The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tolstoy documents American pacifism

I have commenced re-reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. I first read it four years ago. It was a challenging read. This book of Tolstoy's is primarily concerned with offering a defense of the Christian principle of non-resistance to evil (Matthew 5:39). Tolstoy's interpretation calls for absolute non-violence for Christians.

(He makes this theme so central to his Christianity, he ends up being a redaction critic, attributing almost anything "mystical" in the balance of the New Testament as being added to distract from the earl church's desire to distract from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.)

In the first section of The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Tolstoy reacts to critics and supporters of his previous work (What I Believe). In doing so, he lists authors and movements pre-dating himself which held essentially the same viewpoints about non-resistance. What interests me is that the list is dominated by American institutions - the Quakers, the Mennonites, etc. Apparently in the late 19th century, the US was known for having a bunch of Christian denominations which were dedicated to peace.

This is not the case now. Many of those historical institutions have declined in relative prominence, and some of the same have softened their stances on non-violence. On the world's stage, American Christians are now probably best known for sanctioning state aggression. But I am proud to recount that we used to have something of a reputation for refusing the call to arms.

I will probably have several posts inspired by Tolstoy's work as I read through.

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