Sunday, December 7, 2008

more on Tolstoy

I blogged at length on Tolstoy's A Confession-- with multiple postings linked into the last one. In the edition I have, there are three other essays. I read the first awhile back, but it's just now rising to the top of my Sunday blog pile. (I hope to read the other two soon: "Religion and morality" and "The law of love and the law of violence".)

"What is religion and of what does its essence consist?"

His opening has quite a bang-- on the frequently sad state of affairs with respect to "religion":

During certain periods in the existence of all human societies, a time has come when religion has first strayed from its basic meaning, and then digressed further and further until it has lost track of this meaning and eventually ossified in the already established forms, at which point it has come to have less and less influence on people’s lives.

At these times the educated minority, no longer believing in the existing religious teaching, simply pretend to believe in it because they find it necessary for the purpose of holding the masses to the established order of life. Although the masses might cling to the established religious forms through inertia, their lives are no longer guided by religious demands, but simply by popular custom and state regulations.

But he continues with the following bomb-- on those who would dispense with true faith in favor of supposed improvements from modernity and enlightenment:

This has occurred many times in various human societies. But what is happening today in our Christian society has never happened before. Never before have the educated minority, those with the most influence on the masses, not only had no belief in the existing religion, but seemed convinced that today’s world no longer has any need of one. Rather than persuading those who doubt the truth of the professed religion that there is a more rational and lucid doctrine than the existing one, they persuade them that on the whole religion has outlived itself and become not just useless, but a harmful organ of social will replace religion, their assertion is entirely arbitrary and based on a completely unjustified belief in the infallibility of science, a belief quite similar to faith in the infallibility of the Church.

Tolstoy notes that "religion" is derived from religare-- to bind. Beyond that, his definition of religion may be useful:

True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions.

Tolstoy continues by ripping social abuses by the powerful-- typically through fraudulent claims of religious or political authority (or often, both).

In answer to the question of why, among people born equals, some may judge, constrain, rob and execute others, they give no answers....According to their doctrine, this violence is committed not by people, but by some abstract entity called the State.

Unfortunately, Tolstoy's proper concerns about the abuse of political and ecclesiological power leads him to throw out the baby with the bathwater-- as he questions the authority of Scripture, Trinitarianism, miracles, etc.-- in favor of a religion focused on piety.


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