TOLSTOY ABOUT FAITH AND RELIGION
By Roza Riaikkenen
Leo Tolstoy had been baptised and brought up as an Orthodox Christian, but somehow he lost his faith in religion to his university years. He explained the cause of his faithlessness, typical for the educated people of that time, as following: “…people are used to live like everyone around them lives, and they live in conformity with the principles which not only don’t relate to their faith, but are often opposite to the principles of faith; the teaching of faith doesn’t participate in their daily life; it doesn’t create any problems in their relationships with others and doesn’t require overcoming any obstacles in their personal life; the teaching of faith is professed somewhere far way from their life and isn’t connected with it in any way. You can face it only as an outward, unrelated to your life, phenomenon.” (L.Tolstoy, A Confession)
It seems that in the civilized society nothing changed up to our time. The majority of educated people adhere to the traditions of their religion, but their actions are mostly influenced not with religious but with social and economical considerations.
Still, as in the times of Tolstoy as nowadays, religions sometimes influence the social, economical and political life of the society, and politicians often use religion to gain power over the people’s minds. Tolstoy understood that this wasn’t about faith, this was about power. In his work “A Confession”, he states that faith is connected rather with person’s inner condition and spiritual search than with their outward social goals and actions aimed to achieve these goals. “I am speaking about the educated people, about the people who are honest to themselves, and not about those who use the very subject of faith for the achievement of any temporary aims. (Such people are faithless, as it is definitely not faith when the subject of faith is used for any mundane purposes).”
People usually need to believe in something beyond themselves to withstand the pressures of daily life. Tolstoy wasn’t an exception to this rule. He observed the state of his own mind and followed the movement of his beliefs. He noticed that instead of religion he began believing in improvement. At the start it was moral improvement, and also the improvement of his mind, body and will. Then it changed into the strife towards being accepted by other people as a better person, and finally – to be better than others, i.e. “more glorious, more important, richer than others”.
As Tolstoy confesses, for a long time his faith could be expressed with the word “progress”. Where does this “progress” lead – nobody knows. Tolstoy calls this attitude a superstition which is hiding the lack of knowledge about life. Eventually, after his marriage, the writer came to that what seemed to be the only truth: “you have to live in a way which provides the best for your family and yourself.”
Very often, people stop at this point, and continue living with this kind of belief, trying to stretch their comfortable lives as long as they can. But in any case this process once comes to its end, and what will then be its meaning? Tolstoy couldn’t shy away from the big questions: “What is the purpose of life? What will be after?” These questions didn’t disappear, and in time they became even more insistent. They led Tolstoy to search for the answers, and after many years of search the writer described his revelations in his non-fiction works, and especially in “A Confession”.
In this work, Tolstoy honestly and in detail depicts his emotional experiences of that time. He was mentally and emotionally involved in these experiences, even thinking about suicide and returning to life several times. Looking for help, for several years he explored the religious rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church, and decided that they were only superficial magic and witchery. For all this period of time devoted to spiritual search and meditation, Tolstoy felt “scared, orphaned and lonely among the strangers and in hope of someone’s help”. The writer defined this feeling as a search for God.
Tolstoy began his philosophical meditations from the reasoning of the philosophers Kant and Schopenhauer who had stated that to prove the existence of God would be impossible. For Tolstoy this was the same as if they told him that his existence is accidental and meaningless. He wanted to die, but one question remained – about the cause of his birth (“after all, I couldn’t appear in this life without any cause, purpose and meaning…”), and also about the cause of the appearance of everything that is, about the cause which we can call God. When asking this question, Tolstoy would begin feeling this cause, this universal force – the source of everything including himself. Then he would return to life and continue his meditations.
After all, he wasn’t the first person who searched for God. The history of this search is going millenniums back, and there is no tribe, people or civilization without belief in God or gods. So, all the people who lived before us on the earth also couldn’t imagine their life without the divine origin!
If nevertheless God exists, how can we define Him and understand our relationship with Him? Whichever the image, Tolstoy couldn’t hold to it. The divine image melted before his eyes. Even the concept of God couldn’t save His image – you could reject the concept and continue to live your life without this concept. And God – it should be something without which life is impossible. Tolstoy couldn’t separate God from all that is and imagine Him as something material, three-dimensional and limited.
In such a way Tolstoy came to awareness that God is the essence of his life, the very life itself, inseparable from him and from everything around him. “To know God and to live – it is the same.” “You have to live in search for God, and then you will not live without God.” Thus the writer came to the possibility of living with God in his soul. “It seems strange, but the power of life which returned to me wasn’t something new – this was the same old power of life which had led me from the first steps of my life…I returned to my belief in the will that created me and wanted something from me, its creation; I returned to the understanding that the main and only aim of my life is to be better, i.e. to live more in harmony with this will; I returned to the revelation that I could find the manifestation of this will in that what humanity since ancient times had worked out for its guidance, i.e. I returned to my faith in God, in moral improvement and in the tradition which conveyed us the meaning of life. The only difference was that at that time I had accepted this unconsciously whilst now I knew that I cannot live without all of this.” (L.Tolstoy, A Confession)
Thus, as a result of his search, Tolstoy came to a completely new condition – conscious belief in the divine origin of everything. And he definitively went away from religion because he didn’t need any religion to understand God. He understood also that any person who is sincerely searching for God is able to see seekers like him or her in any other people, to whichever religion they would belong and whichever they would reject.
In his other work – About Life – the author states that the person who knows about at least two religions and is ready to respect a human being of different faith will never blindly and mindlessly believe that only one of these religions is leading to God. Unwillingly, he or she will switch on their mind and think, and search for the common origin – for God as universal truth.
The church couldn’t forgive Tolstoy his sincerity. The Orthodox Church Synod rejected him and tried to set the people against him. The writer then wrote to the Synod: “I don’t say that only my faith is true for all the times, but I don’t see another one, simpler, clearer and answering all the requirements of my mind and heart; if I come to know such faith, then I will accept it immediately because God doesn’t need anything but truth.”