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Chapter 2

CRITICISMS OF THE DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE ON
THE PART OF BELIEVERS AND OF UNBELIEVERS.

Fate of the Book "What I Believe"--Evasive Character of Religious
Criticisms of Principles of my Book--1st Reply: Use of Force
not Opposed to Christianity--2d Reply: Use of Force Necessary
to Restrain Evil Doers--3d Reply: Duty of Using Force in
Defense of One's Neighbor--4th Reply: The Breach of the Command
of Nonresistance to be Regarded Simply as a Weakness--5th
Reply: Reply Evaded by Making Believe that the Question has
long been Decided--To Devise such Subterfuges and to take
Refuge Behind the Authority of the Church, of Antiquity, and of
Religion is all that Ecclesiastical Critics can do to get out
of the Contradiction between Use of Force and Christianity in
Theory and in Practice--General Attitude of the Ecclesiastical
World and of the Authorities to Profession of True
Christianity--General Character of Russian Freethinking
Critics--Foreign Freethinking Critics--Mistaken Arguments of
these Critics the Result of Misunderstanding the True Meaning
of Christ's Teaching.


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.

On its appearance 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, criticisms, both religious and
secular in character, made their appearance, and these the
government tolerated, and 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--the religious criticisms of men who regard
themselves as believers, and 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 clearly and definitely expressed
in the Sermon on the Mount, and opposed in especial to his command
in regard to resistance to evil, and that in this way they deprive
Christ's teaching of all value. The Church authorities accept the
teaching of the Sermon on the Mount on non-resistance to evil by
force as divine revelation; and therefore one would have thought
that if they felt called upon to write about my book at all, they
would have found it inevitable before everything else to reply to
the principal point of my charge against them, and to say 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 on
a Christian. And they were bound to answer this question, not
after the usual fashion (i. e., "that although on the one side one
cannot absolutely deny, yet on the other side one cannot main
fully assent, all the more seeing that," etc., etc.). No; 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? And can a Christian, then, or can he not, always
remaining a Christian, go to law or make any use of the law, or
seek his own protection in the law? And can the Christian, or can
he not, remaining a Christian, take part in the administration of
government, using compulsion against his neighbors? And--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, remaining a Christian, against Christ's direct prohibition,
promise obedience in future actions directly opposed to his
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, and seemed to
require a plain and direct answer; but in all the criticisms of my
book there was no such plain and direct answer. No; my book
received precisely the same treatment as all the attacks upon the
teachers of the Church for their defection from the Law of Christ
of which history from the days of Constantine is full.

A very great deal was said in connection with my book of my having
incorrectly interpreted this and other passages of the Gospel, 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--how to reconcile this
duty with the obligation of using force in war upon men of our own
or a foreign people.

All that are worth calling answers to this question can be brought
under the following five heads. I have tried to bring together in
this connection all I could, not only from the criticisms on my
book, but from what has been written in past times on this theme.

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 assertion, and that if anyone does
contradict it they will hear nothing of the contradiction. These
men have, for the most part, through the intoxication of power, so
lost the right idea of what that Christianity is in the name of
which they hold their position that what is Christian in
Christianity presents itself to them as heresy, while everything
in the Old and New Testaments which can be distorted into an
antichristian and heathen 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 refute themselves, or, rather,
renounce Christ, 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 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 prove to anyone what it is trying to prove.

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 this is the
highest moral duty, yet that there are wicked men in the world,
and if these wicked men mere not restrained by force, the whole
world and all good men would come to ruin through them. This
argument I found for the first time in John Chrysostom, and I slow
how he is mistaken in my book "What I believe."

This argument is ill grounded, because if we allow ourselves to
regard any men as intrinsically wicked men, 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 all individual men and societies of men
mutually regarding each other as wicked men, as is the case now.
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.

The third kind of answer, still more subtle than the preceding,
consists in asserting that though the command of non-resistance to
evil by force is binding on the Christian when the evil is
directed against himself personally, it ceases to be binding when
the evil is directed against his neighbors, and that then the
Christian is not only not bound to fulfill the commandment, but is
even bound to act in opposition to it in defense of his neighbors,
and to use force against transgressors by force. This assertion
is an absolute assumption, and one cannot find in all 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 have recourse
to force in face of a danger threatening an other, 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 danger for another, there is no occasion for
the use of force which could not be justified on the ground of
danger threatening some other man. They killed and burnt witches,
they killed aristocrats and girondists, they killed their enemies
because those who were in authority regarded them as dangerous for
the people.

If this important limitation, which fundamentally undermines the
whole value of the commandment, had entered into Christ's meaning,
there must have been mention of it somewhere. 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 people, and therefore he
said: It is better for one man to die, that the whole people
perish not. And the erroneousness of such a limitation is still
more clearly expressed in the words spoken to Peter when he tried
to resist by force evil directed against Jesus (Matt. xxvi. 52).
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 greater violence are always
untrustworthy, because when force is used against one who has not
yet carried out his evil intent, I 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 that society may be rid of him, and
we never know whether the criminal of to-day 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 think--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--I
kill the ruffian and save the girl. But the death or the wounding
of the ruffian has positively taken place, while what would have
happened if this had not been 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 may happen. Ninety-
nine per cent of the evil of the world is founded on this
reasoning--from the Inquisition to dynamite bombs, and the
executions or punishments of tens of thousands of political
criminals.

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 declaring that they do not deny the
command of non-resisting evil, but recognize it; but they only do
not ascribe to this command the special exclusive value attached
to it by sectarians. To regard this command as the indispensable
condition of Christian life, as Garrison, Ballou, Dymond, the
Quakers, the Mennonites and the Shakers do now, and as the
Moravian brothers, the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Bogomilites,
and the Paulicians did in the past, is a one-sided heresy. This
command has neither more nor less value than all the other
commands, and the man who through weakness transgresses any
command whatever, the command of non-resistance included, does not
cease to be a Christian if he hold 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
conscious denial of a command to a casual breach of it. But one
need only compare the attitude of the teachers of the Church to
this and to other commands which they really do recognize, to be
convinced that their attitude to this is completely different from
their attitude to other duties.

The command against fornication they do really recognize, and
consequently they do not admit that in any case fornication can
cease to be wrong. The Church preachers never point out cases in
which the command against fornication 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 they not only do
not teach teat 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 is, go
to law, fight, punish. So that occasions for fulfilling the
commandment of nonresistance to evil by force are taught for the
most part as occasions for not fulfilling it. 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 law courts, prisons, cannons,
guns, armies, and wars are under the immediate sanction of the
Church? It cannot be true, then, that this command is recognized
by the preachers of the Church as on a level with other commands.

The preachers of the Church clearly, do not recognize it; only not
daring to acknowledge this, they try to conceal their not
recognizing it.

So much for the fourth reply.

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
worth while to talk about it. This method of reply is employed by
all the more or less cultivated religious writers, that is to say,
those who feel the laws of Christ binding for themselves. Knowing
that the contradiction existing between the teaching of Christ
which we profess with our lips and the whole order of our lives
cannot be removed by words, and that touching upon it can only
make it more obvious, 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.

[Footnote: I only know one work which differs somewhat from
this general definition, and that is not a criticism in the
precise meaning of the word, but an article treating of the
same subject and having my book in view. I mean 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; and the same
with the prohibition of swearing. He does not, as others do,
deny the meaning of Christ's teaching, but unfortunately he
does not draw from this admission the inevitable deductions
which present themselves spontaneously in our life when we
understand Christ's teaching in that way. If we must not
oppose evil by force, nor swear, everyone naturally asks,
"How, then, about military service? and the oath of
obedience?" To this question the author gives no reply; but
it must be answered. And if he cannot answer, then he would
do better no to speak on the subject at all, as such silence
leads to error.

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:
everything is discussed except what constitutes the principal
subject of the book. 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.

After conscientiously explaining in brief the contents of my book,
Farrar says:

"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," he 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--i. e., 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 he concludes in a tranquil spirit:

"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. With
few and rare exceptions," he continues, "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 human society, which
themselves rest on divine sanctions as well as on inevitable
conditions. Were it my object to prove how untenable is the
doctrine of communism, based by Count Tolstoy upon the divine
paradoxes [sic], 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 worth while to prove what everyone
knows; 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, of antiquity, 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, holy synods, and popes, is all of it a base
lie and a calumny foisted upon Christ 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 a calumny 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 recruiting sessions; at a table
before the zertzal--the symbol of the Tzars authority--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 cross on his breast, near them, is prosperous-
looking old Priest in a silken cassock, with long gray hair
flowing on to his cope; before a lectern who wears the golden
cross and has 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, but we've no time to listen to it, we 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 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 that the loud, solemnly uttered sentences of the
calm, self-confident official and the priest are a lie and a
deception.

Such is the impression produced not only by Farrar's article, but
by all those solemn sermons, articles, and books which make their
appearance from all sides directly there is anywhere a glimpse of
truth exposing a predominant falsehood. 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 it in its life, and teaches
people to do the same.

Those who justify themselves by the first method, directly,
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 long ago,
and no longer offering a possibility of doubt to anyone--they seem
safe from attack, and will be beyond attack till men come to
realize that they are under the narcotic influence exerted on them
by governments and churches, and are no longer affected by it.

Such was the attitude of the spiritual critics--i. e., those
professing faith in Christ--to my book. And their attitude could
not have been different. They are bound to take up this attitude
by the contradictory position in which they find themselves
between belief in the divinity of their Master and 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 critics who are not
bound to Christ's teaching in any way, and can therefore take an
independent view of it. I had anticipated that freethinking
writers would look at Christ, not merely, like the Churchmen, as
the founder of a religion of personal salvation, but, to express
it in their language, as a reformer who laid down new principles
of life and destroyed the old, and whose reforms are not yet
complete, but are still in progress even now.

Such a view of Christ and his teaching follows from my book. But
to my astonishment, out of the great number of critics of my book
there was not one, either Russian or foreign, who treated the
subject from the side from which it was approached in the book--
that is, who criticised Christ's doctrines as philosophical,
moral, and social principles, to use their scientific expressions.
This was not done in a single criticism. The freethinking Russian
critics taking my book as though its whole contents could be
reduced to non-resistance to evil, and understanding the doctrine
of non-resistance to evil itself (no doubt for greater convenience
in refuting it) as though it would prohibit every kind of conflict
with 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 hypothetical doctrine of Christ were all the
more successful since they knew beforehand that their arguments
could not be contested or corrected, for the censorship, not
having passed the book, did not pass articles in its defense.

It is a remarkable thing that among us, where one cannot say a
word about the Holy Scriptures without the prohibition of the
censorship, for some years past there have been in all the
journals constant attacks and criticisms on the command of Christ
simply and directly stated in Matt. v. 39. The Russian advanced
critics, obviously unaware of all that has been done to elucidate
the question of non-resistance, and sometimes even imagining
apparently that the rule of non-resistance to evil had been
invented by me personally, fell foul of the very idea of it. They
opposed it and attacked it, and advancing with great heat
arguments which had long ago been analyzed and refuted from every
point of view, they demonstrated that a man ought invariably to
defend (with violence) all the injured and oppressed, and that
thus the doctrine of non-resistance to evil is an immoral
doctrine.

To all Russian critics the whole import of Christ's command seemed
reducible to the fact that it would hinder them from the active
opposition to evil to which they are accustomed. So that the
principle of non-resistance to evil by force has been attacked by
two opposing camps: the conservatives, because this principle
would hinder their activity in resistance to evil as applied to
the revolutionists, in persecution and punishment of them; the
revolutionists, too, 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 may
ruin the national prosperity; 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 nonresistance to
evil by force, in spite of the fact that it is the greatest terror
and danger for every despotism. For ever since the beginning of
the world, the use of violence of every kind, from the Inquisition
to the Schlüsselburg fortress, has rested and still rests on the
opposite principle of the necessity of resisting evil by force.

Besides this, the Russian critics have pointed out the fact that
the application of the command of non-resistance to practical life
would turn mankind aside out of the path of civilization along
which it is moving. The path of civilization on which mankind in
Europe is moving is in their opinion the one along which all
mankind ought always to move.

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 being less bitter, and in showing
more culture, but even in the subject-matter.

In discussing my book and the Gospel 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
is only a string of very pretty impracticable dreams DU CHARMANT
DOCTEUR, as Reran says, 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 a 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: 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 partly it
is 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 author Savage, and Ingersoll, the popular
freethinking American preacher, and many others.

"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 simplicity, the exact
notion of Christ's teaching held by persons of refinement and
culture of our times. The teaching is no use for our industrial
age, precisely as though the existence of this industrial age were
a sacred fact 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
misapprehension--namely, that Christ's teaching, one of the
consequences of which is non-resistance to evil, is of no use to
us because it requires a change of our life.

Christ's teaching is useless because, if it were carried into
practice, life could not go on as at present; we must add: if we
have begun by living sinfully, as we do live and are accustomed to
live. Not only is the question of non-resistance to evil not
discussed; the very mention of the fact that the duty of non-
resistance enters into Christ's teaching is regarded as
satisfactory proof of the impracticability of the whole teaching.

Meanwhile one would have thought it was necessary to point out at
least some kind of solution of 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
evil, in spite of the fact that my opponent thinks it 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 forcibly to resist what we consider evil
until we have found a universal criterion--that 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;
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 to resist it by force. But we know all the while that
granting such a right to certain persons does not decide the
question (still less so when the are ourselves the certain
persons), since there are always people who do not recognize this
right in the authorized persons or assemblies.

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 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.


Leo Tolstoy

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