Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tolstoy: Resistance is Futile

Getting towards the end of Tolstoy's work, his rhetoric gives way to rage against the church, whether Eastern Orthodox, Romanist, or Protestant.  He then pronounces them to be so utterly corrupt that their destruction is inevitable.  Non-judgmentalism in action?

But let's rewind a bit.  There is a long winded Ecclesiastes style rant where he mocks all those who have not brought their life to a clear meaning and purpose.  Presumably he has found his own clear meaning and purpose, but I can't actually find a quote in this work.  Maybe I will run across this in a different work.  He vents against the idle rich and notes that their physical and mental health problems vastly exceed those of the working poor, while medicines cause them more problems than they solve.  While I can certainly appreciate this viewpoint, I wonder what he would think of today's large percentage of idle poor who suffer from obesity, STDs and various addictions, all fueled by government policies that are in turn inspired by his spiritual descendents in moralizing.

As for his true view of Jesus, we have this in Tolstoy's commentary on Jesus feeding 5,000:

"That many had brought provisions with them is evident from there being twelve basketfuls gathered of what remained, as we read in all the four gospels.  (If nobody had had anything except the boy, there would not have been twelve baskets in the field.)  Had Christ not done what He did, that is, the 'miracle' of feeding thousands with five loaves, what now takes place in the world would have taken place then.  Those who had provisions with them would have eaten all they had and would have over-eaten rather than see that anything should be left.  ..."  What I Believe, by Leo Tolstoy

And so Tolstoy reinterprets the text in order to eliminate the miracle:  In the Tolstoy retelling, many were secretly carrying food, and were enticed into sharing due to the example of Christ.  Based on this statement and several others, I think it is safe to say that Tolstoy was an atheist.  He did not believe that Jesus had any supernatural powers.  He was simply a teacher.  Where this gets problematic is that the disciples - the same fools or charlatans who twisted the story of the feeding of the 5,000 - these idiots are the ones who told us of the moral code that Jesus taught, apparently leaving nothing to the imagination by employing a pure literalism, which they completely failed to do elsewhere.  At this point it is important to note that Tolstoy is pretty much giving us a straight Mainline Christian teaching.  He goes on to prophecy the doom of the church:

"The life of the world in our time follows its own course, independently of the teaching of the Church.  That teaching has remained so far behind that men of the world hearken no more to the voices of the teachers; and indeed, there is nothing worth listening to, because the Church only gives explanations that the world has already grown tired of - explanations of an organization that is rapidly decaying."

Fast forwarding to our era, Christianity certainly has had a struggle, but this has mostly been due to atheists infecting the schools, seminaries and pulpits and systematically mis-teaching Christianity.  Yet contrary to Tolstoy's prophecy, Christianity is still growing in spite of the storm.

"All religious creeds, except that of the Christian Church, enjoin, besides the observance of certain rites, good deeds and forbearance from evil ones."

This is a fascinating statement in that it is in direct contradiction to those faiths which exist only for the purpose of providing health, wealth, and prosperity to their adherents, and the others which command their followers to kill, maim, enslave and torment others until world domination is achieved.  Still others demanded human blood or immoral sex acts.  But Tolstoy will have none of this.  All religions are good, except for the single exception, which is Christianity.  And if the non-Christian philosophies promote evil, it is only - in his mind - because they have accepted the teaching of the church.  This does remind me of Augustine's assertion that there were no moral teachings in the Pagan religions of his time.

I still have another 40 minutes of this rant to listen to.  One thing to note is that Tolstoy's religion has neither judges nor courts of any kind, so that there is "no controlling legal authority" for anything.  There is also no resurrection, and thus no final judgment after death, so he needn't worry if anything he says isn't quite correct.

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