The Christian Teaching — Part 1 : Ancient Teachings and Christian Understanding of Life

By Leo Tolstoy (1895)

Entry 10493


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Revolt Library Anarchism The Christian Teaching Part 1

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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.)
• "It is necessary that men should understand things as they are, should call them by their right names, and should know that an army is an instrument for killing, and that the enrollment and management of an army -- the very things which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents occupy themselves with so self-confidently -- is a preparation for murder." (From: "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'," by Leo Tolstoy, August 8,....)
• "The Government and all those of the upper classes near the Government who live by other people's work, need some means of dominating the workers, and find this means in the control of the army. Defense against foreign enemies is only an excuse. The German Government frightens its subjects about the Russians and the French; the French Government, frightens its people about the Germans; the Russian Government frightens its people about the French and the Germans; and that is the way with all Governments. But neither Germans nor Russians nor Frenchmen desire to fight their neighbors or other people; but, living in peace, they dread war more than anything else in the world." (From: "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "If, in former times, Governments were necessary to defend their people from other people's attacks, now, on the contrary, Governments artificially disturb the peace that exists between the nations, and provoke enmity among them." (From: "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)

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Part 1

1. Ancient teachings

1. People always, from the earliest times, have felt the misery, instability, and meaningless of their existence, and looked for salvation from the misery, instability, and meaningless in belief in God or Gods who would rescue them from various calamities in this and after life and give them the well-being they desired yet couldn’t obtain in this life.

2. Therefore, from the ancient times among different nations there were different preachers who taught people about what the God or Gods are who can save people, and about what they need to do to please the God or Gods in order to get the reward in this or future life.

3. Some religious teachings taught that God is the Sun personified in various animals; others taught that Gods are the Heaven and Earth; the third ones taught that God has created the world and chosen a favorite nation from all; the fourth ones taught that there are many gods and that they participate in the affairs of people; the fifth ones taught that God, by adopting the image of man, came down to Earth. And all these teachers, by mixing truth with deceptions, demanded from people not only abstinence from the actions regarded as evil and performance of actions regarded as good, but also sacraments, sacrifices, and prayers, which were, more than anything else, supposed to provide people with their well-being in this world and in the future.

2. The inadequacy of the ancient teachings

1. But the longer people lived the less these teachings satisfied the demands of human soul.

2. Firstly, people saw that happiness in this world, to which they were driven to, was not attained, despite the fulfillment of the requirements of God or gods.

3. Secondly, with the spread of education, the credibility of what religious teachers preached about God - about the future life and its rewards, not corresponding to the modern learned notions of the world - weakened and weakened.

4. Thirdly and chiefly, people’s confidence in these various teachings weakened because the people, through getting into closer relationship with each other, learned that religious teachers in every country preach their own peculiar doctrine as the only true one and deny all others. And people, after discovering this, naturally concluded that none of these teachings was truer than another, and therefore that none of them can be accepted as indisputable and infallible truth.

3. The necessity of a new teaching suitable to the degree of enlightenment of mankind

1. Unattainability of happiness in this life, the growing enlightenment of humanity, and the relationships of the people between each other as a result of which they came to know the religious teachings of other nations, caused people’s confidence in the doctrines they were preached to become weaker and weaker.

2. Meanwhile, the need for an explanation of the meaning of life and resolving the contradiction between the pursuit of happiness and life, on one hand, and the increasingly clear awareness of the inevitability of disaster and death, on the other hand, became more and more pressing.

3. A person desires the well-being of himself, he sees the meaning of his life in it; but the longer he lives the clearer he sees that this well-being is not possible for him. The person desires life, and the continuation of life, but sees that he and all that exists around him are doomed to inevitable destruction and disappearance. Human possesses logic and seeks a reasonable explanation of the phenomena of life, but finds no rational explanation either of his own or anyone else's life.

4. If in ancient times the understanding of this contradiction between the desire for human life that demands for well-being and its continuation and the inevitability of death and suffering was accessible only to the best minds, like Solomon, Buddha, Socrates, Laozi and others, then in the recent time it became truth available to all; and therefore the solution of this contradiction became necessary more than ever.

5. And exactly at that time when the need to solve the contradiction between the pursuit of happiness and life, together with the realization that they are unattainable, had become so painfully essential to humanity, the solution was given to people in Christian teaching, in its true meaning.

4. What is the solution of the contradiction of life, and the explanation of its meaning, given by Christian teaching in its true meaning?

1. Ancient teachings, by their assertions of the existence of God as a creator, preserver, and redeemer, tried to mask the contradiction of human life; but Christian teaching, by contrast, shows people this contradiction in all its power, shows them that it must take place, and, out of the acknowledgment of this contradiction, derives the solution. This contradiction is as follows.

2. On one hand, a human is indeed an animal and cannot cease to be an animal while he dwells in the body; on the other hand, he is a spiritual being denying all the animal demands of a human.

3. During the first period of his life, a human lives without comprehending that he lives; so he lives not by himself, but what lives through him is that force of life that lives in everything we know.

4. A human begins to live by himself only when he becomes conscious about that he lives. And he is conscious about that he lives when he knows that he desires for the well-being of himself and that the other beings have the same desires. Reason awakened in him gives him this knowledge.

5. Having found out that he lives and desires for the well-being of himself and that the other beings have the same desires, the human also inevitably discovers that the well-being he desires for his own separate being is unattainable; and that, instead of the well-being he desires, he has to face inevitable suffering and death. The same awaits all other beings. And there a contradiction emerges, which human tries to resolve so that his life as it is would have a reasonable meaning. He wants his life to continue to be as it was before the awakening of his reason, i.e. entirely animal, or else that it should be purely spiritual.

6. The person desires to be either a beast or an angel, but he can be neither one nor the other.

7. And here it comes the solution to this contradiction that Christian teaching provides. It tells the person that he is neither a beast nor an angel but an angel being born of the beast — a spiritual being born out of the animal one. And that all our existence in this world is nothing else but this process of birth.

5. What constitutes the birth of spiritual being?

1. As soon as a person wakes up to conscience awareness, this consciousness tells him that he desires well-being; and as his conscience awareness is awakened in his separate being, it seems to him that his desire for well-being is meant for his separate being.

2. But that same conscience awareness, which showed him himself as a separate being desiring blessing for himself, also shows him that this separate being is inadequate for that desire for well-being and life which he attributes to that desire. He sees that this separate being can have neither well-being nor life on its own.

3. "Then what does have true life?" - He asks himself and sees that true life is neither in himself nor in those beings that surround him but only in that which desires well-being.

4. And having discovered this, the person no longer regards himself as a carnal and mortal being isolated from others, but regards himself as that being (inseparable from others, spiritual, and therefore not mortal) which is revealed to him by his conscience awareness.

This constitutes the birth of new spiritual being in a human.

6. What is that being that is getting born in human?

1. The being, which was revealed to the human by his conscience awareness, is the desire for happiness, is that same desire for happiness which earlier constituted the purpose of his life, with the difference that the desire for happiness of his former self related to one separate physical being and was not conscious of itself; whereas the present desire for well-being is conscious of itself and relates not to anything separate but to all that exists.

2. In the first period of the awakening of reason, it seemed to the human that the desire for well-being, which he recognizes as his real self, relates only to that body in which it is enclosed.

3. But the clearer and firmer his reason becomes, the clearer it appears, as soon as the person becomes conscious of himself, that his true self is not his body (which is devoid of true life) but the desire for well-being by itself - in other words, the desire of well-being of all existing.

4. The desire of well-being of all existing is what gives life to all that exists, is what we call God.

5. The being which is revealed to a person by his consciousness, the being that is getting born, - is what gives life to all that exists, - is God.

7. God, according to Christian teaching, recognized by a human within himself

1. According to old teachings, in order to know God, a human had to believe what other people told him about God: how God has allegedly created the world and people, and then revealed Himself to them; whereas, according to Christian teaching, a human recognizes God directly within himself through his own consciousness.

2. Consciousness reveals to the human that the essence of his life is in the desire of well-being of all existing, something inexplicable and inexpressible in words, and, at the same time, the closest and most understandable to a human.

3. The initial desire for well-being appears in a human as the life of his separate animal being; then - as the life of those beings he loves; then, and after his conscious awareness gets awakened in him it manifests as the desire of well-being of all existing. And this desire of the well-being of all existing is the source of every life, is God; as it is said in the Gospel that God is love.

8. God, according to the Christian teaching, recognized by a human outside himself

1. But beside God which is recognized, according to Christian teaching, within himself as the desire of well-being of all existing – love, - a human, also according to Christian teaching, acknowledges it outside himself, - in all that exists.

2. Being aware in his separate body of that spiritual and inseparable being of God, and seeing the presence of the same God in everything alive, a human cannot but ask himself: why God, spiritual being, one and indivisible, has enclosed himself in the separate bodies of beings, and in the separate body of a human.

3. Why would spiritual and whole being divide itself? What for the divine essence is confined in the conditions of separateness and physicality? Why is the immortal enclosed in the mortal, and bound up with it?

4. There can be only one answer: there is higher will, the motives of which are unattainable to a human. And this higher will has placed a human, and all existing, in this position. This same cause, for some reason incomprehensible to a person, enclosed itself, the desire of well-being of all existing – love, - in beings separate from the rest of the world, — is that same God which human recognizes within himself, also recognizable outside himself. So God, according to the Christian teaching, is that essence of life which a human recognizes both within himself and in the whole world as the desire for well-being, and at the same time, is the cause by which this essence is enclosed in the conditions of an individual bodily life.

God, according to the Christian teaching, is the father who, as we are told in the Gospel, has sent into the world his son alike himself, for the fulfillment of His Will in him, - the well-being of everything existing.

9. Confirmation of truth of the Christian understanding of life by the outward manifestation of God.

1. God is manifested in a reasonable human as the desire of well-being of all existing - in separate beings, each of whom is aspired to each own well-being.

2. Although it is not known and cannot be known to a human why it was necessary for the complete spiritual being, God, to manifest Himself in a human as the desire of well-being of all existing, and in separate beings - as the desire for each own well-being, a human cannot but see that both of them converge toward one close, definite, attainable and joyful to a person purpose.

3. This purpose is revealed to a person by observation, by scripture, and by reasoning. Observation shows him that all progress in human life (as far as it is known to us) has consisted only in the fact that people and other living beings, previously separated and hostile to one another, are becoming more and more connected and tie together by consent and cooperation. The scripture shows the human, what all wise men of the world have taught, that humanity must move from division to unity; as a prophet said that all people must be taught by God and spears and swords be beaten into sickles and plows; and, as Christ said that all should be one like ‘I am one with the Father’. Reasoning shows the person that that the greatest well-being of people, to which all people aspire, can be obtained only by the most union and concord among people.

4. Therefore, although the ultimate purpose of the world's existence is hidden from a human, he nevertheless knows what constitutes the immediate work of the world's development, in which he is called to participate; this work is the replacement of division and discord in the world with union and harmony.

5. Observation, scripture, and reason show the human that this is the essence of the work of God, in which he is called to participate, and the inner urge of that spiritual being, which is in getting born within himself – love - leads him in the same direction.

6. The inner urge of the spiritual essence, being born in a person, consists solely in the increase of love within himself. And this increase of love is that what drives the work being committed in the world: the replacement of division and discord with union and harmony, — that what Christian teaching calls the establishment of the kingdom of God.

7. So, if a person has any doubts in truthfulness of the Christian definition of the meaning of life, the concurrence of human’s inner aspirations with the course of life of the world would confirm its truthfulness.

10. What is life in this world as revealed to a human by Christian teaching

1. When a person is getting born to new life, he realizes that in his separate from others being is enclosed the desire for well-being not only of himself but of all that exists, - love.

2. If this desire for the well-being of all existing, this love, was not enclosed in a separate being, it would not know about itself and would always remain equal to itself; but being placed in the limits of a separate being — human, — it is aware of itself and its limits, and tends to break what binds it.

3. By its nature, love, the desire for well-being, tends to embrace all that exists. Naturally, it expands its limits by love at first to one's own family – wife, children, then to friends, then to one's fellows, countrymen; but love does not get satisfied with this and seeks to embrace everything existing.

4. In this incessant expansion of the limits of love, which constitutes the essence of the birth of spiritual being, is the essence of true human life in this world. The whole existence of a human in this world, from birth till death, is nothing but the birth of spiritual being in him. This this incessant birth is what in Christian teaching is called the true life.

6. It is possible to imagine that what composes our body, which currently appears as a separate being and which we love in preference to all other beings, sometime in the past, lower, life was only a collection of beloved objects that love has united into one, so that in this life we already feel it to be ourselves; in the same way, our present love to what is feasible to us will in the future life comprise one whole being, which will be intimate to us just as our body is now. ("In my Father's house are many abiding places.")

11. How does true life revealed by Christian teaching differs from the former life?

1. The difference between personal life and true life is this: personal life aims to increase the enjoyment of outer life and to prolong it; and this goal, despite all the efforts, is never attained, because human has no control over external conditions that hinder the enjoyment, nor over all sorts of disasters that may at any time hit him. Whereas the purpose of the true life, which consists in expanding and intensifying of love, cannot be hindered by anything because all external causes such as violence, illness, suffering, which hinder the achievement of the goals of the personal life, contribute to the achievement of the spiritual purpose.

2. This difference is similar to the difference between those workers who were sent to the master's Garden, as it was told in the Gospel’s parable, and decided that the garden belongs to them and so they withheld fruits from their master, and those who recognize themselves as his workers and perform what was assigned by their master.

From :

(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.)
• "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....)
• "It usually happens that when an idea which has been useful and even necessary in the past becomes superfluous, that idea, after a more or less prolonged struggle, yields its place to a new idea which was till then an ideal, but which thus becomes a present idea." (From: "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
• "Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, without bias and justly, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any of the existing projects or according to some new project composed or chosen by you in common." (From: "To the Working People," by Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya P....)


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