Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You

I’m going to be honest with you dear reader. You may not appreciate or agree with my views in life, I’ve never hidden the fact that my views differ from that of (at least what I perceive to be) popular opinion. I would like to think that that’s the one thing that you might like about me as a person, as an artist, even as a friend. You might not like my opinion but at least I’m honest to who I think I am.

Occasionally popular opinion overlaps with my own and I get to rest and not defend myself. For the most part I carry a torch of one, or a few, and I continue on with my belief even under pressure. I consider myself a Christian, though more realistically a failed one. In the words of one our late local lyricist and poet Henry McCullough “I’m a failed Christian and I don’t go to church, I smoke and I drink and I lie and I curse”….(he played with Paul McCartney’s Wings if I remember right). In other words I’m not going to judge you because I am in no position to. And if or when I do, I need to ask forgiveness from you!

My first introduction to Tolstoy was the book The Kingdom of God is Within You. It’s a non fiction book, the culmination of thirty years of Tolstoy’s thinking, and lays out a new organization for society based on a literal Christian interpretation. If I were to sum it up it’s about Christ’s sermon on the mount and how we’re supposed to turn the other cheek.

I bought it at the same time I was flying out to Turkey to spend a few weeks on holiday with my brothers.

So the first few chapters were read under palm trees instead of our usual Northern Irish semi dull days. The book was first published in Germany in 1894 after being banned in his home country of Russia and is the culmination of thirty years of Tolstoy’s thinking, and lays out a new organization for society based on a literal Christian interpretation. Why am I always drawn to banned things? I swear, it is not intentional. In the case of Tolstoy, I imagine his work was banned because it was in direct conflict with, say, the idea of the draft. It is basically a pacifist’s manual.

I’ll roll it back a bit, and let you into my life. I grew up in a family where church attendance was not that important, but occasionally my father desired that we would still attend. I was never interested in church. In Ireland, when some kind of mass salvation thing swept across my sister’s school, (thought it was not a religious school) and she got saved, it was a little shocking. If I’m honest about it I wasn’t too happy. I felt that my sister was stolen away from me. Soon I started to wonder If I too should be saved. For a long time I mocked the Christian music she listened too because it sounded too…well, weak. As time rolled on I thought “I’ll do the prayer”…you know that prayer that you’re supposed to do to get saved. I did that and forgot about it. About two weeks later I started to read the bible more and more. It felt like a compulsion. I am not sure if I had self hypnotised myself but I became really eager to learn more about the bible. Instead of being peaceful though, I turned really inspired by the apocalyptic. I started to straighten out though but I became interested in bands like the very obscure Nashville based Wedding Party ‘s Anthems Album (in my early 20’s they even invited me to their studio to see their set up because I made friends with most of the band members and often wrote detailed descriptions of how I felt about their songs) and Saviour Machine, a great gothic Christian band whose lead singer Eric Clayton was really great to talk to. I was a big fan and here was Eric talking to me!

At that point in my life I’d rather meet these people rather than the biggest pop star today. For me, These people were “celebrities” and they inspired my thinking, and also my belief that the best and most talented works of art and literature are probably the ones you’ll never hear of. What I mean is that most of the musica and art that has inspired me will probably never ever reach the mainstream. From that perspective I’ve never felt that I should necessarily seek to be “the best” because in my mind these people were the best yet would never make it into the mainstream. I started to understand that sometimes the best musicians and artists are the ones you’ll never hear about. Maybe I should do a story on that at some point.

Getting back to Tolstoy, you’re more likely to hear of Tolstoy with his books War and Peace or Anna Karenina, both of which, to this day, I’ve never read. In the book The Kingdom of God is within you, Tolstoy speaks of the Doctrine of Non-Resistance to Evil by Force, A principle of nonviolent resistance when confronted by violence. Trust me, I know it seems like an insane concept, and most would never be able to follow it.

In recent times I think, at least by American standards, I may be more conservative leaning, but even with that I do not feel fully “understood”. I’m still at that stage of understanding that maybe it fits with God’s will that killing your enemies is acceptable, yet Christ doesn’t seem to say this, nor even allude to it. I suppose I would say that officially it is not the right thing to do spiritually, but physically it might be a necessity. I can’t say. What I can say is that Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is within you certainly makes you ponder these things.

In that sense I think Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is within you is as relevant for the 1800’s as it is today, but it requires a lot of work if one wants to live it out in the real world. Then again, I can’t think of a single scripture where Christ says the walk will be easy! Well worth a read.

Thanks for reading


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