132: ‘MY RELIGION’ BY LEO TOLSTOY

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS – IT’LL PROBABLY TAKE WEEKS TO FINISH. SO PLEASE BE PATIENT!

Zingcreed – a Christian/Atheist manifesto. Thinking aloud about religion, a personal polemic by Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are at the heart of the Zingcreed project. I shall be looking at what they said and did, trying to relate it back to its Christian roots (if they exist) and forward to see what political activists today can learn from them today, and indeed how non-violent direct action is being applied already by the 99% to put pressure on the 1%.

I plan to re-read Tolstoy’s classic “My Religion” and to summarise it chapter by chapter as I go along. Then, in another Post I plan to do the same with his epic work “The Kingdom of God is within you”. The chapter headings for the first book are my own.

Introduction (2 pp)
For 35 years I was a nihilist. Then in 1879, faith came to me and my whole life was turned upside down. I found joy and happiness in the doctrines of Jesus. I have come to understand what Jesus said to simple ignorant people. I shall ignore Paul and other commentators. This is the story of how my life was transformed.

Chapter 1 (7pp) The Church, veil removed, ‘Resist not evil’
(a) As a child I read the new Testament and was touched by Jesus’ doctrine of love, humility, and self-denial.
(b) As an adult I realised the Russian Orthodox church which I had joined placed all the emphasis on matters of secondary importance, like fasting, sacraments, dogmatic beliefs and prayers that I didn’t need, and which didn’t seem to me to be based on Christian truth. The church also supported wars, persecutions and the death penalty. I found this both contradictory and confusing.
(c) I re-read the Sermon on the Mount several times. (Matthew chapters 5-7) and Mt 18:3 (” Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”)  Matthew 5:38-39 also affected me deeply: “You have heard that it was said ‘Eye for eye’ and ‘tooth for tooth’. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
This for me was the key. The veil fell away from my eyes. Everything in the gospel now made sense. One had to obey the exhortation “Resist not evil” if one was to become a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus meant neither more nor less than what he said. But was he asking too much. I felt I didn’t have enough strength to ‘turn the other cheek’. It would be very difficult and it certainly wouldn’t lead to happiness. His words call for an absolute renunciation that must have the effect of stifling the individual’s life. I was being called to choose poverty, to bear all things without resistance to evil, even though it brings me persecution, suffering and death.

Chapter 2 (5pp) ‘Resist not evil’ – easy or impracticable? Samuel, King-less Jews
The church taught that the law of Jesus was divine but that human weakness made it impossible to actually put it into practice.  This was why we had governments, armies, courts and private property – all entirely contradictory to the law of Jesus. Jesus himself did not consider his doctrines that difficult to implement. Indeed, one had to obey them to enter the kingdom of heaven. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (  ) and “His commands are not burdensome” (1John 5:3)
As Jesus and his disciples put it into practice, who was I to speak of its impossibility? “Resist not evil” is a command that no one observes, but its meaning is clear. It means never resist, never oppose violence.

Chapter 3 (10pp) ‘Judge not!’ The predicament of mayors, soldiers, jurors. No courts!
How can you not make judgements if you have a position of responsibility in society? It’s pretty inevitable if you’re a juror, soldier or mayor. Property owners depend on the judicial system to keep thieves at bay.

Consider these 4 verses:-
“Judge not that ye be not judged” (Mt 7:1)
“Condemn not and ye shall not be condemned” (Lk 6:37)
“Be ye therefore merciful as your father also is merciful” (Lk 6: )
“Resist not evil” (Mt 5: )

On p.25 Tolstoy quotes the Greek words which are often mistranslated as “Do not speak ill of your neighbour.” In fact it is a much stronger warning than this: “Do not judge your neighbour in human law courts.”

Chapter 4 (8pp) Non-violence. ‘Resist not evil’.
Human laws do not reform criminals, they only make more. There is only one way to suppress evil – return good for evil. For thousands of years men have tried the other method. Now try Jesus’s new law, try the reverse – it’s the new basis for society. Violence will never stop evil, it augments it. Most Christians seem to think it’s impossible to put these teachings into practice – that ‘they’re too idealistic, too visionary: charming nonsense that may be suitable for first century fishermen but not for us.’

Before dismissing Jesus as a mere dreamer, we need to see what he actually said, what his doctrines were, then we need to analyze them before making a decision about their relevance to people today. Two points to note at the outset: Jesus was more a man of action than a dreamer – he died for his doctrines. Secondly, like other sages he denounced Church, State, Civilisation and Culture. In a nutshall his message was ‘do no evil and evil will cease.’ What could be simpler than that? It is against human nature to coerce , imprison and kill others. I find the abundance of goods that I have disturbing because others are starving so that I may eat well and have this life of abundance.

The doctrine of Jesus through its clarity, its simplicity and its wisdom appeals to our human nature; but it is cunningly concealed from the majority of mankind under an entirely different doctrine falsely called by his name, namely the ‘Christianity’ which we see being promulgated by the churches.

 

Chapter 5 (12pp) Did Jesus endorse the cruel Mosaic Laws which contradict his doctrine of Resist not evil?

Chapter 6 (27pp) Jesus’s 5 commandments

Chapter 7 (14pp)

Chapter 8 (17pp)

Chapter 9 (9pp)

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