Tolstoyanism vs Christianity

For my Topics in the Philosophy of Religion (Philosophy 441) class, we have to write an informal, one page, reaction paper for each of the reading assignments. This week’s reaction paper is written in response to Leo Tolstoy’s What is Religion and of What Does Its Essence Consist?

I wish I could have said more things about Tolstoy’s version of “Christianity”, but I am limited to a one page paper.

Here is my reaction paper for you to read and comment/critique:

 Jorge L. Flores
Dr. N. Grossman
Philosophy 441
29 January 2009
AMDG

Tolstoyanism vs. Christianity

Inequality between people, not just between lay and clergy, but between rich and poor, and masters and slaves, was established by the Church Christian religion. . . .The most important thing is that Christianity proclaims the equality of all men, no longer merely as a basic teaching of universal brotherhood, but because all men are recognized as being sons of God.

(Leo Tolstoy, What is Religion and of What Does Its Essence Consist?, Chapter 6)

 The above quote succinctly captures Tolstoy’s idea of both true Christianity and false or corrupted Christianity. The contradistinction, in Tolstoy’s mind, is clear cut: true Christianity teaches the equality of all men while “Church Christianity” establishes inequality between them. Concomitant with his concept of Christianity as a religion that teaches the equality of all men, Tolstoy held that the Golden Rule is essential to any true religion; thus, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc., can all be said to be true religions insofar as they all teach the equality of all men and a version of the Golden Rule. What perverts the original and holy message of all religions? “Their external forms,” Tolstoy would surely answer. In the case of Christianity these external forms are “fleshed out” in doctrines such as the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, the infallibility of the Church, and the sacraments of the Church –of which the sacrament of the Eucharist would probably rank at the top in Tolstoy’s list of useless and absurd dogmas. In Tolstoy’s own words, “Indeed no other faith has ever preached things so incompatible with reason and contemporary knowledge as those taught by Church Christianity.”

As a Catholic Christian, I must readily admit that Tolstoy’s version of Christianity has some good elements of spiritual teaching and truth. In fact, if I were to utterly reject Tolstoy’s every pronouncement in regards to morality and religion, I would ultimately be rejecting some of the fundamental teachings of the Church. At the same time, however, I must, at once, clearly define my position in respect to the “Christianity” that Tolstoy offers. My position: Tolstoy’s version of Christianity is heretical, not because it teaches that all men are equal and that we should love each other, but because of its rejection of the fact that God reveals himself to man. The way I see it, all of Tolstoy’s errors have their origin in this fundamental rejection because instead of letting the Almighty help us to understand the whole of reality, we fall into what Saint John the Evangelist describes as “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16). But, what exactly does this “lust of the eyes” mean? Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (1902 – 1975) offers us an explanation in his book CHRIST IS PASSING BY:

 St John tells us that the other enemy is the lust of the eyes, a deep-seated avariciousness that leads us to appreciate only what we can touch. . . .Reason proclaims itself sufficient to understand everything, without the aid of God. This is a subtle temptation, which hides behind the power of our intellect, given by our Father God to man so that he might know and love him freely. Seduced by this temptation, the human mind appoints itself the centre of the universe, being thrilled with the prospect that “you shall be like gods.” So filled with love for itself, it turns its back on the love of God.