Friday, July 02, 2004

The Gospel in Brief - by Leo Tolstoy

In which the author of this blog is disappointed in a neutered and impotent Gospel

I think we have to see if this "Gospel" is really all that the word denotes. Gospel means "good news." As I read through Tolstoy's gospel, I was very confused how any of this could be good news to anyone. Because of Tolstoy's philosophical bent (no doubt), all of the miraculous events are taken out of the gospel. Thus, God's plan for the virgin birth becomes just an inconvenient bastardization. Jesus doesn't heal people. He doesn't really show what God is like (because He is not divine). He merely spews political rhetoric and ticks off the Jewish authorities. So they kill Him. And then He doesn't even rise from the grave. And the whole meaning of the Son of God dying in our place to take away our sins is erased.

I guess if I had to keep the original title, I would have to put ALL of the emphasis on the word "Brief." If there was any good news of the gospel in Tolstoy's contorted retelling, it was certainly lost on me.


Duke said...

"Leo Tolstoy, in the thick of his spiritual journey, attempts a dangerous and potentially offensive act: re-interpret the gospels of the christian new testament. Abandoning the miraculous claims of the christian doctrine (Jesus' divine birth, numerous miracles of ministry, the resurrection, etc.), Tolstoy shifts his focus onto the social message of Christ. Whereas most orthodox and modern day christian churches emphasize the authority of Christ, Tolstoy considers such blasphemy and instead, emphasizes the spirit of truth, which dwells within every man, and its power towards transformation of the individual and the societal standards. Combining the four gospels into one account, Tolstoy creates a concise and appropriate representation of the teachings of the social philosopher Christ. A must read for christians and non-christians alike. Like Tolstoy, we must search for truth first and christianity second. -Kyle Flubacker"
And by J. Michael Showalter:
"Three kinds of people will read this book. The first (and most moderate) will be Tolstoy scholars, etc. interested in his religious beliefs and influences, and there readings of this book will be value-empty and hygenic. The second group of people will be those akin of mind to Tolstoy, and they will love and cherish this book ahead of almost any other: when the philosopher Wittgenstein first read this book he decided that it was spectacular and went off into the countryside to begin to change the world (and failed... leaving Austria to go and study with Russell at Oxford....) The third group will be more traditional Christians-- for whom Jesus' particular authority and the authority of the Church handed down through the Fathers is paramount, and they, generally, will detest this work.....

I love this book. I find it splendidly written, insightful, and clever: I'm of the sort who would toss out the whole of the Bible excluding Ezekiel, Daniel, and James: I want Christ as a man and a social reformer. Unfortunately, Gandhi and Christ were not usually considered one in the same. For people like me, this book is a must-read and almost guaranteed as a world-changing event.

For more traditional Christians, this book is probably better left forgotten. It's going to be objectionable and even with his style being beautiful, there are better things to be read.... "
For my part, what people get out of something depends in part on what they bring to it. "Bring little, get little." Also, people cling to what they need. If you need someone dying for you and flying off to heaven, well, that's what we mean by 'religious freedom'

Duke said...

It's quite by accident that I ever got in here; I was reading about Wittgenstein, read that he was fond of "The Gospel in Brief" by Tolstoy, went out to learn more about it and ended up here. The two reviews I posted previously came from Today I've gone on to learn more about Tolstoy, a name I associate with "War and Peace" from high school -- and innumerable cultural references since then. I found an excellent article for anyone interested in a case study of the relation of man and God and am happy (good news!) to provide an excert here:
The substance of Christianity seems to Tolstoy the inculcation of love, humility, self-denial and the duty of returning good for evil, and these essential principles attracted him throughout his life, even when he was a sceptic. The Greek Orthodox Church treated these principles rather as accessory to the teaching of Jesus than of its essence, and the Church considered dogma of more importance. The rule of the Orthodox Church concerning dogmas, sacraments, fasts, prayers, seemed not only unnecessary but were not based on anything in Christ's teaching. The Sermon on the Mount as reported in Saint Matthew contains, according to Tolstoy, the essence of Christ's teaching which Christians should carry out entirely. The key to the sermon is contained in the words " Resist not evil," this injunction meaning that not only should Christians never repay evil with evil but also that they should not oppose it with physical force. Any physical resistance of evil is contrary to the law of love. This command he regards as the central point of the doctrine of Jesus and as really easy to obey, for which view he quotes Christ's statement, " My yoke is easy." The whole teaching of the churches was contrary to Christ's teaching when they gave their sanction and approval to armies and the enforcement of the criminal law by the executive powers of a government. Christian society not only ignored Christ's injunction not to resist evil but was actually based on a denial of its truth. The words " Judge not that ye be not judged "Tolstoy treats as an expansion or rather as a logical result of the command " Resist not evil." Jesus denied the possibility of human justice, demonstrating in the case of the woman taken in adultery that man could not judge his fellow man, since he himself was also guilty. Jesus' declaration amounted to saying, " You believe that your laws reform criminals; as a matter of fact they only make more criminals. There is only one way to suppress evil, that is to return good for evil without respect of persons." The whole social fabric of modern so-called " Christian " society was founded upon principles disapproved of by Christ. Its prison cells, factories and houses of infamy, its state church, its culture, science, art and civilization were all based on coercion and violence. People pretended that Christ did not abolish the Mosaic law, but that the law of Christ and the law of Moses harmonized. But Christians acted on the principle of " an eye for an eye," discarding the law of Christ and following that of Moses. "