of Romanov. Lenin, who led the Social-Democrat Labor Party, soon took control of Russia. In 1918 Lenin signed a treaty, taking Russia out of WWI. Later that year he had Czar Nicholas and his family killed.
After eighteen hundred years (up to Tolstoy’s time and is still so in the present) of education in Christianity, the civilized world, as represented by its most advanced thinkers, holds the conviction that the Christian religion is a religion of dogmas; that its teaching in relation to life is unreasonable, and is an exaggeration, subversive of the real lawful obligations of morality consistent with the nature of man; and that very doctrine of retribution which Christ rejected is more practically useful for us.
To learned men the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by force is exaggerated and even irrational. They do not see that, to say that the doctrine of non-resistance to evil is an exaggeration in Christ’s teaching and that this is just like saying that the ratio of the radii to the circumference of a circle is an exaggeration in the definition of a circle. And, those who speak thus are acting precisely like a man who, having no idea of what a circle is, should declare that this requirement, that every point of the circumference should be an equal distance from the center, is exaggerated. To advocate the rejection of Christ’s command of non-resistance to evil as a necessary adaptation given the needs of life, implies a misunderstanding of the teaching of Christ.
They do not understand that this teaching is the institution of a new theory of life, aptly corresponding to the new conditions on which men have entered from eighteen hundred years ago up to the present, and also the definition of the new conduct of life which results from it. They do not believe that Christ meant to say what he said; or he seems to them to have said what he said in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places accidentally, or through his lack of intelligence or of cultivation.
[Footnote: Here, for example, is a characteristic view of that kind from the American journal “The ARENA” (October, 1890): “New Basis of Church Life.” Treating of the significance of the Sermon on the Mount and non-resistance to evil in particular, the author, like the churchmen, obscures its significance, stating that:
“Christ in fact preached complete communism and anarchy; but one must learn to regard Christ always in his historical and psychological significance. Like every advocate of the love of humanity, Christ went to the furthest extreme in his teaching. Every step forward toward the moral perfection of humanity is always guided by men who see nothing but their vocation. Christ, in no disparaging sense be it said, had the typical temperament of such a reformer. And therefore we must remember that his precepts cannot be understood literally as a complete philosophy of life. We ought to analyze his words with respect for them, but in the spirit of criticism, accepting what is true, etc. Christ would have been happy to say what he ought, but he was not able to express himself as exactly and clearly as we can in the spirit of criticism, and therefore let us correct him. All that he said about meekness (humility), sacrifice, lowliness, not caring for the morrow, was said by accident, through lack of knowing how to express himself scientifically.”]
Matt. vi. 25-34: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than rainment? Behold the fouls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking these thoughts can add one cubit onto his stature? And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (After all, these things do the Gentiles seek). For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”
Luke xii. 33-34: “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old [that won’t wear out], a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Sell all thou hast and follow me; and he who will not leave father, or mother, or children, or brothers, or fields, or house, he cannot be my disciple. Deny thyself, take up thy cross each day and follow me. My meat [sustenance] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to perform his works. Not my will, but thy will be done; not what I will, but as thou wilt. Life is to do not one’s will, but the will of God.”
Tolstoy explains: All these principles appear to men who regard them from the standpoint of a lower conception of life as the expression of an impulsive enthusiasm, having no direct application to life. These principles, however, follow from the Christian theory of life, just as logically as the principles of paying a part of one’s private gains to the commonwealth and of sacrificing one’s life in defense of one’s country follow from the state, the pagan, theory of life.
(Tolstoy here is pointing out what sacrifices governments, and in particular their military, demands of its citizens and for what purpose? To achieve glory by killing).
As the man of the state conception of life said to the savage: Reflect, bethink yourself! The life of your individuality cannot be true life, because that life is pitiful and passing. But the life of a society and succession of individuals, family, clan, tribe, or state, goes on living, and therefore a man must sacrifice his own individuality for the life of the family or the state. In exactly the same way the Christian doctrine says to the man of the social, the state, the pagan conception of life, repent, bethink [reflect]yourself, or you will be ruined. Understand that this casual, personal life which now comes into being, and tomorrow is no more, can have no permanence; that no external means, no construction of it can give it consecutiveness and permanence. Take thought and understand that the life you are living is not real life – the life of the family, of society, of the state will not save you from annihilation. The true, the rational life is only possible for man according to the measure in which he can participate, not in the family or the state, but in the source of life – the Father; according to the measure in which he can merge his life in the life of the Father. Such is undoubtedly the Christian conception of life, visible in every utterance of the Gospel.
One may not share this view of life, one may reject it, one may show its inaccuracy and its erroneousness, but we cannot judge of the Christian teaching without mastering this view of life. Still less, one cannot criticize a subject on a higher plane from a lower point of view. From the basement one cannot judge of the effect of the spire. But this is just what the learned critics of the day try to do. For they share the same erroneous idea of the orthodox believers that they are in possession of certain infallible means for investigating and validating a subject. They fancy that if they apply their so-called scientific methods of criticism, there can be no doubt of their conclusion being correct. This testing the subject by the fancied infallible method of science is the principal obstacle to understanding the Christian religion for unbelievers, for so-called educated people. From this follow all the mistakes made by scientific men about the Christian religion, and especially two strange misconceptions which, more than everything else, hinder them from a correct understanding of it.
One of these misconceptions is that the Christian moral teaching cannot be carried out, and that therefore it has either no force at all – that is, it should not be accepted as the rule of conduct or, it must be transformed, adapted to the limits within which its fulfillment is possible in our society. Another misconception is that the Christian doctrine of love of God, and therefore of his service to, is an obscure, mystic principle which gives no definite object for love and should therefore be replaced by the more exact and comprehensible principles of love for men and the service of humanity.
The first misconception, in regard to the impossibility of following the principle, is the result of men of the state conception of life unconsciously taking that conception as the standard by which the Christian religion directs men. And, regarding the Christian principle of [divine] perfection as the rule by which that life is to be ordered; they think and say that to follow Christ’s teaching is impossible, because the complete fulfillment of all that is required by this teaching would put an end to life. In other words, “If a man were to carry out all that Christ teaches, he would destroy his own [requirements for physical] life; and, if all men carried it out then the human race would come to an end,” they say. “For, if we take no thought for the morrow, what we shall eat and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed? If we do not defend our life, nor resist evil by force, lay down our life for others (as in the military) and observe perfect chastity, the human race cannot exist,” they say.
And they are perfectly right if they take the principle of perfection given by Christ’s teaching as a rule which everyone is bound to fulfill just as they do in the state principles of life; everyone is bound to carry out the rule of paying taxes, supporting the law, and so on. This misconception is based precisely on the fact that the teaching of Christ guides different men differently, derived from which the precepts founded on the lower conception of life guide men. The precepts of the state conception of life only guide men by requiring of them an exact fulfillment of rules or laws. Christ’s teaching guides men by pointing them toward the infinite perfection of their heavenly Father, to which every man independently and voluntarily struggles, whatever the degree of his imperfection in the present.
The misunderstanding of men who judge of the Christian principle from the point of view of the state principle, is based on the supposition that the perfection which Christ points to can be fully attained and, they then ask themselves (just as they naturally ask the same question on the supposition that state laws will be carried out) what will be the result of all this being carried out? This supposition cannot be made, because the perfection held up to Christians is infinite and can never be attained. And, Christ lays down his principle having in view the fact that absolute perfection can never be attained, but that striving toward absolute, infinite perfection will continually increase the blessedness of men, and that this blessedness may be increased to infinity thereby.
Christ is teaching not angels, but men, living and moving in the animal [physical] life. And so to this animal force of movement Christ, as it were, applies the new force – the recognition of Divine perfection – and thereby directs the movement by the resultant of these two forces, the animal and the Divine.
To suppose that human life is going in the direction to which Christ pointed it, is just like supposing that a little boat afloat on a raging river, and directing its course almost exactly against the current, will progress in that direction.
Christ recognizes the existence of both sides of the parallelogram, of both forces of which the life of man is compounded: the force of his animal nature and the force of his consciousness of his Kinship with God. Saying nothing of the animal force which asserts itself, remains always the same independent of human will, Christ speaks only of the Divine Force, calling upon a man to know it more closely, to set it freer within himself from all that retards it, and to carry it to a higher degree of intensity.
In the process of liberating, of strengthening this force, the true life of man, according to Christ’s teaching, consists not in carrying out rules, in carrying out the law. But rather, it consists in striving toward an ever closer approximation to the Divine perfection held up before every man. And, recognized within himself, by every man, in an ever closer and closer approach to the perfect fusion of his will with the will of God; that fusion toward which man strives, and the attainment of which, would be the leaving behind of the world we now know. For, the Divine perfection is the asymptote [definition below] of human life to which it is always striving, and always approaching, though it can only be attained in infinity.
Note: a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance.
The Christian religion seems to exclude the possibility of life only when men mistake the pointing to an ideal as the laying down of a rule. It is only then that the principles presented in Christ’s teaching appear to be destructive of life. These principles, on the contrary, are the only ones that make true life possible. Without these principles true life could not be possible.
“One ought not to expect so much,” is what people usually say in discussing the requirements of the Christian religion. “One cannot expect to take absolutely no thought for the morrow, as is stated in the Gospel, but only not to take too much thought for it. One cannot give away all to the poor, but one must give away a certain definite part. One need not aim at virginity, but one must avoid debauchery. One need not forsake wife and children, but one must not give too great a place to them in one’s heart,” and so on.
But to speak like this is just like telling a man who is struggling on a swift river and is directing his course against the current, that it is impossible to cross the river rowing against the current, and that to cross it he must float in the direction of the point he wants to reach. Yet, in reality, in order to reach the place to which he wants to go, he must row with all his strength toward a point much higher up.
To let go the requirements of the ideal means not only to diminish the possibility of perfection, but to make an end of the ideal itself. The ideal that has power over men is not an ideal invented by someone; it is the ideal is that which every man carries within his soul. And it is only this ideal of complete infinite perfection that has power over men, and stimulates them to action. Whereas a moderate perfection loses its power of moving men’s hearts.
Christ’s teaching only has power when it demands absolute perfection; that is, the fusion of the divine nature which exists in every man’s soul with the will of God; the union of the Son with the Father. Life according to Christ’s teaching consists of nothing but this setting free of the Son of God, existing in every man, from the animal, and in bringing him closer to the Father.
The animal existence of a man does not constitute human life. Life, according to the will of God, is not just human, animal life for, human life is a combination of the animal life and Divine life. And the more this combination approaches toward the Divine, the more life there is in it.
Life, according to the Christian religion, is a progress toward the Divine perfection. No one condition, according to this doctrine, can be higher or lower than another. Every condition, according to this doctrine, is only a particular stage, of no consequence in itself, on the way toward unattainable [in this world] Divine perfection, and therefore in itself it does not imply a greater or lesser degree of life. Increase of life, according to this, consists in nothing but the quickening of the progress toward Divine perfection.
Therefore, the progress toward perfection of, for example, the publican Zaccheus [a Jewish tax collector for the ancient Romans], of the woman that was a sinner, and of the robber on the cross, implies a higher degree of life than the stagnant righteousness of the Pharisee [a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity, and has since come to mean a self-righteous person; a hypocrite].
For, this religion there cannot be rules by which it is obligatory to obey. The man who is at a lower level but is moving onward toward perfection is living a more moral, a better life, is more fully carrying out Christ’s teaching, than the man on a much higher level of morality who is not moving onward toward perfection. It is in this sense that the lost sheep is dearer to the Father than those that were not lost. The prodigal son, the piece of money lost and found again, were more precious than those that were not lost.
The fulfillment of Christ’s teaching consists in moving away from self toward God. It is obvious that there cannot be definite laws and rules for this fulfillment of the teaching. Every degree of perfection and every degree of imperfection are equal in it; no obedience to laws constitutes a fulfillment of this doctrine, and therefore for it there can be no binding rules and laws.
From this fundamental distinction between the religion of Christ and all preceding religions based on the state conception of life, follows a fundamental and corresponding difference between the special precepts of the state theory and the Christian precepts. The precepts of the state theory of life insist, for the most part, on certain practical prescribed acts by which men feel justified and secure, hopefully, in their being right.
Yet, the Christian precepts (excluding the commandment of love which is not a precept in the strict sense of the word, but the expression of the very essence of the religion) are the five commandments of the Sermon on the Mount. Expressed in the negative form, they show only what at a certain stage of development of humanity men may not do (“Thou shalt not …”). These commandments are, as it were, signposts on the endless road toward perfection, toward which humanity is moving, showing the point of perfection which is possible at a certain period in the development of humanity.
Christ has given expression in the Sermon on the Mount to the eternal ideal toward which men are spontaneously struggling, and also the degree of attainment of it to which men may reach:
The ideal is not to desire to do ill to anyone, not to provoke ill will, but to love all men. The precept, showing the level below which we cannot fall in the attainment of this ideal, is the prohibition of evil speaking. And that is the first command.
The ideal is perfect chastity, even in thought. The precept, showing the level below which we cannot fall in the attainment of this ideal, is that of purity of married life, avoidance of debauchery. That is the second command.
The ideal is to take no thought for the future, to live in the present moment. The precept, showing the level below which we cannot fall, is the prohibition of swearing, of promising anything in the future. And that is the third command.
The ideal is never, for any purpose, to use force. The precept, showing the level below which we cannot fall is that of returning good for evil, being patient under wrong, and the giving of the cloak. That is the fourth command.
The ideal is to love the enemies who hate us. The precept, showing the level below which we cannot fall, is not to do evil to our enemies, to speak well of them, and to make no difference between them and our neighbors.
All these precepts are indications of what, on our journey to perfection, we are already fully able to avoid, and what we must labor to attain now, and what we ought by degrees to translate into instinctive and unconscious habits. But these precepts, far from constituting the whole of Christ’s teaching and exhausting it, are simply stages on the way to perfection. These precepts must and will be followed by higher and higher precepts on the way to the perfection held up by the religion.
And therefore it is essentially a part of the Christian religion to make demands higher than those expressed in its precepts; and by no means to diminish the demands either of the ideal itself, or of the precepts, as people imagine who judge it from the standpoint of the social, the state, conception of life.
So much for one misunderstanding of the scientific men, in relation to the import and aim of Christ’s teaching. Another misunderstanding arising from the same source consists in substituting love for men in the service of humanity, for the Christian principles of love for and in service to God.
The Christian doctrine to love and serve God and, only as a result of that love, to love and serve one’s neighbor seems to scientific men obscure, mystic, and arbitrary. And they therefore absolutely exclude the obligation of love and service of God holding that the doctrine of love for men, for humanity alone, is far more clear, tangible, and reasonable. Scientific men teach, in theory, that the only good and rational life is that which is devoted to the service of the whole of humanity. That is for them the only import of the Christian doctrine, and to that they reduce Christ’s teaching. They seek confirmation of their own doctrine in the Gospel based on the supposition that the two doctrines are really the same.
This idea is an absolutely mistaken one. The Christian doctrine has nothing in common with the doctrine of the Positivists [positivism is a philosophical theory based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations – physicalism or materialism], Communists, and all the apostles of the universal brotherhood of mankind, based on the general advantage of such a brotherhood. They differ from Christianity especially in Christianity’s having a firm and clear basis in the human soul, while love for humanity is only a theoretical deduction from analogy (corresponding to the materialist view of life). The doctrine of love for humanity alone is based on the social conception of life.
The essence of the social conception of life consists in the transference of the aim of the individual (the animal) view of life to the life of societies of individuals: the family, the clan or tribe, the state. This transference is accomplished easily and naturally in its earliest forms, in the transference of the aim of life from the individual to the family and the clan. The transference to the state is more difficult and requires special training. And, the transference of the sentiment to the nation is the furthest limit which the process can reach.
To love one’s self is natural to everyone, and no one needs any encouragement to do so. To love one’s clan who support and protect one, to love one’s wife (the joy and help of one’s existence), one’s children (the hope and consolation of one’s life), and one’s parents (who have given one’s life and education), is natural. And such love, though far from being so strong as love of one’s self, is met with pretty often.
To love–for one’s own sake, through personal pride–one’s tribe, though not so natural, is nevertheless common. Love of one’s own people who are of the same blood, the same tongue, and the same religion as one’s self is possible, though far from being so strong as love of self, or even one’s love of family or clan. But love for a nation, such as Turkey, Germany, England, Austria, or Russia is a thing almost impossible. And though it (nationalism) is zealously inculcated, it is only an imagined sentiment; it has no existence in reality. And, at that limit, man’s power of extending his interest ceases and he cannot feel any direct sentiment for that trumped-up entity.
The Positivists, however, and all the apostles of fraternity on scientific principles, without taking into consideration the weakening of sentiment in proportion to the extension of its object (as in the inverse square law associated with the forces in nature?) draw further deductions in theory in the same direction. “Since,” they say, “it was for the advantage of the individual to extend his personal interest to the family, the tribe, and subsequently to the state and the nation, it would be still more advantageous to extend his interest in societies of men to the whole of mankind, and so all to live for all of humanity just as men live for the family or the clan.
Theoretically it then follows, indeed, having extended the love and interest for the individual to the family, the tribe, and thence to the state and nation, it would be perfectly logical for men to save themselves the strife and calamities which result from the division of mankind into nations and states by extending their love to the whole of humanity. This would be most logical, and theoretically nothing would appear more natural to its advocates, who do not observe that love is a sentiment which may or may not be felt and it is useless to advocate; and moreover, that love must have an object, and that humanity is not an object.”
The family, the tribe, even the state were not invented by men, but formed themselves spontaneously, like ant-hills or swarms of bees, and have a real existence. The man who, for the sake of his own animal personality, loves his family, knows those whom he loves: Anna, Dolly, John, Peter, and so on. The man who loves his tribe and takes pride in it, knows that he loves all the Gelphs or all the Ghibelines [see note]; the man who loves the state knows that he loves France bounded by the Rhine River, and the Pyrenees Mountains, and its principal city Paris, and its history, and so on. But the man who loves humanity–what does he love? There is such a thing as a state, as a nation; there is the abstract conception of humanity; but as a concrete idea it does not, and cannot exist.
Note: The Gelphs and the Ghibelines were two familial factions; one supporting the Pope and the other, the Holy Roman Empire in the Italian city states of central and northern Italy during the 12th and 13th century. The split between these two families was an important factor affecting the political, ruling policies of Medieval Italy. The struggle for power between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor began in 1075 ending in 1122. The Gelphs and Ghibelines continued in their antagonisms toward one another until the 15th century.
Humanity! Where is the definition of humanity? Where does it end and where does it begin? Does humanity end with the savage, the idiot, the dipsomaniac, or the madman? If we draw a line excluding from humanity its lowest representatives, where are we to draw the line? Shall we exclude the Negroes like the Americans, or the Hindus like some Englishmen, or the Muslims like the Jews, or the Jews like some others? If we include all men without exception, why should we not include also the higher animals, many of whom are superior to the lowest specimens of the human race?
We know nothing of humanity as an eternal object, and we know nothing of its limits. Humanity is a concept and not an object or thing, and therefore it is impossible to love it. It would, doubtless, be very advantageous if men could love humanity just as they love their family. It would be very advantageous, as Communists advocate, to replace the competitive, individualistic organization of men’s activity by a social universal organization, so that each would be for all and all for each. Only there are no motives to lead men to do this.
The Positivists, the Communists, and all the apostles of fraternity on scientific principles advocate the extension to the whole of humanity of the love men feel for themselves, their families, and the state. They forget that the love which they are discussing is a personal love, which might expand in a rarefied form to embrace a man’s native country, but which is completely weakened before it can embrace an [artificially margined] state such as Austria, England, or Turkey, and from which, given these borders, we cannot even conceive of love in relation to all of humanity; an absolutely abstract conception.
“A man loves himself (his animal personality), he loves his family, he may even love his native country. So why should he not love humanity? That would be such an excellent thing. And, by the way, it is precisely what is taught by Christianity.” So think the advocates of Positivist, Communistic, or Socialistic fraternity.
It would indeed be an excellent thing. But it can never be, for the love that is based on a personal or social conception of life can never extend beyond love for the state. Again, the fallacy of the argument lies in the fact that the social conception of life, on which love for family and nation is founded, rests itself on love of self, and that love grows weaker and weaker as it is extended from self to family, nationality, and state; and in the state we reach the furthest limit beyond which it cannot go.
The necessity of extending the sphere of love is beyond dispute. But in reality the possibility of this love is destroyed by the necessity of extending its object indefinitely. And thus the insufficiency of personal human love is apparent.
And here the advocates of a Positivist, Communistic, Socialistic fraternity propose to draw upon Christian love to make up the default of this bankrupt human love; but Christian love is realized only in its results, not in its foundations. These advocates propose love for humanity alone, apart from love for God. Such a love cannot exist. There is no motive, no true source, to produce it.
The social conception of life has led men, by a natural transition from love of self, and then to love of family, tribe, state, and nation to a consciousness of the necessity of love for humanity, toward an abstract conception which has no definite limits and extends to all living things. And this necessity for a love, which awakens no real kind of sentiment in a man is due to a contradiction. That being that the problem cannot be solved given the structure, the natural limitations, inherent in the social theory of life.
The Christian doctrine in its full significance can alone solve it, by giving a new meaning to life. Christianity recognizes love of self, of family, of nation, and of humanity, and not only of humanity, but of everything living, everything existing; it recognizes the necessity of an infinite extension of the sphere of love. But the object of this love is not found outside self in societies of individuals, in the external world, but within the self, in the Divine Self whose essence is that very love, which the animal self, the individual, is brought to feel the need of; to seek through its consciousness of its own perishable nature.
The difference between the Christian doctrine and those doctrines which preceded it is that the social doctrine said: “Live in opposition to your nature [understanding by this only the animal nature], make it subject to the external law of family, society, and state.” Christianity says: “Live according to your true nature [understanding by this the Divine nature]; do not make it subject to anything – neither you (an animal self) nor that of others and you will attain the very aim to which you are striving.”
The Christian doctrine brings a man to the elementary consciousness of self, only not of the animal self, but of the Divine Self, the Divine spark, the self as the Son of God, as much God as the Father himself, though confined in an animal husk. The consciousness of being the Son of God, whose chief characteristic is love, satisfies the need for the extension of the sphere of love to which the man of the social conception of life had been brought. For the latter, the welfare of the personality demanded an ever-widening extension of the sphere of love; love was a necessity and was confined to certain objects: self, family, society. With the Christian conception of life, love is not a necessity, marginalized, confined to an object; it is the essential faculty of the human soul. Man loves not because it is his interest to love this or that, but …
because love is the essence of his soul; because he cannot but love.
The Christian doctrine shows man that the essence of his soul is love; that his happiness depends not on loving this or that object, but on loving the principle of the whole; God, whom he recognizes within himself as love, and therefore he loves all things and all men. In this is the fundamental difference between the Christian doctrine and the doctrine of the Positivists (again, physicalism, materialism; the scientific view), and all the theorizers about universal brotherhood on those principles other than this Christian principle.
Such are the two primary misunderstandings relating to the Christian religion from which the greater number of false reasonings about it proceed: The first consists in the belief that Christ’s teaching instructs men, like all previous religions, by rules, which they are bound to follow, and that these rules cannot be fulfilled. The second is the idea that the whole purport of Christianity is to teach men to live advantageously together, as one family, and that to attain this we need only follow the rule of love to humanity, dismissing all thought of love of God altogether.
The mistaken notion of scientific men that the essence of Christianity consists in the supernatural, and that its moral teaching is impracticable, constitutes another reason of the failure of men of the present day to understand Christianity.
LEO TOLSTOY – THE TOUGH PACIFIST
“I am not going to climb into the ring with Tolstoy” – Earnest Hemingway
CRITICISMS OF THE DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE ON THE PART OF BELIEVERS AND OF UNBELIEVERS.
From: “The Kingdom of God is Within You” chapter II [much abridged]
Tolstoy begins: The impression I gained of a desire to conceal, to hush up, what I had tried to express in my book, led me to judge the book itself afresh. It had, as I had anticipated, been forbidden, and ought therefore by law to have been burnt. But, at the same time, it was discussed among officials, and circulated in a great number of manuscript and lithograph copies, and in translations printed abroad.
And very quickly after the book [was published and widely read] criticisms, both religious and secular in character, made their appearance, and these criticisms the government tolerated, even encouraged. So that the refutation of a book which no one was supposed to know anything about was even chosen as the subject for theological dissertations in the academies.
The criticisms of my book, Russian and foreign alike, fall under two general divisions: 1) the religious criticisms of men who regard themselves as believers, and 2) secular criticisms, that is, those of freethinkers.
I will begin with the first class. In my book I made it an accusation against the teachers of the Church that their teaching is opposed to Christ’s commands as clearly and definitely expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, and opposed in particular to his command in regard to non-resistance to evil. And, in doing so, they deprive Christ’s teaching of all its value. The Church authorities accept the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount on non-resistance to evil by force as divine revelation. Therefore, one would have supposed, being as the authorities felt called upon to write about my book, they would have found it necessary, before everything else, to reply to the principal point of my charge against them, and to respond plainly: Do they or do they not admit the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment of non-resistance to evil as binding for a Christian?
They should have answered the question as plainly as it was put in my book: Did Christ really demand from his disciples that they should carry out what he taught them in the Sermon on the Mount? Here Tolstoy also addresses the laws of the state and the use of these laws by citizens, but here we will focus on what he refers to as: the most important question hanging over the heads of all of us in these days of universal military service: Can the Christian, or can he not, remain a Christian against Christ’s direct prohibition, and instead promise obedience [to the state] leading to future actions directly opposed to Christ’s teaching? And, can he, by taking his share of service in the army, prepare himself to murder men, and even actually murder them?
These questions were put plainly and directly in my book, and would seem to require a plain and direct answer. But, in all the criticisms of my book there was no such plain and direct answer. Instead, a very great deal was said in connection with my book of my having incorrectly interpreted this, and other passages of the Gospel, and of my being in error in not recognizing the Trinity, the redemption, and the immortality of the soul. A very great deal was said, but not a word about the one thing which, for every Christian, is the most essential question in life: How to reconcile the duty of forgiveness, meekness, patience, and love for all (neighbors and enemies alike) which is so clearly expressed in the words of our teacher, and in the heart of each of us? Also, how to reconcile this duty with the state imposed obligation of using force in war upon men of our own, or of a foreign nation?
All that are worth calling forth answers to this question can be brought under the following five heads. In doing so, I have tried to bring together in this way all I could, not only from the criticisms on my book, but from what has been written in past times on this very theme:
1) The first and crudest form of reply consists in the bold assertion that the use of force is not opposed by the teaching of Christ; that it is permitted, and even enjoined, on the Christian by the Old and New Testaments.
Assertions of this kind proceed, for the most part, from men who have attained the highest ranks in the governing or ecclesiastical hierarchy, and who are consequently perfectly assured that no one will dare to contradict their assertions, and that if anyone does contradict them they will hear nothing of these contradictions. These men have, for the most part, through the intoxication of power, so lost the right idea of what Christianity is, in the name of which they hold their stations in life, that what is actually Christian in Christianity presents itself to them as heresy, while everything in the Old and New Testaments which can be distorted by them into an antichristian meaning they regard as the foundation of Christianity. In support of their assertion that Christianity is not opposed to the use of force, these men usually, with the greatest audacity, bring together all the most obscure passages from the Old and New Testaments, interpreting them in the most unchristian way (the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, of Simon the Sorcerer, etc.). They quote all those sayings of Christ’s which can possibly be interpreted as justification of cruelty (the expulsion from the Temple; “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for this city,” etc., etc.). According to these people’s notions, a Christian government is not in the least bound to be guided by the spirit of peace, forgiveness of injuries, and love for enemies.
To refute such an assertion is useless, because the very people who make this assertion renounce Christ, (thus renounce themselves) inventing a Christianity and a Christ of their own in the place of Him in whose name the Church itself exists, as well as their office – their position in it. If all men were to learn that the Church professes to believe in a Christ of punishment and warfare, not of forgiveness, no one would believe in the Church and it could not provide to anyone what is most needed, what instead it should be trying to provide.
2) The second, somewhat less gross form of argument, consists in declaring that, though Christ did indeed preach that we should turn the left cheek, and give the cloak also, and that this is the highest moral duty, there are wicked men in the world and if these wicked men were not restrained by force, the whole world and all good men would come to ruin through them.
This argument is ill grounded, because if we allow ourselves to regard any man as intrinsically wicked, then in the first place we annul, by so doing, the whole idea of the Christian teaching: according to which we are all equals and brothers, as sons of one Father in heaven. Secondly, it is ill founded, because even if to use force against wicked men had been permitted by God, since it is impossible to find a perfect and unfailing distinction by which one could positively know the wicked from the good, so it would come to be that all individual men, and societies of men, would mutually regard each other as wicked men; which actually is the case as it stands now.
3) Thirdly, even if it were possible to distinguish the wicked from the good unfailingly, even then it would be impossible to kill or injure or shut up in prison these wicked men, because there would be no one in a Christian society to carry out such punishment, since every Christian, as a Christian, has been commanded to use no force against the wicked. [Recall here Tolstoy is responding specifically to believers and not to those whom he refers to as freethinkers].
The third kind of answer, still more subtle than the preceding, consists in asserting that the command of non-resistance to evil by force is binding on the Christian only when the evil is directed against himself. However, it ceases to be binding regarding the use force against transgressors in defense of his neighbors when the evil is directed against his neighbors. This assertion is an assumption, for one cannot find in all of Christ’s teaching any confirmation of such an argument.
Such an argument is not only a limitation, but a direct contradiction and negation of the commandment. If every man has the right to utilize force in face of a danger threatening another, the question of the use of force is reduced to a question of the definition of danger for another. If my private judgment is to decide the question of what is a danger for another, there is no occasion where the use of force could not be justified on the ground of a danger, at some point, to some other man. They killed and burnt witches, they killed aristocrats and Girondists (those who campaigned against the French monarchy but opposed the violently spiraling revolution); they killed their political enemies because those who were in authority regarded them as dangerous for the people. (Historically, the numbers of persons declared a danger to the public good and thus annihilated based on such insane assessments is incomprehensibly large and tragic).
This assumed limitation [that non-resistance to evil only applies in regard to one’s own safety] fundamentally undermines the whole value of the commandment. This restriction is made nowhere in our Saviour’s life or preaching. On the contrary, warning is given precisely against this treacherous and scandalous restriction which nullifies the commandment. The error and impossibility of such a limitation is shown in the Gospel with special clearness in the account of the judgment of Caiaphas, who makes precisely this distinction. He acknowledged that it was wrong to punish the innocent Jesus, but he saw in him a source of danger not for himself, but for the whole of the people, and therefore Caiaphas said, “It is better for one man to die, that the whole people perish not.” And, again, the erroneousness of such a limitation is still more clearly expressed in the words spoken to Peter when he tried to resist by force the evil directed against Jesus. Peter was not defending himself, but his beloved and heavenly Master. And Christ at once reproved him for this, saying that “He who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
Besides, apologies for violence used against one’s neighbor in defense of another neighbor from a greater violence are always untrustworthy. Because when force is used against one who has not yet carried out his evil intent I, for example, can never know which would be greater — the evil of my act of violence or of the act I want to prevent. We kill the criminal so that society may be rid of him, and we never know whether the criminal of today would not have been a changed man tomorrow, and whether our punishment of him is not useless cruelty. We shut up the dangerous (as we determine) member of society, but the next day this man might cease to be dangerous and his imprisonment might be for nothing.
I see that a man I know to be a ruffian is pursuing a young girl. I have a gun in my hand and I kill the ruffian and save the girl. Though the death or the wounding of the ruffian has positively taken place, while what would have happened if this had not been so, I cannot know. And what an immense mass of evil must result, and indeed does result, from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what might happen. Ninety-nine per cent of the evil of the world is founded on this reasoning — from the Inquisition to dynamite bombs (far worse yet, today’s mass killing technologies) and the executions or punishments of tens of thousands of political so-called criminals (now up to hundreds of millions from WWI to the present).
4) A fourth, still more refined, reply to the question, “What ought to be the Christian’s attitude to Christ’s command of non-resistance to evil by force?” consists in [believers] declaring that they do not deny the command of non-resisting evil, but recognize it. Yet, they only do not ascribe to this command the special and exclusive value attached to it as does specific religious sects. For example: the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Waldenses, etc. (Tolstoy lists several more of his day and prior). This command has neither more nor less value than all the other commands. The claim that the man who, through weakness, transgresses any command whatsoever (the command of non-resistance included) does not cease to be a Christian if he otherwise holds the true faith. This is a very skillful device, and many people who wish to be deceived are easily deceived by it. The device consists in reducing a direct and conscious denial of a command to but a casual breach of it. But one need only compare the attitude of the teachers of the Church to this particular command, to other commands which they really do recognize, to be convinced that their attitude to the non-resistance to evil commandment is completely different from their attitude to the other Christian obligations.
The Church preachers never point out cases in which the command against fornication, for example, can be broken, and always teach that we must avoid seductions which lead to temptation to fornication. But not so with the command of non-resistance. All church preachers recognize cases in which that command can be broken, and teach the people accordingly. And, not only do they not teach we should avoid temptations to break it, chief of which is the military oath, but they themselves administer it!
The preachers of the Church never, in any other case, advocate the breaking of any other commandment. But in connection with the commandment of non-resistance they openly teach that we must not understand it too literally, but that there are conditions and circumstances in which we must do the direct opposite, that being go to the law, fight, and punish. The fulfillment of this command, they say, is very difficult and pertains only to perfection. And how can it not be difficult, when the breach of it is not only not forbidden but, prisons, cannons, guns, armies, and wars are under the immediate sanction of the Church?
The preachers of the Church clearly, do not recognize the commandment of non-resistance to evil but, not daring to acknowledge this they, in various ways, try to conceal their not recognizing it.
So much for the fourth reply.
5) The fifth kind of answer, which is the subtlest, the most often used, and the most effective, consists in avoiding answering; in making believe that this question is one which has long ago been decided perfectly clearly and satisfactorily, and that it is not worthwhile to talk about it. This method of reply is employed by all the more or less cultivated religious writers. Knowing that the contradiction existing between the teachings of Christ which we profess with our lips, and the whole order of our lives cannot be reconciled, and that touching upon this can only make the contradiction more obvious. So they, with more or less ingenuity, evade it, pretending that the question of reconciling Christianity with the use of force has been decided already, or does not exist at all.
Tolstoy’s footnote: I only know one work which differs somewhat from this general definition. I refer to the pamphlet of Mr. Troizky (published at Kazan), “A Sermon for the People.” The author obviously accepts Christ’s teaching in its true meaning. He says that the prohibition of resistance to evil by force means exactly what it does mean. He does not, as others do, deny the meaning of Christ’s teaching. But, unfortunately he does not draw from this admission the inevitable and important considerations which present themselves when everyone naturally asks, “How then, about military service?” To this question the author gives no reply. But, it must be answered. And if he cannot answer, then he would do better not to speak on the subject at all, as such silence only leads to error.
Tolstoy continues: The majority of religious critics of my book use this fifth method of replying to it. I could quote dozens of such critics, in all of whom, without exception, we find the same thing repeated. That everything is discussed except what constitutes the principal subject of the book – the commandment of non-resistance to evil by force. As a characteristic example of such criticisms, I will quote the article of a well-known and ingenious English writer and preacher, Farrar, who, like many learned theologians, is a great master of the art of circuitously evading a question. The article was published in an American journal, the FORUM, in October, 1888:
“Tolstoy came to the conclusion that a coarse deceit had been palmed upon the world when these words ‘Resist not evil,’ were held by civil society to be compatible with war, courts of justice, capital punishment, divorce, oaths, national prejudice, and, indeed, with most of the institutions of civil and social life. He now believes that the kingdom of God would come if all men kept these five commandments of Christ, viz.: 1. Live in peace with all men. 2. Be pure. 3. Take no oaths. 4. Resist not evil. 5. Renounce national distinctions.”
“Tolstoy,” Farrar says, “rejects the inspiration of the Old Testament; hence he rejects the chief doctrines of the Church – that of the Atonement by blood, the Trinity, the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and his transmission through the priesthood. And he recognizes only the words and commands of Christ. But is this interpretation of Christ a true one?” he says. “Are all men bound to act as Tolstoy teaches? To carry out these five commandments of Christ?”
You expect, then, that in answer to this essential question, which is the only one that could induce a man to write an article about the book, he will say either that this interpretation of Christ’s teaching is true and we ought to follow it, or he will say that such an interpretation is untrue, will show why, and will give some other correct interpretation of those words which I interpret incorrectly. But nothing of this kind is done. Farrar only expresses his “belief” that, “although actuated by the noblest sincerity, Count Tolstoy has been misled by partial and one-sided interpretations of the meaning of the Gospel and the mind and will of Christ.” What this error consists in is not made clear; it is only said: “To enter into the proof of this is impossible in this article, for I have already exceeded the space at my command.”
And Farrar concludes in a tranquil spirit [abridged]: “Meanwhile, the reader who feels troubled lest it should be his duty also to forsake all the conditions of his life and to take up the position and work of a common laborer, may rest for the present on the principle, SECURUS JUDICAT ORBIS TERRARUM. [translation: The whole world judges right].” [Tolstoy, although an aristocrat by birth and already a famous author in Russia, Europe and abroad, did this very thing having experienced what is referred to as a ‘conversion’ which led him onward toward a religious, Christian path and to produce works such as the one studied, in part, here].
Farrar continues, “With few and rare exceptions the whole of Christendom, from the days of the Apostles down to our own, has come to the firm conclusion that it was the object of Christ to lay down great eternal principles. But, not to disturb the bases and revolutionize the institutions of all of human society, which also rest on divine sanctions as well as on inevitable conditions. Were it my object to prove how untenable is the [Christian] doctrine which can be interpreted only on historical principles in accordance with the whole method of the teaching of Jesus, it would require an ampler canvas than I have here at my disposal.”
What a pity he has not an “ampler canvas at his disposal!” And what a strange thing it is that for all these last fifteen centuries no one has had a “canvas ample enough” to prove that Christ, whom we profess to believe in, says something utterly unlike what he does say! Still, they could prove it if they wanted to. But it is not worthwhile to prove what everyone supposedly knows; is it is enough to say, SECURUS JUDICAT ORBIS TERRARUM?
And of this kind, without exception, are all the criticisms of educated believers, who must, as such, understand the danger of their position. The sole escape from it for them lies in their hope that they may be able, by using the authority of the Church, and of their sacred office, to overawe the reader and draw him away from the idea of reading the Gospel for himself and thinking out the question in his own mind for himself. And in this they are successful; for, indeed, how could the notion occur to any one that all that has been repeated from century to century with such earnestness and solemnity by all those archdeacons, bishops, archbishops, and popes, that it is all a calumny [a malicious false statement – slander] upon Christ and a base lie promulgated by them for the sake of keeping safe the money they must have to live luxuriously on the necks of other men? And it is a lie, and so transparent, that the only way of keeping it up consists in overawing people by their earnestness, their conscientiousness.
It is just what has taken place of late years at military recruiting sessions; at a table before the zertzal – the symbol of the Tzar’s authority. And, in the seat of honor under the life-size portrait of the Tzar, sit dignified old officials, wearing decorations, conversing freely and easily, writing notes, summoning men before them, and giving orders. Here, wearing a golden cross on his breast, near these officials, is a prosperous looking old Priest at a lectern in a silken cassock, with long gray hair flowing on to his cape and has before him a Gospel bound in gold.
They summon Iran Petroff. A young man comes in, wretchedly, shabbily dressed, and in terror; the muscles of his face working, his eyes bright and restless and in a broken voice, hardly above a whisper, he says: “I … by Christ’s law … as a Christian … I cannot.” “What is he muttering?” asks the president, frowning impatiently and raising his eyes from his book to listen. “Speak louder!” the colonel with shining epaulets shouts to him. “I … I as a Christian …” And, at last it appears that the young man refuses to serve in the army because he is a Christian. “Don’t talk nonsense. Stand to be measured. Doctor, may I trouble you to measure him? He is all right?” “Yes?” “Reverend father, administer the oath to him.”
No one is the least disturbed by what the poor scared young man is muttering. They do not even pay attention to it. “They all mutter something, they’ve no time to listen, they have to enroll so many.
The recruit tries to say something still. “It’s opposed to the law of Christ.” “Go along, go along; we know without your help what is opposed to the law and what’s not; and you soothe his mind, reverend father, soothe him. Next! Vassily Nikitin.” And they lead the trembling youth away. And it does not strike anyone, the guards, or Vassily Nikitin, whom they are next bringing in, or any of the spectators of this scene, that these inarticulate words of the young man at once suppressed by the authorities, contain the truth. And the loud, solemnly uttered sentences of the calm, self-confident official and the priest are a lie and a deception.
Such is the very impression produced not only by Farrar’s article, but by all those solemn sermons, articles, and books which make their appearance from all sides, is there anywhere a glimpse of truth exposing a predominant falsehood. For, at once begins the series of long, clever, ingenious, and solemn speeches and writings, which deal with questions nearly related to the subject, but skillfully avoid touching the subject itself.
That is the essence of the fifth and most effective means of getting out of the contradictions in which Church Christianity has placed itself, by professing its faith in Christ’s teaching in words, while it denies its life, and teaches people to do the same.
Those who justify themselves by the first method, crudely asserting that Christ sanctioned violence, wars, and murder, repudiate Christ’s doctrine directly; those who find their defense in the second, the third, or the fourth method are confused and can easily be convicted of error. But this last class, who do not argue, who do not condescend to argue about it, but take shelter behind their own grandeur, and make a show of all this having been decided by them, or at least by someone else, long ago, and no longer offering a possibility of doubt to anyone seem safe from attack, and will be beyond attack till men come to realize that they are under the hypnotic influence exerted on them by governments and churches, and are no longer affected by it.
Such was the attitude of the spiritual critics (those professing faith in Christ) to my book. For they are bound to take up this attitude by the contradictory position in which they find themselves between their belief in the divinity of their Master and their disbelief in his clearest utterances, and they want to escape from this contradiction. So that one cannot expect from them free discussion of the very essence of the question: that is, of the change in men’s life which must result from applying Christ’s teaching to the existing order of the world. Such free discussion I only expected from worldly, freethinking (non-Christian) critics, and can therefore take an independent view of it. I had anticipated that freethinking writers would look at Christ, not merely, like the Churchmen do: Christ as the founder of a religion of personal salvation, but rather (to express as in their own language): Christ as a reformer who laid down new principles of life and whose reforms are not yet complete, but are still in progress even now.
The freethinking Russian critics, taking my book as though its whole contents could be reduced to non-resistance to evil, and their understanding the doctrine of non-resistance to evil as though it would prohibit every kind of resistance to evil, fell vehemently upon this doctrine. And, for some years past have been very successfully proving that Christ’s teaching is mistaken in so far as it forbids resistance to evil. Their refutations of this doctrine were all the more successful since they knew beforehand that their arguments could not be contested or corrected given that the censorship, not having passed the book, also did not pass those articles written in its defense.
The Russian critics, obviously unaware of all that has been done to elucidate the question of non-resistance, and sometimes even imagining that the rule of non-resistance to evil had been invented by me personally, fell completely afoul of the very idea of it. They opposed it and attacked it, advancing their position with great heated arguments claiming that it had long ago been analyzed and refuted from every point of view, thus demonstrating that a man ought invariably to defend (with violence) all the injured and oppressed, and that the doctrine of non-resistance to evil is, in fact, an immoral doctrine, an evil in itself.
So that the principle of non-resistance to evil by force has been attacked by two opposing camps: 1) The conservatives, because this principle would hinder their activity in resistance to evil (that being, the revolutionists) and in the persecution and punishment of them and 2) The revolutionists, because this principle would hinder their resistance to evil as applied to the conservatives and the overthrowing of them. The conservatives were indignant at the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by force hindering the energetic destruction of the revolutionary elements which would ruin the national prosperity. And the revolutionists were indignant at the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by force hindering the overthrow of the conservatives who are ruining the national prosperity.
It is worthy of remark in this connection that the revolutionists have attacked the principle of non-resistance to evil by force, in spite of the fact that ever since the beginning of the world, the use of violence of every kind, from the Inquisition to the Schlüsselburg fortress, has relied and still relies on the necessity of resisting [a supposed] evil by use of force.
So much for the general character of the Russian critics.
Foreign critics started from the same premises, but their discussions of my book were somewhat different from those of Russian critics, not only in their being less bitter, and in showing more culture, but even in the subject-matter.
In discussing my book, and the Gospel’s teaching generally as it is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, the foreign critics maintained that such doctrine is not peculiarly Christian (Christian doctrine is either Catholicism or Protestantism according to their views). The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, they claim, is only a string of very pretty impracticable dreams fit for the simple and half-savage inhabitants of Galilee who lived eighteen hundred years ago, and for the half-savage Russian peasants, Sutaev and Bondarev, and the Russian mystic Tolstoy, but not at all consistent with the high degree of European culture.
The foreign freethinking critics have tried in a delicate manner, without being offensive to me, to give the impression that my conviction that mankind could be guided by such a naïve doctrine as that of the Sermon on the Mount proceeds from two causes: 1) That such a conviction is partly due to my want of knowledge, my ignorance of history, my ignorance of all the vain attempts to apply the principles of the Sermon on the Mount to life which have been made in history and have led to nothing and 2) In part, it is also due to my failing to appreciate the full value of the lofty civilization to which mankind has attained at present; with its Krupp cannons, smokeless powder, colonization of Africa, Irish Coercion Bill, parliamentary government, journalism, strikes, and the Eiffel Tower.
So wrote de Vogüé and Leroy Beaulieu and Matthew Arnold; so wrote the American authors Savage, and Ingersoll, the popular freethinking American preacher, and many others. For example:
“Christ’s teaching is no use, because it is inconsistent with our industrial age,” says Ingersoll naïvely, expressing in this utterance, with perfect directness and precisely as though the existence of this industrial age were in itself a sacred thing which ought not to and could not be changed. It is just as though drunkards when advised how they could be brought to habits of sobriety should answer that the advice is incompatible with their habit of taking alcohol.
The arguments of all the freethinking critics, Russian and foreign alike, different as they may be in tone and manner of presentation, all amount essentially to the same strange misconception; namely, that Christ’s teaching, one of the consequences of which is non-resistance to evil, is of no use to us because, if it were carried into practice, life could not go on as it is presently. Not only is the question of non-resistance to evil not considered by them, but the very mention of the duty of non-resistance as it enters into Christ’s teaching is regarded as satisfactory proof of the impracticability of the whole of Christ’s teaching.
Meanwhile, one would have thought it was necessary to point out at least some kind of solution to the following question, since it is at the root of almost everything that interests us.
The question amounts to this: In what way are we to decide men’s disputes, when some men consider evil what others consider good, and VICE VERSA? And to reply that, that is evil which I think is evil, in spite of the fact that my opponent thinks it is good, is not a solution of the difficulty. There can only be two solutions: either to find a real unquestionable criterion of what is evil or, not to resist evil by force.
The first course has been tried ever since the beginning of historical times, and, as we all know, it has not hitherto led to any successful results. The second solution: not to forcibly resist what we consider evil until we have found a universal criterion is the solution given by Christ.
We may consider the answer given by Christ unsatisfactory. We may replace it by another and better, by finding a criterion by which evil could be defined for all men unanimously and simultaneously. Or, we may simply, like savage nations, not recognize the existence of the question. But we cannot treat the question as the learned critics of Christianity do. They pretend either that no such question exists at all or that the question is solved by granting to certain persons, or assemblies of persons, the right to define evil and, from that, resist it by force. In other words, killing is evil most would say, yet we kill in response to what is generally agreed upon as evil. But we know all the while that granting such a right to certain persons does not decide the question (still less so when we are ourselves the certain persons) since there are always people who do not recognize this right in the authorized persons or assemblies let alone what they have defined as evil.
But this assumption, that what seems evil to us is really evil, shows a complete misunderstanding of the question, and lies at the root of the argument of freethinking critics about the Christian religion in general. In this way, then, the discussions of my book on the part of churchmen and freethinking critics alike showed me that the majority of men simply do not understand either Christ’s teaching or the questions which Christ’s teaching solves.
Having read Tolstoy’s works regarding Christ’s Sermon on the Mount I have reconsidered what before I considered unreasonable: the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by use of force:
I considered those rare, sick and undoubtedly evil individuals whom, for whatever insane reasoning, inflict terrible sufferings on others (pedophiles, rapists, murderers, serial killers and the like) and the need of society to deal with these individuals by use of force as opposed to not doing so; in other words, accepting the Christian doctrine of non-resistance to evil by use of force in all circumstances.
Then I considered those deemed evil by others who are not at all evil but of a different religion, social class, political opinion and/or nationality and thus misunderstood and feared by those whose limited intellect can only consider those different and misunderstood by them as evil and declare them as such. And, in doing so they get others, millions even, to engage in an effort to imprison, enslave, or annihilate them – as in genocides and wars, for example. Maybe those that declare (particularly persons in power) these other thousands, millions of persons even, as evil do not really believe they are evil (how could they?) but rather revel in the thrill and profit of mass killing, of warfare. Far more death, destruction and suffering, I now realize, is produced by the declaration of evil in our midst and the use of force against those falsely deemed evil than if force were never utilized against evil under any circumstance.
What if, hypothetically, those rare, demented individuals (those referred to in the first paragraph) are not destroyed or imprisoned due to the universally accepted decision never to utilize force against evil? Even with those sick persons, and very rare they are, freely roaming the streets, (most of which probably do) and, should refusal to utilize force against evil under any circumstance actually be applied, the world would be a far safer place than it is presently given societies refusal to follow those mentioned in the second paragraph.
And what of those sick individuals? As children were they not given toys that engender fear and encourage violent behavior in response? Were they, we, all of us, not from childhood onward exposed to (supposedly entertaining) horrific images and scenes depicting all manners of death and destruction in cartoons, books, music videos and movies and, in computer games, virtually partaking in such? Is it possible that they, we, all of us, are not psychologically adversely influenced by all the images throughout the media of armed, vicious and hostile human, sub, and superhuman beings ready to kill in the most horrific ways imaginable at a moment’s notice? Are not many of these, so-called entertaining, images of killers and their weapons portrayed as glamorous, sexy even? Pornography is equally as insidious.
Exactly who are the evil? And who are to decide who the evil are given the whole (and only a small part of which is described here) of the issue?
DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE MUST INEVITABLY BE ACCEPTED BY MEN OF THE PRESENT DAY
Tolstoy, chapter VII, “The Kingdom of God is Within You” [much abridged]:
Christianity is not a system of rules, but a new conception of life, and therefore it was not obligatory and was not accepted in its true significance by all, but only by a few. Christianity is, moreover, prophetic of the destruction of the pagan life, and therefore of the necessity of the acceptance of the Christian Doctrines.
[Note: Pagan, refers to one who worships many gods as in the ancient Romans or Greeks. According to Tolstoy, Christ’s teaching, thus Christianity, was (and still is) a necessary evolutionary leading from the pagan and civil concepts of life toward a divine, perfected, all are Son of God concept of life.]
Non-resistance of evil by force is one aspect of the Christian doctrine, which must inevitably be accepted. There are two methods of deciding every quarrel: the first method is to find a universal definition of evil, which all must accept, and to resist this evil by force. The second method is the Christian one of complete non-resistance by force.
Though the failure of the first method has been recognized since the early days of Christianity, as it was and is still proposed, and only as mankind has progressed, has it become more and more evident that there cannot be any universal definition of evil. This is recognized by all at the present day, and if force is still used to resist evil, it is not because it [force against evil] is regarded as right, but because people don’t know how to avoid it. The difficulty of avoiding it is the result of the subtle and complex character of the government’s use of force. Force is used in four ways: intimidation, bribery, hypnotism [as is powerfully and effectively utilized in the electronic media of modern times], and coercion by force of arms [and today also, sanctions impoverishing others].
State violence can never be suppressed by the forcible overthrow of a government. Rather, men shall be led the result of the sufferings of the pagan mode of life to the necessity of accepting Christ’s teaching with its doctrine of non-resistance by force. The consciousness of its truth, which is diffused throughout our society, will [inevitably] bring about its acceptance. This [Christ] consciousness is in complete contradiction with our current life [still as true today as it was when Tolstoy wrote this well over a hundred years ago]. This is especially obvious in compulsory military service. But, through habit and the application of the four methods of violence by the state, men do not see this inconsistency of Christianity with the life of a soldier.
The call to military service is the supreme test for every man, when the choice is offered him, between adopting the Christian doctrine of non-resistance, or slavishly submitting to the existing state organization. Men usually renounce all they hold sacred, and submit to the demands of their government; seeing no other course open to them. For men of the pagan [or civil] conception of life, there is no other course open, and never will be in spite of the ever growing horrors of war. A society, made up of such men, must dramatically evolve, and no social or civil reorganizing can accomplish this.
Many are concerned with women’s rights and issues. But, having grown up during the forcing, the drafting, of high school aged boys into the military to kill and/or be killed in Vietnam (peoples half a world away that were of no threat to us whatsoever here in the United States), it seemed to me then that men’s lives were much more difficult than those of women’s.
It is often said that if Christianity is a truth, it ought to have been accepted by everyone directly, as it appeared to have transformed men’s lives for the better. [And it is true that there are many whose lives have been transformed for the better]. But, this is like saying that if the seed were ripe it ought, at once, to bring forth stalls, flower, and fruit. The Christian religion is not a legal system which, being forcibly imposed by threat of violence, may transform men’s lives. Christianity is a new and higher conception of life. A new conception of life cannot be imposed on men; it can only be freely assimilated and adopted. And it can only be freely assimilated in two ways: one spiritual and internal [in people’s hearts and minds], the other experimental and external.
Some people, a minority, by a kind of prophetic instinct, divinely intuit the truth of the doctrine, surrender themselves to it and adopt it. Others, the majority, only through a long course of mistakes, experiments, and sufferings are brought to recognize the truth of the doctrine and the necessity of adopting it. And, by this experimental external method the majority of Christians should have, by now, been brought to the necessity of assimilating the doctrine. Yet, one sometimes wonders what necessitated the corruption of Christianity which is now the greatest obstacle to its acceptance of its true significance.
A good example of this is a portion the fundamentalist Christian sects within the United States that are exceedingly nationalistic and eager to warring, in particular with Arabs, with Muslims, presently and who knows who will be the object of their fear and hatred tomorrow? And, even in their peaceful, middle class neighborhoods they proudly flaunt their ownership of weapons and the wearing of camouflage military attire.
People often think the question of non-resistance to evil by force is a theoretical one which can be neglected. Yet, this question is presented by life itself to all men, and calls for some answer from every thinking man. Ever since Christianity has been outwardly professed, this question is presented regularly to men in their social, civil life, like the question which presents itself to a traveler when the road on which he has been journeying divides into two branches. He must go on and cannot say, “I will not think about it, but will go on just as I did before.” There was one road, and now there are two, and now he must make his choice.
In the same way since Christ’s teaching has been known by men they cannot say: I will live as before and will not decide the question of resistance or non-resistance to evil by force. At every new struggle that arises one must inevitably decide, am I or am I not, to resist by force that which I regard as evil?
Historically, before Christ’s teaching, it seemed to men that the one and only means of settling a dispute was by resistance to evil by force. And they acted accordingly, each of the combatants trying to convince himself and others that what each respectively regards as evil, is actually, absolutely evil.
And to do this, from the earliest time, men have devised definitions of evil and tried to make them binding on everyone. And such definitions of evil sometimes took the form of laws, supposedly to have been received by supernatural means, then by the commands of rulers, and/or by assemblies of men to whom infallibility was attributed. Men resorted to violence against others, and convinced themselves and others that they were directing their violence against evil recognized as such by all.
This means has been employed from the earliest times, especially by those who had gained possession of authority, and for a long while its irrationality was not detected. But the longer men lived in the world and the more complex their relations became, the more evident it was that to resist by force what each regarded as evil was irrational; that conflict was in no way lessened thereby, and that no human definitions can succeed in making what some regard as evil be accepted as such by others.
It was evident to a great number of people in the Roman Empire, where Christianity necessarily arose, that what was regarded as evil by Nero and Caligula could not be regarded as evil by others. Even then men had begun to understand that human laws, though promulgated as divine laws, were compiled by men and therefore cannot be infallible, whatever the external majesty with which they are presented. And, that erring men are not rendered infallible by assembling together and calling themselves a senate or any other name. Even at that time this was felt and understood by many. And it was then that Christ preached his doctrine, which consisted not only of the prohibition of resistance to evil by force, but gave a new conception of life and a means of putting an end to conflict between all men, not by making it the duty of one sector of mankind to submit without conflict to what is prescribed to them by another sector of the community, or by certain authorities, but rather by making it the duty of all, and consequently of those in authority, not to resort to force against anyone in any circumstances.
This doctrine was accepted at the time by only a very small number of disciples. The majority of men, especially all who were in power, even after the nominal acceptance of Christianity, continued to maintain for themselves the principle of resistance by force to what they regarded as evil. So it was under the Roman and Byzantine emperors, and it has continued to this day.
But men were not ready to accept the solution given by Christ, and the old definitions of evil, which ought to be resisted, continued to be laid down by means of making laws binding on all and enforced by forcible means. The authority who decided what ought to be regarded as evil and resisted by force was at one time the Pope, at another an emperor, or king, or elected assembly, or an entire nation even. But both within and without the state there were always men to be found who did not accept as binding on themselves the laws given out as the decrees of a god, or made by men proclaimed to be invested with a sacred character, or those institutions supposed to represent the will of the nation. And, conversely, there were men who thought good was what the existing authorities regarded as bad, and who struggled against the authorities with the same violence as was employed against them.
The men invested with religious authority regarded as evil what the men and institutions invested with temporal [worldly] authority regarded as good, and vice versa, and the struggle grew more and more intense. And the longer men used violence as the means of settling their disputes, the more obvious it became that it was an unsuitable means, since there could be no external authority able to define evil recognized by all.
Things went on like this for eighteen centuries [now twenty], and at last reached the present position in which it is absolutely obvious that there is, and can be, no external definition of evil binding upon all. Men have come to the point of ceasing to believe in the possibility or even the desirability of finding and establishing such a general definition. It has come to men in power to cease to attempt to prove that what they regard as evil is evil, and simply declare what they regard as evil. And, while their subjects no longer respect them but, continue to obey because they cannot help themselves. It was not because it was a good thing, necessary and beneficial to men, or that the contrary course would have been a greater evil. Rather, one set of men commit acts of violence, no longer on the pretext of resistance to evil, but simply for their profit or their caprice. And another set submit to violence, not because they suppose, as was supposed in former times, that this violence, this warfare, was enforced upon them for the sake of securing them, their families, their nation from evil, but simply because they cannot avoid it.
If the Roman, or the man of mediaeval times, or the average Russian of fifty years ago, [or an American today] was convinced, without a shade of doubt, that the violence of authority was indispensable to preserve him from evil, and that taxes, dues, serfage, prisons, executions, the army and war, were what was needed and ought to be. [Serfage is still practiced today – work yourself to death for the outlandish profit of another – a CEO, a board of trustees, etc. and give 30% of your wages to the government to wage war against Asians or Arabs while these individuals, billionaires, manage to get laws passed allowing them to avoid paying any taxes whatsoever]. Yet, we know now that one can seldom find a man who believes that all these means preserve anyone from any evil whatsoever. Rather, indeed does he clearly perceive that most of these acts of violence to which he is exposed, and in which he must have some share, are in themselves a great and useless evil.
It was assumed that the idle rich man and the uneducated laborer alike were both convinced that their state of everlasting holiday for one, and everlasting toil for the other, was ordained by God himself. But, this is not nor was the case, neither among the rich nor the poor. Rather, plenty a doubt as to the justice of this state of things ever presents itself. The rich know that they are guilty in the very fact of being rich, and try to expiate their guilt by sacrifices [charitable giving] to art and science. As of old they expiated their sins by sacrifices to the Church [or the buying of indulgences]. Even the larger half of the working people openly declare that the existing order is iniquitous and bound to be destroyed or reformed. One set of religious people, of whom there are millions in Russia, consider the existing social order as unjust and to be reformed on the ground of the Gospel teaching taken in its true sense. Others regard it as unjust on the ground of the socialistic, communistic, or anarchistic theories, which are springing up in the lower strata of the working people.
Violence, here applied, no longer rests on the belief in its utility, but only on the fact of its having been applied for so long. And, being organized by the ruling classes who profit by it or, by the lower classes who hope to then become the ruling classes and, those who fall under either authority who cannot extricate themselves from violence in either case.
The governments of our day (all of them, the most despotic and democratic alike) have become what Herzen so well called “Genghis Khan with the telegraph [or a satellite].” In otherwords, organizations based on no principle but the grossest tyranny, and at the same time taking advantage of all the means invented by science and technology for, what should be the peaceful and collective social advantageous activity of free and equal men, but utilized instead to exploit and enslave their fellows.
[The electronic media is a powerfully effective hypnotizing device and intentionally utilized as such. Just look at someone staring at their cell phone, computer screen, or television – they’re hypnotized. Look at those that emulate media characters. And as well, the overeating thus ever increasing rate of obesity, the need for new clothes to keep up with the new styles, a new car every couple of years, a newer faster computer, cell phones and other tech gadgets; a constant flow of new stuff causing over-spending and over-consuming and, destroying the planet that is our home. Make your president proud: work harder, make more money and buy more stuff – thus ever increasing the GDP].
Governments and the ruling classes no longer take their stand on what is right, or even on the semblance of justice, but on a skillful organization carried to such a point of perfection by the aid of science and technology that everyone is caught in the circle of destruction and enslavement and feels they have no chance of escaping from it.
Tolstoy here continues on this theme and it is rather interesting how concerns with technology at that time are the same as they are today!
He continues: The method by use of technology is what I can only describe as hypnotizing the people. This consists in checking the moral development of men, and by various suggestions, keeping them back from the ideal of life. This hypnotizing process is organized, at the present, in the most complex manner and starting from their earliest childhood and, continues to act on men till the day of their death. It begins in their earliest years in the compulsory schools, created for this purpose, in which the children have instilled into them the ideas of life which are in direct antagonism with the natural world and the inherent moral conscience of mankind.
In countries where there is a state religion, they teach the children the senseless blasphemies of the Church catechisms. In republican states they teach them the savage superstition of patriotism and nationalism. (With your right hand placed over your heart recite: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United states of America and to the republic for which it stands…”). The process is kept up during later years by the encouragement of religious and patriotic spectacles: “OOOH say can you SEEEE by the dawn’s early light, what so PROOOOUDLY we hailed … the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air …” (bombs exploding in Baghdad – 2003).
The patriotic superstition is encouraged by the creation, with money taken from the people, of national fêtes, spectacles, monuments, and festivals to dispose men to attach importance to their own nation, and to the aggrandizement of the state and its rulers, and to encourage antagonism, fear and even hatred for other nations (in the U.S. and Israel toward, but not limited to Arab nations in particular). Moreover, under every government, without exception, everything is kept back that might emancipate. And instead, everything is encouraged that tends to corrupt the people; such as literary works and programs intending to keep them in the barbarism of religious and patriotic superstition including: all kinds of sensual amusements, [brutish athletic, patriotic and pornographic spectacles in arenas] at home or in theaters, and even the physical means of inducing stupefaction, such as tobacco and alcohol [the concern in his day], which form a principal source of states’ revenue. Even prostitution is encouraged, and not only recognized, but even organized by the government in the majority of states.
This is going on today, right here in Boulder County, Colorado. We have here, in Boulder County, established in a residential community, what may be the largest pornography production and distribution company in the country the result of the Colorado laws having been changed in favor of such this past decade. And, should you believe that pornography is harmless and that pornographers are nice people, then you fortunately have not experienced what I have personally having been targeted by members of organized crime involved in pornography production and distribution. And, please know that my experience is but one of how many others, I could not begin to guess.
Colorado has also recently legalized marijuana production, distribution, and usage laws. Many are ecstatic over this. Never before was there such ardent interest for any other social or political issue, local or otherwise, as was expressed in every form of public discourse the many, no less than rabid, legalize marijuana supporters were able to utilize. Now that it is legalized, there is a separate section of the local newspaper dedicated to and titled simply, MARIJUANA. The community leaders are thrilled at the prospect of the additional revenue from both sources – pornography and marijuana. In my small, almost entirely residential town, just outside of the city of Boulder, the local residents objected to a marijuana facility opening up in the community and the Boulder city council has chimed in with their approval of the facility in direct opposition to the majority of the residents.
I should add, that I was not convinced one way or the other as to whether or not marijuana should be legalized here (or anywhere else) given the problems related to the enforcing of the laws against such. However, I voted against legalization because of the extreme, exaggerated, and overbearing position of the supporters.
Tolstoy’s remarks regarding military service (and, he is not at all subtle):
Military service consists in selecting from all the men, a certain number who have been stupefied and enslaved by the former methods, exposing them to special and even more intensified means of stupefaction and brutalization. And, in doing so, turning them into a passive instrument for carrying out all the cruelties and brutalities required of them by their government. This result is attained by taking them at the youthful age when men have not had time to form clear and definite principles of morals, and removing them from all natural and human conditions of life, home, family and kindred, and useful work. They are shut up together in barracks, dressed in special clothes, and worked upon by cries, drums, music, and shining objects to go through certain daily actions invented for this purpose. And, by these means, are brought into a hypnotic condition in which they cease to be men and become mere senseless machines, submissive to the hypnotizer. These physically vigorous young men (in these days of universal conscription, all young men), hypnotized, armed with murderous weapons, always obedient to the governing authorities and ready for any act of violence at their command and …
By this method the circle of violence is complete. However, there is no chance of breaking through it by force.
Some persons maintain that freedom from violence, or at least a great diminution of it, may be gained by the oppressed forcibly overturning the oppressive government and replacing it by a new one under which such violence and oppression will be unnecessary. But they deceive themselves and others, and their efforts do not better the position of the oppressed, but only make it worse. Their conduct only tends to increase the despotism of government. Their conduct only tends to increase the despotism of government, Tolstoy writes almost prophetically.
Following the deposing of the Russian monarchy in 1917, and murder of the Emperor Nicholas II and his family in 1918, the Bolshevik’s and their leader Joseph Stalin [1878 – 1953] (who ordered the murder of the Tsar and his family) roze to power in Russia. Stalin is historically considered one of the world’s most ruthless and despotic dictators.
Even if we admit that, under a combination of circumstances unfavorable for the government, as in France in 1870, any government might be forcibly overturned and the power transferred to other hands, the new authority would rarely be less oppressive than the old one; on the contrary, always having to defend itself against its dispossessed and exasperated enemies, it would be all the more despotic and cruel, as has always been the case in all revolutions.
While socialists and communists regard the individualistic, capitalistic organization of society as an evil, and the anarchists regard as an evil all government whatsoever, there are royalists, conservatives, and capitalists who consider any socialistic or communistic organization or anarchy as an evil, and all these parties have no means other than violence to bring men to agreement. Whichever of these parties were successful in bringing their schemes to pass, must resort to support its authority the continuation of the existing methods of violence, and even invent new ones.
The oppressed would then be another set of people, and coercion would take some new form. But the violence and oppression would be unchanged or even more cruel, since hatred would have become intensified by the struggle and new forms of oppression would have thus been devised. So it has always been after all revolutions and all attempts at revolution, all conspiracies, and all violent changes of government. Every conflict only strengthens the means of oppression in the hands of those who happen at a given moment to be in power.
The slow progress of eighteen [now twenty] centuries has brought the Christian nations again to the necessity of deciding the question they have evaded: the question of the acceptance or non-acceptance of Christ’s teaching, and the question following upon it in social life of resistance or,
NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE
Footnote: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy died at age 82 in 1910. He spent the last hours of his life on a train preaching love, non-violence and Georgism [the philosophy that economic value is derived from the land therefore, natural resources and natural opportunities belong equally to all residents of a community]. Police tried to limit access to his funeral where thousands of persons lined the street. Here we have a photograph of Tolstoy at the train master’s apartment just following his passing.
Leo Tolstoy – a bright light.
Leslie Taylor, Boulder, Colorado USA, October 30, 2016