Friday, November 07, 2014

Bethink Yourselves, by Tolstoy: Christian Pacifism?

"Then I saw and the lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, 'Come.'  I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." - Revelation 6:1-2

Tolstoy had seen enough of war up close to earn a hearing.  This is his response to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 that ended badly for the Russians.  To a large extent it is a religious work also providing his view on religion and what he sees as perhaps a path to hope.  In this he finds that Jesus provides the answer, that we are to love one another.  So far so good, but let's hear Tolstoy in his own words:

"If we indeed love our enemies, if even now we began to love our enemies, the Japanese, we would have no enemy."

Um, really?  Didn't Jesus say that the whole world would hate us?  But perhaps the notion of enemy is strictly an existential one that exists only in ourselves, so that even though others might plot evil against us, we can still declare that they are not our enemy.  Then there is the smarty in me who wants to suggest that if we didn't have any enemies, we couldn't fulfill the command to love them, thus, perhaps we should work to have more enemies so that we have more opportunities to love them!

But Tolstoy gives us something more:

"To love the yellow people, whom we call our foes, means, not to teach them under the name of Christianity absurd superstitions about the fall of man, redemption, resurrection, etc., not to teach them the art of deceiving and killing others, but to teach them justice, unselfishness, compassion, love--and that not by words, but by the example of our own good life."

This a clear profession that Tolstoy's religion is Modern-anity.  i.e., it is a selective rendering of a few of the teachings of Jesus out of context, mixed in with a complete rejection of everything that Jesus did.  War will always be with us, because man is fallen.  Without a resurrection, there is no judgment, and with no judgment, it is meaningless to speak against war and to command love.  Tolstoy rejects the sacraments of the church, apparently in ignorance that they are emblems of the love Jesus showed us by dying for us.  At the same time, Tolstoy sees "religion" as the answer and rejects "science", which in this context means the scientistic pretentions of the intellectuals.  He also implies that Buddhism has the same lofty principles as Christianity, apparently ignorant that Buddhism has no principles of any consequence.

The end of the Japanese Russian war was a major defeat for Russia and Japan was empowered to continue its brutal conquest into Korea, China and beyond.  The timing of this work is also striking, since it appears that the social revolutionaries used a phony call to pacifism to further their ruthless aims.   And so fanatics will keep on going out conquering and to conquer.  May Christians find ways to offer relief.

No comments: