Saturday, September 28, 2019


Leo Tolstoy's 1894 book "The Kingdom of God is Within You" subtitled "Christianity not as a mystic religion but as a new theory of life" is one of the most amazing books I've read. Lest you think I'm a bible thumping holier than thou type, please be aware this book is a scathing attack on what many call Christianity.

It's hard to imagine what impact there would be to society if this book were taught in schools, preached from the pulpits and discussed in cafes. An adolescent exposed to Tolstoy's thinking would be a poor fit for the roles that our churches, schools and government prepare them to fill. We wouldn't have soldiers, or policeman, or executioners, or judges...there'd be no political leaders, political parties or in fact any government at all.

Yes yes all very utopian...and scary particularly if you believe that humans are somehow quite different from one another and that you should fear, subjugate and exploit, rather than love, other humans. An adult exposed to Tolstoy's thinking would at least be spurred to ask if some of their most important, and generally unexamined, truths may be fictions.

Tolstoy wrote beautifully, clearly and logically - I can only wonder how much better the nuances of his writing would be in the original Russian. The passage where Tolstoy writes about considering, "your real positions in eternity as a creature who at the will of Someone has been called out of unconsciousness after an eternity of non-existence to which you may return at any moment at his will" seems quite beautiful to me.

Tolstoy tells us that freedom without truth is an impossibility. Individuals unable or unwilling to search for truth are not and will never be - free. He proposes the gospel of Jesus Christ and the scientific method as useful paths for those searching for truth.

I hesitate to excerpt portions of the book because it's message comes through building upon ideas rather than catchy aphorisms. Nevertheless the following are some excerpts from the book that might allow you to see if it's the sort of thing that interests you. Tolstoy's ideas were of interest to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi if that helps pique your interest any.


The following quotes are from Leo Tolstoy's book "The Kingdom of God is Within You". 

"There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is to recognize and profess the truth."

"Share all that you have with others, do not heap up riches, do not steal, do not cause suffering, do not kill, do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you, all that has been said not eighteen hundred, but five thousand years ago, and there could be no doubt of the truth of this law if it were not for hypocrisy. Except for hypocrisy men could not have failed, if not to put the law in practice, at least to recognize it, and admit that it is wrong not to put it in practice."

"The liberty of man does not consist in the power of acting independently of the progress of life and the influences arising from it, but in the capacity for recognizing and acknowledging the truth revealed to him, and becoming the free and joyful participator in the eternal and infinite work of God, the life of the world; or on the other hand for refusing to recognize the truth, and so being a miserable and reluctant slave dragged whither he has no desire to go."

"Thieves, robbers, murderers, and cheats, who commit crimes recognized by themselves and everyone else as evil, serve as an example of what ought not to be done, and deter others from similar crimes. But those who commit the same thefts, robberies, murders, and other crimes, disguising them under all kinds of religious or scientific or humanitarian justifications, as all landowners, merchants, manufacturers, and government officials do, provoke others to imitation, and so do harm not only to those who are directly the victims of their crimes, but to thousands and millions of men whom they corrupt by obliterating their sense of the distinction between right and wrong."

"A single fortune gained by trading in goods necessary to the people or in goods pernicious in their effects, or by financial speculations, or by acquiring land at a low price the value of which is increased by the needs of the population, or by an industry ruinous to the health and life of those employed in it, or by military or civil service of the state, or by any employment which trades on men's evil instincts—a single fortune acquired in any of these ways, not only with the sanction, but even with the approbation of the leading men in society, and masked with an ostentation of philanthropy, corrupts men incomparably more than millions of thefts and robberies committed against the recognized forms of law and punishable as crimes."

"Whatever names we dignify ourselves with, whatever uniforms we wear, whatever priests we anoint ourselves before, however many millions we possess, however many guards are stationed along our road, however many policemen guard our wealth, however many so-called criminals, revolutionists, and anarchists we punish, whatever exploits we have performed, whatever states we may have founded, fortresses and towers we may have erected—from Babel to the Eiffel Tower—there are two inevitable conditions of life, confronting all of us, which destroy its whole meaning; (1) death, which may at any moment pounce upon each of us; and (2) the transitoriness of all our works, which so soon pass away and leave no trace. Whatever we may do—found companies, build palaces and monuments, write songs and poems—it is all not for long time. Soon it passes away, leaving no trace. And therefore, however we may conceal it from ourselves, we cannot help seeing that the significance of our life cannot lie in our personal fleshly existence, the prey of incurable suffering and inevitable death, nor in any social institution or organization."

"Whoever you may be who are reading these lines, think of your position and of your duties—not of your position as landowner, merchant, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, soldier, which has been temporarily allotted you by men, and not of the imaginary duties laid on you by those positions, but of your real positions in eternity as a creature who at the will of Someone has been called out of unconsciousness after an eternity of non-existence to which you may return at any moment at his will. Think of your duties—not your supposed duties as a landowner to your estate, as a merchant to your business, as emperor, minister, or official to the state, but of your real duties, the duties that follow from your real position as a being called into life and endowed with reason and love."

"Are you doing what he demands of you who has sent you into the world, and to whom you will soon return? Are you doing what he wills? Are you doing his will, when as landowner or manufacturer you rob the poor of the fruits of their toil, basing your life on this plunder of the workers, or when, as judge or governor, you ill treat men, sentence them to execution, or when as soldiers you prepare for war, kill and plunder?"