Book notes: The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

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23 April 2017: I’m 36% through this book and I have 93 highlighted passages. The book is in the public domain, so I guess I could just copy and paste all those highlights right here.

Just go get your own copy of the book from Kindle or Wikisource or Project Gutenberg or your local library. I think if you go here you can see what I’ve highlighted. Why does that matter, though? Let’s talk about the book.

This book was banned in Russia (Tolstoy’s home country).

It is radical. It was then, and it still is now.

Besides, apologies for violence used against one’s neighbor in defense of another neighbor from greater violence are always untrustworthy, because when force is used against one who has not yet carried out his evil intent, I can never know which would be greater—the evil of my act of violence or of the act I want to prevent. We kill the criminal that society may be rid of him, and we never know whether the criminal of to-day would not have been a changed man tomorrow, and whether our punishment of him is not useless cruelty. We shut up the dangerous—as we think—member of society, but the next day this man might cease to be dangerous and his imprisonment might be for nothing. I see that a man I know to be a ruffian is pursuing a young girl. I have a gun in my hand—I kill the ruffian and save the girl. But the death or the wounding of the ruffian has positively taken place, while what would have happened if this had not been I cannot know. And what an immense mass of evil must result, and indeed does result, from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what may happen. Ninety-nine per cent of the evil of the world is founded on this reasoning—from the Inquisition to dynamite bombs, and the executions or punishments of tens of thousands of political criminals.

Tolstoy and Gandhi wrote each other letters. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Gandhi said that this book was one of the “three most important modern influences in his life.”

Here’s an excerpt from Tolstoy’s “A Letter to a Hindu,” which Gandhi read, then wrote and asked Tolstoy for permission to republish in Gujarati (Gandhi’s native language). Thus began a correspondence between Gandhi and Tolstoy that lasted until Tolstoy’s death.

As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence – as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual. Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.

Here’s what is radical about Tolstoy’s writing: he read the Bible and then, shock of shocks, he acted as if Jesus might have meant what he said about loving one’s neighbor and all that.

People did not like that.

And so, too, from the earliest times of Christianity there were men who began to assert on their own authority that the meaning they attribute to the doctrine is the only true one, and as proof bring forward supernatural occurrences in support of the correctness of their interpretation. This was the principal cause at first of the misunderstanding of the doctrine, and afterward of the complete distortion of it.

And he had the nerve to call out the church on all their bullshit.

People really did not like that.

Not only have churches never bound men together in unity; they have always been one of the principal causes of division between men, of their hatred of one another, of wars, battles, inquisitions, massacres of St. Bartholomew, and so on. And the churches have never served as mediators between men and God. Such mediation is not wanted, and was directly forbidden by Christ, who has revealed his teaching directly and immediately to each man. But the churches set up dead forms in the place of God, and far from revealing God, they obscure him from men’s sight.

Man, that passage really reminds me of something… Something else I’ve read. Who was it? Hmmmm. Oh wait, I know! It was Jesus:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Matthew 23

It occurs to me that those religious leaders were not fond of being called out on their bullshit, either.

People don’t like that, do they?

But we must look to the fruit to judge the tree, as Christ taught us. And if we see that their fruits were evil, that the results of their activity were antagonistic to Christianity, we cannot but admit that however good the men were—the work of the Church in which these men took part was not Christian.

Judging the tree by the fruit. What a weird, radical concept.





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