Kingdom of God is within you
is both astonishing and enlightening in many ways. Few are the books
that can move me to the degree that Tolstoy's book did. I mean it in
both senses of the word, that it touched me by unearthing a number of
feelings, desires, dreams and nightmares, but it also transported
me, inspiring me to take initiatives and actions. One of those
inspired actions would be my decision to write about this excellent
first stumbled upon Tolstoy at the tender and tumultuous age of
fifteen. An avid reader then, I took on the major project of reading
his monumental War
and Peace. At that time, questions on life and death were budding in my
mind. In fact, I was hoping to live long enough to finish those 1500+
pages in front of me.
I fell in love with the characters (and I can still see them in my
mind's eye and have an affinity with them even more than a quarter
century later), I was often then - and most likely still -
exasperated by the various elaborate digressions of its Russian
remember one lengthy passage about bees that drove me mad, but I
dared not skip a single line of this master storyteller. In a way, he
is the Terrence Malick of literature, or rather, not to be
anachronistic, it ought to be the other way around. Anyhow, I was
given lectures on biology and history in the frames of a fictional
A decade after reading War
I read - and was very impressed with - Anna
in which Tolstoy controlled and restrained his tendency to be wordy
and wrote a much better and more concise work, though it still spans
hundreds of pages.
years I had the intention of reading his nonfiction book The
Kingdom of God is within you,
but for one reason or another it remained on the back-burner for years
to come. I had heard and read about Tolstoy becoming a type of
prophet or mystical figure towards the later years of his life, and
I had become aware that this particular piece of writing, especially
the notions surrounding non-violent resistance towards violence, had
influenced great thinkers, and shakers and movers of history, such as
Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
has been described in many terms but few do him and his views full
justice. His views are radical, yes, but this word has particular
negative connotations regardless of its direction or political
spectrum. He is also called an anarchist, a revolutionary, a liberal,
a communist etc, but his actual views are much more complex. Most
importantly, I think this work is timeless and can and should - for
the most part at least - be applied to our modern times.
us start off with Tolstoy's religious views. Ironically, some
intellectuals may be turned off by its title as it sounds as if it
were a Christian propaganda piece. It is and it is not, but for the
most part it attacks religions, in particular Christian institutions,
with a venom that will make any traditional pastor's or priest's head
Religious people, or rather those who claim they embrace
religion, will be bitterly disappointed, whereas those with a
spiritual bone or two in them might find their calling here, that is
if they get past the first barrier of actually picking up and reading
this book despite its Christian title.
I found somebody who shares my view on religion and Christianity and
explains it with much more skill than I ever could. The focus remains
on Jesus Christ who was not only an exceptional being but who put the
seeds of love and change in our hearts. Unfortunately, the
authorities, i.e. the (not so holy) church took his teachings and
turned them upside down and inside out to suit their own quest for
the religious authorities wanted was to use the “convenient”
parts of Christ's teachings. So far, Tolstoy may be even on par with
Nietzsche's own view of Christianity. The church assumed control over
the salvation of souls and became self-proclaimed ambassadors of God.
They created a hierarchy and hence a gaping distance between
themselves and the common people.
this could be done as only few in the elite were literate. So most
people would get the watered down, revised, edited and censured
version of Christianity. Various inconvenient or unconducive
passages were conveniently glossed over or overlooked. Did not Christ
say that the kingdom of god is within you? Does that not make the
whole charade surrounding the church superfluous?
also remarks that if the church ought to play such a large role in
Christianity, why did Jesus not give specific instructions regarding
its set-up and functions. We mainly have a vague insinuation to his
disciple about a rock. And did Jesus not attack those who claimed to
know the truth, i.e. the very same priests and did he not say that
those buildings shall be destroyed? It seems that Jesus was against
not only empty rituals but the whole foundation of a church operating
in the name of God, a church that, even in his own times, was more
interested in money-lending and profiteering than spiritual growth and
last, but most importantly, does Jesus not tell us to turn the other
cheek? Does he not condemn any type of violence and replace it with
love and forgiveness? Does he not forbid us to hurt others? Then how
can the church defend its recorded history of bloody torture and
slaughter of millions and millions under the banner of Crusades,
religious wars, witch hunts and heresies?
fact, killing a fellow being is as unchristian as can be. And yet, it
is continuously done in the name of God, and many believers turn a
blind eye towards it, or worse, defend it. Tolstoy claims that the
church definitely turned away from the teachings of Jesus when it
allied itself with the emperors to gain wealth and power.
history, the ruling men were seen as chosen by God. Evidently, the
church played a major role in this perception by endorsing their
chosen candidate. In return, the governing elite ensured the
propagation of the religious views and protection of the religious
institutions. This was hundreds of years of brainwashing in the
not choosing to live like Christ, but merely by inventing stories and
effectively lies on things hardly even mentioned in the Bible itself,
such as Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, or the Holy Trinity,
and by insisting on a number of carefully selected rituals, the
church not only took over control over people's lives, but diminished
their capabilities and powers.
fact, the most important rituals of life were being ordained by the
church: birth through baptism, marriage, the birth of one's own
children, and death. There was – and is – no repose from the
grasps of the church. Our life is controlled, managed and overseen by
the religious authorities.
they have found out our innermost secrets through confessions. This
is where you share your intimate thoughts and desires with a complete
stranger who with a few words of reassurance sends us back into the
world again, a free but psychologically binding and limiting form of
psychotherapy. Since the priest is the intermediary of Christ, we
have done our duty by merely exposing ourselves, and now we are all
forgiven through his magical incantations; he is putting in a good
word with God on our behalf.
protestants rebelled against the power of the priests, but they
replaced it with an even more submissive and counterproductive
ordeal. The issue of faith now made it easier for the individual to
communicate with God, while the religious institutions were stripped of
their pompousness and magnificence.
it turned out that faith was something that you either possess or
you do not, or you are given it by the Holy Ghost or not, and hence if He
does not visit you, you might just not be chosen to enter this
selective membership club. Also, your sins will all be forgiven, if
only you believe. So you may serve in the army and kill others, but
as long as you have faith, you will be cleansed of the blood staining
lack of accountability has led people to ignore not only their own
hideous actions, but also those of others. Official authorities
simply must know better because they have strong faith, which we as
commoners lack. But also, there is no particular need to improve the
self or the world since faith, not love, is all you need.
Christ – alongside Tolstoy - asks much more from his true believers.
First of all, we must have only one master. You cannot swear
allegiance both to God and the state, for example. Second, you shall
not, under any circumstance resort to violence. That is, you shall
refuse to serve in the military.
claims, and this is before two World Wars and atomic bombs, that the
states are buffing up their army and weapons to gain control over
others. They do so claiming that they want to protect us from other nations.
But it is a vicious cycle. The more armies they build, the more
other nations need to to keep up and be on par. This can only have
as a result, one should not add fuel to the fire and refrain from any
type of service, military or otherwise, that supports this kind of
harmful action. This is indeed what certain Christian groups have
taken to heart, such as the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Amish.
They will not use weapons not even for protection or self-defense.
also stresses the fact that our taxes are going towards building
weapons of destruction, and we ought to stop paying them. In fact, he
goes even further and points out that the rich owe their wealth to
the exploitation of the poor, and hence this money comes tainted with
sweat, blood, and suffering, apart from reeking of injustice.
the meantime, the rich are supported by the state and clergy, of
course. So if the poor decide to go on a strike, they shall be first
warned by the police and then beaten into submission, arrested or
even killed by the military. Any person with good conscience should
stay away from these official positions that use not only violence
but do so to support the status quo of the already powerful and
fact, people enlist in the army because they either think they have
no other option, or they have been hypnotized by their surroundings,
such as schools, institutions, and others, what Louis Althusser
would later call the Ideological State Apparatus. One of the most
prevalent lies, apart from religion of course, is that of patriotism.
People are drilled to think that the random piece of land that they
inhabit is worth killing and dying for. They are dressed like
“clowns” in uniforms and believe that the stripes and medals they
will be given for killing their fellow beings has intrinsic value and
honor attached to them. Others are told that they could become
martyrs in heaven because they are upholding true values of their
motherland or religion.
can see how Tolstoy is in fact against ideas like communism. He says
that any type of revolution is not only violent and bloody but it
replaces one tyrant with a worse one. The problem is that the state
thinks it can enforce beliefs in its people without changing their
lifestyle and way of thinking. As if there is a magic formula that
can make people good, or worse, as if you can use force alongside its
dark brothers, repression and oppression to change people for the
the good news is that we are all moving forward. Tolstoy's view of
the truth is that it cannot be achieved all at once, as it happened
to the Buddha, for example; it is a long and continuous
process in history. Our views have changed and we have come to accept
human rights more and more. It was not without its struggles, but
there have been major accomplishments in those regards.
we need to continue to accept these values, which are reflected in a
true understanding of Christianity or the teachings of Jesus. We need
to follow in his steps and refuse violence in our daily lives. In
fact, public opinion is changing around the world, and people have a
stronger and more robust conscience regarding what is right and
have the answers already planted deep within. Now we must act upon
them, while this wave of public opinion has forced the governments to
become more accountable or transparent in their dealings. In some
cases, they had to become more secretive, namely to hide their
atrocious behaviors from the public's eyes. It shows a certain fear
of public regard so at the very least they have to constantly fear
being exposed in their lies and violence.
ideal would be to live without states and governments. Tolstoy says
it is possible. However, most of us, may either disagree or be afraid
of the consequences of such a lifestyle. How is it even possible? Who
is going to protect us from the bad guys? Will it not turn to
complete anarchy and destruction?
if we embrace Christianity in its truest sense and if we follow the
path lightened by Jesus himself. As a good Christian, we need to
share our wealth and must find peace both within and without, in our
souls and our surroundings. We must look the truth squarely in the
eye and accept our failings and our blessings in equal measure. But
perhaps most of all, we should follow the divine voice within us
since the kingdom of God is already - and has always been - within