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 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 …” (U.S. 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 of them 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, 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.
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