My Religion : Chapter 03

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(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the laboring majority have the same rights as other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible." (From : "To the Czar and His Assistants," by Leo Tolstoy, ....)
• "You are surprised that soldiers are taught that it is right to kill people in certain cases and in war, while in the books admitted to be holy by those who so teach, there is nothing like such a permission..." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "People who take part in Government, or work under its direction, may deceive themselves or their sympathizers by making a show of struggling; but those against whom they struggle (the Government) know quite well, by the strength of the resistance experienced, that these people are not really pulling, but are only pretending to." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)


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Chapter 03


We are wrong when we say that the Christian doctrine is concerned only with the salvation of the individual, and has nothing to do with questions of State. Such an assertion is simply a bold affirmation of an untruth, which, when we examine it seriously, falls of itself to the ground. It is well (so I said); I will resist not evil; I will turn the other cheek in private life; but hither comes the enemy, or here is an oppressed nation, and I am called upon to do my part in the struggle against evil, to go forth and kill. I must decide the question, to serve God or tohu, to go to war or not to go. Perhaps I am a peasant; I am appointed mayor of a village, a judge, a juryman; I am obliged to take the oath of office, to judge, to condemn. What ought I to do? Again I must choose between the divine law and the human law. Perhaps I am a monk living in a monastery; the neighboring peasants trespass upon our pasturage, and I am appointed to resist evil, to plead for justice against the wrong-doers. Again I must choose. It is a dilemma from which no man can escape.

I do not speak of those whose entire lives are passed in resisting evil, as military authorities, judges, or governors. No one is so obscure that he is not obliged to choose between the service of God and[22] the service of tohu, in his relation to the State. My very existence, entangled with that of the State and the social existence organized by the State, exacts from me an anti-Christian activity directly contrary to the commandments of Jesus. In fact, with conscription and compulsory jury service, this pitiless dilemma arises before every one. Every one is forced to take up murderous weapons; and even if he does not get as far as murder, his weapons must be ready, his carbine loaded, and his sword keen of edge, that he may declare himself ready for murder. Every one is forced into the service of the courts to take part in meting out judgment and sentence; that is, to deny the commandment of Jesus, "Resist not evil," in acts as well as in words.

The soldier's problem, the Gospel or military regulations, divine law or human law, is before mankind to-day as it was in the time of Samuel. It was forced upon Jesus and upon his disciples; it is forced in these times upon all who would be Christians; and it was forced upon me.

The law of Jesus, with its doctrine of love, humility, and self-denial, touched my heart more deeply than ever before. But everywhere, in the annals of history, in the events that were going on about me, in my individual life, I saw the law opposed in a manner revolting to sentiment, conscience, and reason, and encouraging to brute instincts. I felt that if I adopted the law of Jesus, I should be alone; I should pass many unhappy hours; I should be persecuted and afflicted as Jesus had said. But if I adopted[23] the human law, everybody would approve; I should be in peace and safety, with all the resources of civilization at my command to put my conscience at ease. As Jesus said, I should laugh and be glad. I felt all this, and so I did not analyze the meaning of the doctrine of Jesus, but sought to understand it in such a way that it might not interfere with my life as an animal. That is, I did not wish to understand it at all. This determination not to understand led me into delusions which now astound me. As an instance in point, let me explain my former understanding of these words:—

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Matt. vii. 1.)

"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned." (Luke vi. 37.)

The courts in which I served, and which insured the safety of my property and my person, seemed to be institutions so indubitably sacred and so entirely in accord with the divine law, it had never entered into my head that the words I have quoted could have any other meaning than an injunction not to speak ill of one's neighbor. It never occurred to me that Jesus spoke in these words of the courts of human law and justice. It was only when I understood the true meaning of the words, "Resist not evil," that the question arose as to Jesus' advice with regard to tribunals. When I understood that Jesus would denounce them, I asked myself, Is not this the real meaning: Not only do not judge your neighbor, do not speak ill of him, but do not judge him in the courts, do not judge him in any of the[24] tribunals that you have instituted? Now in Luke (vi. 37-49) these words follow immediately the doctrine that exhorts us to resist not evil and to do good to our enemies. And after the injunction, "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful," Jesus says, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned." "Judge not;" does not this mean, Institute no tribunals for the judgment of your neighbor? I had only to bring this boldly before myself when heart and reason united in an affirmative reply.

To show how far I was before from the true interpretation, I shall confess a foolish pleasantry for which I still blush. When I was reading the New Testament as a divine book at the time that I had become a believer, I was in the habit of saying to my friends who were judges or attorneys, "And you still judge, although it is said, 'Judge not, and ye shall not be judged'?" I was so sure that these words could have no other meaning than a condemnation of evil-speaking that I did not comprehend the horrible blasphemy which I thus committed. I was so thoroughly convinced that these words did not mean what they did mean, that I quoted them in their true sense in the form of a pleasantry.

I shall relate in detail how it was that all doubt with regard to the true meaning of these words was effaced from my mind, and how I saw their purport to be that Jesus denounced the institution of all human tribunals, of whatever sort; that he meant to say so, and could not have expressed himself[25] otherwise. When I understood the command, "Resist not evil," in its proper sense, the first thing that occurred to me was that tribunals, instead of conforming to this law, were directly opposed to it, and indeed to the entire doctrine; and therefore that if Jesus had thought of tribunals at all, he would have condemned them.

Jesus said, "Resist not evil"; the sole aim of tribunals is to resist evil. Jesus exhorted us to return good for evil; tribunals return evil for evil. Jesus said that we were to make no distinction between those who do good and those who do evil; tribunals do nothing else. Jesus said, Forgive, forgive not once or seven times, but without limit; love your enemies, do good to them that hate you—but tribunals do not forgive, they punish; they return not good but evil to those whom they regard as the enemies of society. It would seem, then, that Jesus denounced judicial institutions. Perhaps (I said) Jesus never had anything to do with courts of justice, and so did not think of them. But I saw that such a theory was not tenable. Jesus, from his childhood to his death, was concerned with the tribunals of Herod, of the Sanhedrin, and of the High Priests. I saw that Jesus must have regarded courts of justice as wrong. He told his disciples that they would be dragged before the judges, and gave them advice as to how they should comport themselves. He said of himself that he should be condemned by a tribunal, and he showed what the attitude toward judges ought to be. Jesus, then,[26] must have thought of the judicial institutions which condemned him and his disciples; which have condemned and continue to condemn millions of men.

Jesus saw the wrong and faced it. When the sentence against the woman taken in adultery was about to be carried into execution, he absolutely denied the possibility of human justice, and demonstrated that man could not be the judge since man himself was guilty. And this idea he has propounded many times, as where it is declared that one with a beam in his eye cannot see the mote in another's eye, or that the blind cannot lead the blind. He even pointed out the consequences of such misconceptions,—the disciple would be above his Master.

Perhaps, however, after having denounced the incompetency of human justice as displayed in the case of the woman taken in adultery, or illustrated in the parable of the mote and the beam; perhaps, after all, Jesus would admit of an appeal to the justice of men where it was necessary for protection against evil; but I soon saw that this was inadmissible. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, addressing the multitude,

"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." (Matt. v. 40.)

Once more, perhaps Jesus spoke only of the personal bearing which a man should have when brought before judicial institutions, and did not condemn justice, but admitted the necessity in a Chris[27]tian society of individuals who judge others in properly constituted forms. But I saw that this view was also inadmissible. When he prayed, Jesus besought all men, without exception, to forgive others, that their own trespasses might be forgiven. This thought he often expresses. He who brings his gift to the altar with prayer must first grant forgiveness. How, then, could a man judge and condemn when his religion commanded him to forgive all trespasses, without limit? So I saw that according to the doctrine of Jesus no Christian judge could pass sentence of condemnation.

But might not the relation between the words "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged" and the preceding or subsequent passages permit us to conclude that Jesus, in saying "Judge not," had no reference whatever to judicial institutions? No; this could not be so; on the contrary, it is clear from the relation of the phrases that in saying "Judge not," Jesus did actually speak of judicial institutions. According to Matthew and Luke, before saying "Judge not, condemn not," his command was to resist not evil. And prior to this, as Matthew tells us, he repeated the ancient criminal law of the Jews, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Then, after this reference to the old criminal law, he added, "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil"; and, after that, "Judge not." Jesus did, then, refer directly to human criminal law, and reproved it in the words, "Judge not." Moreover, according to Luke, he not only said, "Judge not,"[28] but also, "Condemn not." It was not without a purpose that he added this almost synonymous word; it shows clearly what meaning should be attributed to the other. If he had wished to say "Judge not your neighbor," he would have said "neighbor"; but he added the words which are translated "Condemn not," and then completed the sentence, "And ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." But some may still insist that Jesus, in expressing himself in this way, did not refer at all to the tribunals, and that I have read my own thoughts into his teachings. Let the apostles tell us what they thought of courts of justice, and if they recognized and approved of them. The apostle James says (iv. 11, 12):—

"Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?"

The word translated "speak evil" is the verb καταλαλέω , which means "to speak against, to accuse"; this is its true meaning, as any one may find out for himself by opening a dictionary. In the translation we read, "He that speaketh evil of his brother, ... speaketh evil of the law." Why so? is the question that involuntarily arises. I may speak evil of my brother, but I do not thereby speak evil[29] of the law. If, however, I accuse my brother, if I bring him to justice, it is plain that I thereby accuse the law of Jesus of insufficiency: I accuse and judge the law. It is clear, then, that I do not practice the law, but that I make myself a judge of the law. "Not to judge, but to save" is Jesus' declaration. How then shall I, who cannot save, become a judge and punish? The entire passage refers to human justice, and denies its authority. The whole epistle is permeated with the same idea. In the second chapter we read:—

"For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy is exalted above judgment."[2] (Jas. ii. 13.)

(The last phrase has been translated in such a way as to declare that judgment is compatible with Christianity, but that it ought to be merciful.)

James exhorts his brethren to have no respect of persons. If you have respect of the condition of persons, you are guilty of sin; you are like the untrustworthy judges of the tribunals. You look upon the beggar as the refuse of society, while it is the rich man who ought to be so regarded. He it is who oppresses you and draws you before the judgment-seats. If you live according to the law of love for your neighbor, according to the law of mercy (which James calls "the law of liberty," to distinguish it from all others)—if you live according to[30] this law, it is well. But if you have respect of persons, you transgress the law of mercy. Then (doubtless thinking of the case of the woman taken in adultery, who, when she was brought before Jesus, was about to be put to death according to the law), thinking, no doubt, of that case, James says that he who inflicts death upon the adulterous woman would himself be guilty of murder, and thereby transgress the eternal law; for the same law forbids both adultery and murder.

"So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy is exalted above judgment." (Jas. ii. 12, 13.)

Could the idea be expressed in terms more clear and precise? Respect of persons is forbidden, as well as any judgment that shall classify persons as good or bad; human judgment is declared to be inevitably defective, and such judgment is denounced as criminal when it condemns for crime; judgment is blotted out by the eternal law, the law of mercy.

I open the epistles of Paul, who had been a victim of tribunals, and in the letter to the Romans I read the admonitions of the apostle for the vises and errors of those to whom his words are addressed; among other matters he speaks of courts of justice:—

"Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not[31] only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." (Rom. i. 32.)

"Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (Rom. ii. 1.)

"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Rom. ii. 4.)

Such was the opinion of the apostles with regard to tribunals, and we know that human justice was among the trials and sufferings that they endured with steadfastness and resignation to the will of God. When we think of the situation of the early Christians, surrounded by unbelievers, we can understand that a denial of the right to judge persecuted Christians before the tribunals was not considered. The apostles spoke of it only incidentally as an evil, and denied its authority on every occasion.

I examined the teachings of the early Fathers of the Church, and found them to agree in obliging no one to judge or to condemn, and in urging all to bear the inflictions of justice. The martyrs, by their acts, declared themselves to be of the same mind. I saw that Christianity before Constantine regarded tribunals only as an evil which was to be endured with patience; but it never could have occurred to any early Christian that he could take part in the administration of the courts of justice.[32] It is plain, therefore, that Jesus' words, "Judge not, condemn not," were understood by his first disciples, as they ought to be understood now, in their direct and literal meaning: judge not in courts of justice; take no part in them.

All this seemed absolutely to corroborate my conviction that the words, "Judge not, condemn not," referred to the justice of tribunals. Yet the meaning, "Speak not evil of your neighbor," is so firmly established, and courts of justice flaunt their decrees with so much assurance and audacity in all Christian societies, with the support even of the Church, that for a long time still I doubted the wisdom of my interpretation. If men have understood the words in this way (I thought), and have instituted Christian tribunals, they must certainly have some reason for so doing; there must be a good reason for regarding these words as a denunciation of evil-speaking, and there is certainly a basis of some sort for the institution of Christian tribunals; perhaps, after all, I am in the wrong.

I turned to the Church commentaries. In all, from the fifth century onward, I found the invariable interpretation to be, "Accuse not your neighbor"; that is, avoid evil-speaking. As the words came to be understood exclusively in this sense, a difficulty arose,—How to refrain from judgment? It being impossible not to condemn evil, all the commentators discussed the question, What is blamable and what is not blamable? Some, such as[33] Chrysostom and Theophylact, said that, as far as servants of the Church were concerned, the phrase could not be construed as a prohibition of censure, since the apostles themselves were censorious. Others said that Jesus doubtless referred to the Jews, who accused their neighbors of shortcomings, and were themselves guilty of great sins.

Nowhere a word about human institutions, about tribunals, to show how they were affected by the warning, "Judge not." Did Jesus sanction courts of justice, or did he not? To this very natural question I found no reply—as if it was evident that from the moment a Christian took his seat on the judge's bench he might not only judge his neighbor, but condemn him to death.

I turned to other writers, Greek, Catholic, Protestant, to the Tübingen school, to the historical school. Everywhere, even by the most liberal commentators, the words in question were interpreted as an injunction against evil-speaking.

But why, contrary to the spirit of the whole doctrine of Jesus, are these words interpreted in so narrow a way as to exclude courts of justice from the injunction, "Judge not"? Why the supposition that Jesus in forbidding the comparatively light offense of speaking evil of one's neighbor did not forbid, did not even consider, the more deliberate judgment which results in punishment inflicted upon the condemned? To all this I got no response; not even an allusion to the least possibility that the[34] words "to judge" could be used as referring to a court of justice, to the tribunals from whose punishments so many millions have suffered.

Moreover, when the words, "Judge not, condemn not," are under discussion, the cruelty of judging in courts of justice is passed over in silence, or else commended. The commentators all declare that in Christian societies tribunals are necessary, and in no way contrary to the law of Jesus.

Realizing this, I began to doubt the sincerity of the commentators; and I did what I should have done in the first place; I turned to the textual translations of the words which we render "to judge" and "to condemn." In the original these words are κρίνω and καταδικάζω. The defective translation in James of καταλαλέω, which is rendered "to speak evil," strengthened my doubts as to the correct translation of the others. When I looked through different versions of the Gospels, I found καταδικάζω rendered in the Vulgate by condemnare, "to condemn"; in the Sclavonic text the rendering is equivalent to that of the Vulgate; Luther has verdammen, "to speak evil of." These divergent renderings increased my doubts, and I was obliged to ask again the meaning of κρίνω, as used by the two evangelists, and of καταδικάζω, as used by Luke who, scholars tell us, wrote very correct Greek.

How would these words be translated by a man[35] who knew nothing of the evangelical creed, and who had before him only the phrases in which they are used?

Consulting the dictionary, I found that the word κρίνω had several different meanings, among the most used being "to condemn in a court of justice," and even "to condemn to death," but in no instance did it signify "to speak evil." I consulted a dictionary of New Testament Greek, and found that was often used in the sense "to condemn in a court of justice," sometimes in the sense "to choose," never as meaning "to speak evil." From which I inferred that the word κρίνω might be translated in different ways, but that the rendering "to speak evil" was the most forced and far-fetched.

I searched for the word καταδικάζω, which follows κρίνω, evidently to define more closely the sense in which the latter is to be understood. I looked for καταδικάζω in the dictionary, and found that it had no other signification than "to condemn in judgment," or "to judge worthy of death." I found that the word was used four times in the New Testament, each time in the sense "to condemn under sentence, to judge worthy of death." In James (v. 6) we read, "Ye have condemned and killed the just." The word rendered "condemned" is this same καταδικάζω, and is used with reference to Jesus, who was condemned to death by a court of justice. The word is never used in any other sense, in the[36] New Testament or in any other writing in the Greek language.

What, then, are we to say to all this? Is my conclusion a foolish one? Is not every one who considers the fate of humanity filled with horror at the sufferings inflicted upon mankind by the enforcement of criminal codes,—a scourge to those who condemn as well as to the condemned,—from the slaughters of Genghis Khan to those of the French Revolution and the executions of our own times? He would indeed be without compassion who could refrain from feeling horror and repulsion, not only at the sight of human beings thus treated by their kind, but at the simple recital of death inflicted by the knout, the guillotine, or the gibbet.

The Gospel, of which every word is sacred to you, declares distinctly and without equivocation: "You have from of old a criminal law, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; but a new law is given you, That you resist not evil. Obey this law; render not evil for evil, but do good to every one, forgive every one, under all circumstances." Further on comes the injunction, "Judge not," and that these words might not be misunderstood, Jesus added, "Condemn not; condemn not in justice the crimes of others."

"No more death-warrants," said an inner voice—"no more death-warrants," said the voice of science; "evil cannot suppress evil." The Word of God, in which I believed, told me the same thing. And when in reading the doctrine, I came to the words,[37] "Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven," could I look upon them as meaning simply that I was not to indulge in gossip and evil-speaking, and should continue to regard tribunals as a Christian institution, and myself as a Christian judge?

I was overwhelmed with horror at the grossness of the error into which I had fallen.

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November 30, 1883 :
Chapter 03 -- Publication.

February 18, 2017 19:36:12 :
Chapter 03 -- Added to

February 28, 2020 14:33:21 :
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