Tolstoy and Christianity….

February 12, 2012

After watching the ending of a movie about Leo Tolstoy the other day I got interested in his life and writings. It surprised me to learn that he like Thomas Jefferson had written his own version of the Bible called the “Tolstoy Bible”. He again like Jefferson believed that the Christian church had strayed too far from the words of its founder Jesus Christ. I also learned that much of what Gandhi practiced come from Tolstoy’s writings.  Here are some words about that from Wikipedia:

Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs centered on the Sermon on the Mount, particularly the injunction to turn the other cheek, which he saw as a justification for pacifism, nonviolence and nonresistance. Various versions of “Tolstoy’s Bible” have been published, indicating the passages Tolstoy most relied on, specifically, the reported words of Jesus himself.  Tolstoy believed being a Christian required him to be a pacifist; the consequences of being a pacifist, and the apparently inevitable waging of war by government, made him a philosophical anarchist.

Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one’s neighbor and God rather than looking outward to the Church or state for guidance. His belief in nonresistance (nonviolence) when faced by conflict is another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ’s teachings. By directly influencing Mahatma Gandhi with this idea through his work The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy has had a huge influence on the nonviolent resistance movement to this day. 

Before this study the only thing I had credited Tolstoy with was his very long book “War and Peace”. It is interesting to see the more complete man now.  Much of his spiritual understanding are my own as well as the Quakers that I so admire.  To get a better understanding of Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs here are some of the words from the above cited book entitled “The Kingdom of God is Within You”. It now resides on my Kindle for a future read.

From: The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy  1894

But Christ could not have founded the Church, that is, what we now understand by that word. For nothing like the idea of the Church as we know it now, with its sacraments, miracles, and above all its claim to infallibility, is to be found either in Christ’s words or in the ideas of the men of that time. The fact that men called what was formed afterward by the same word as Christ used for something totally different, does not give them the right to assert that Christ founded the one, true Church. Besides, if Christ had really founded such an institution as the Church for the foundation of all his teaching and the whole faith, he would certainly have described this institution clearly and definitely, and would have given the only true Church, besides tales of miracles, which are used to support every kind of superstition, some tokens so unmistakable that no doubt of its genuineness could ever have arisen. But nothing of the sort was done by him. And there have been and still are different institutions, each calling itself the true Church…..

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ’s teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so- called believers.

Some very interesting words from a very influential person of his time.

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4 responses to Tolstoy and Christianity….

  1. 

    Here some excerpts from “The Jesus I Never Knew” by Philip Yancey:

    “Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky”
    http://tim-shey.blogspot.com/2010/08/tolstoy-and-dostoyevsky.html

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  2. 

    Tim, Thanks for the reference. I, and I imagine some of my readers, am very interesting to learn more about this topic.

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  3. 
    Doug Everingham August 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    To my understanding Tolstoy was influenced by Quaker’s after one or several visits to England. Its also my understanding that Tolstoy visited the Molotchna Colonies in the Ukraine area where Mennonite villages were established. Read “The Seed of the Ukraine” He may well have been influenced by Mennonite thinking. He was in great search for the truth and found it in the concept of “Universal Love”.

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  4. 

    Welcome Doug and thanks for the additional info. Yes, I too believe that he was greatly influenced by the Quaker. I am greatly influenced by them also but who I am 🙂

    The more I study Quakers the more I am convinced that the core, I dare not call it theology, is as close to the teachings of Jesus as any denomination around today.

    Come back often to put in your two cents. I will need all the help I can get in the coming weeks with my parallel study of Christian history and the Roman empire.

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