Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tolstoy's Kingdom of God

Late in life, Tolstoy wrote a number of non-fiction works having to do with spirituality and Christian morality. These books eventually got him excommunicated from the Orthodox Church (in 1901). Probably no single work sums up the beliefs that got him excommunicated better than The Kingdom of God is Within You (available online free, in several formats, here).

What are these radical beliefs? Tolstoy insisted on a literal interpretation of Jesus's moral teachings (the Sermon on the Mount, in particular), specifically Jesus's injunction against the use of violence even in the face of evil. Tolstoy believed that when Jesus said "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38–5:42 KJV) he literally meant to practice love even against those who come at you with evil intent. This, of course, has far-reaching consequences; it means no military service, for one thing. Tolstoy was convinced that only through the practice of non-violence can the tide of violence in human affairs be ended.


Tolstoy at work in his study, by
Ilya Efimovich Repin (Илья́ Ефи́мович Ре́пин).
Mohandas Gandhi was profoundly influenced by Tolstoy's writings (he read The Kingdom of God is Within You when it came out in 1894 and again, in South African jails, in the early 1900s). Indeed, Gandhi listed Tolstoy's book, as well as John Ruskin's Unto This Last and the poet Shrimad Rajchandra (Raychandbhai), as the three most important influences in his life. When Gandhi opened an ashram in South Africa to house the families of imprisoned Indian workers, he named it Tolstoy Farm.

The Kingdom of God is Within You is Tolstoy's definitive statement of his understanding of Christian moral teachings. It is a shocking book, even today, for many Christians in that it paints the overwhelming majority of Christians (and Christian leaders) as hypocrites and perverters of God's word. It raises many interesting questions, such as: Who is the "better Christian," one who believes in the virgin birth (and Jesus's resurrection) but doesn't practice non-violence, or one who rejects the miraculous events surrounding Jesus but accepts his moral teachings without modification?

The Kingdom of God is Within You will stir an inner dialog in anyone who reads it. And on that basis alone, I recommend it.

9 comments:

  1. Yes, a favourite of mine. Even the title has meaning.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent highlight of the contrast Tolstoy draws upon - doctrine vs. actual practice. I think Jesus said it well when he instructed his followers ..."do as they say for they sit in the seat of Moses, but don't do what they do.."

    ReplyDelete
  3. But as Augustine pointed out so long ago, once you start pucking and choosing what tO accept & what to reject from the Canon of the NT, there is no end to it. You can then 'prove' whatever you like, even justify depraved morality.

    Tolstoy certainly did this picking & choosing, even if his own morality sounds OK at first glance.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We provide a wide range of computer chairs, ergonomic chairs, leather chairs and thus, we are leading manufacturer of office furniture chairs. We supply products not only to local clients but also to national and international clients.
    Chair Manufacturers in Mumbai
    Chair Supplier in Mumbai
    Office Chair Supplier in Mumbai
    Visitor Chair Supplier in Mumbai
    Chair Dealers in Mumbai

    ReplyDelete
  5. Our last set of boxes is the Large and Tall boxes, These are ideal for your larger linen, such as bedding, pillows and cushions from beds and sofas. You can also use other linens such as spare bedding, towels etc. The last items that are effectively packed into Tall boxes is your table and floor standing lamps.
    Packers and movers in malabar hill
    Packers and movers in grant road
    Packers and movers in churchgate
    Packers and movers in haji ali
    Packers and movers in worli

    ReplyDelete
  6. When stacking the boxes, ensure plates, and chinaware are stacked vertically against the side of the box to ensure the weight is spread evenly.
    Uses of Additional Packing Materials.
    Packers and Movers in Mumbai
    Packers and Movers in Nahur
    Packers and Movers in Mulund
    Packers and Movers in Thane
    Packers and Movers in Kalyan

    ReplyDelete
  7. Many packers and movers Hyderabad, Telangana may boast about offering a huge list of services with little to no skill or expertise to carry out those services as required.
    Movers and Packers in Gachibowli
    Movers and Packers in Kukatpally
    Movers and Packers in Chanda Nagar
    Movers and Packers in Manikonda

    ReplyDelete
  8. Many packers and movers Hyderabad, Telangana may boast about offering a huge list of services with little to no skill or expertise to carry out those services as required. You need to check with every packer and mover if they have the experience to fulfil your specific requirements properly, and will complete your relocation in the most cost-effective way possible.
    Movers and Packers in Madhapur
    Movers and Packers in Gachibowli
    Movers and Packers in Chanda Nagar
    Movers and Packers in Nallagandla
    Movers and Packers in Kukatpally
    Movers and Packers in Miyapur
    Movers and Packers in Sainikpuri

    ReplyDelete

Add a comment. Registration required because trolls.