- James Hilgendorf
At the recent Sochi Olympics, Vladimir Putin put on a grand show highlighting Russia’s past. One of the main characters brought in by association with the show was the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
Putin wants to link himself with a revival of some of Russia’s great past, but it is interesting to note that Tolstoy, were he alive today, would look upon Putin and the government he is heading, with the utmost disdain.
Tolstoy was an ardent pacifist, whose message of non-violence and non-violent resistance had a profound impact upon Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who followed.
- Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy held Christian beliefs, particularly in Jesus’s teachings (though he saw Jesus as a man, not God) and the Sermon on the Mount and the admonition to “turn the other cheek”, which Tolstoy understood as one of the pillars of Christianity, and a commandment of non-violence and non-resistance to evil by force.
Tolstoy felt that the Russian Orthodox Church – the established Christian Church – had totally corrupted the teachings of Jesus. He spoke out against the Church, and, in turn, was attacked and excommunicated by the Church. Tolstoy also denounced the government and its use of power and force and its waging of war as totally contrary to the teachings of Christianity.
If Tolstoy were alive today, he would once again witness the collaboration of Russian Church and State in the blatant use of power and force and violence to achieve their aims. Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church are in collusion – bed fellows – and nothing seems to have changed since Tolstoy’s time.
For Putin to assume a mantle of association with Tolstoy is both ridiculous and disgusting. He is the opposite of what Tolstoy would consider a great leader or a great man. He shames the truly great spirit of Russia.
The question could be further posed: Is violence and war and collective murder compatible with Christianity? Tolstoy concluded that it definitely was not. Tolstoy condemned Christians who said they believed in Jesus and his teachings, yet condoned and participated in violence and war as un-Christian.
Another writer posed a similar question in America – Harriet Beecher Stowe, in her great anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Is slavery compatible with Christianity? Both she and Tolstoy held up an unflattering mirror to the societies of their times.
Tolstoy would damn Putin and the Orthodox Church as collaborators in violence and war. But he would also damn much of the world and many of its governments, who wage war and prepare for war and expend enormous sums of money on armaments and the instruments of violence, and still call themselves Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus, or whatever other label of religion they hold dear. All violate the basic premises of their own religions.
I am sure, he would hold in contempt even our own government, this United States of America, which stockpiles and readies nuclear weapons capable of annihilating the human race, as complicit in utter evil.
In the end, the change that Tolstoy sought and advocated, and which is still the primary change needed to effect a transformation in the world, is an inner transformation.
“There can be only one permanent revolution – a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.”
James Hilgendorf is the author of 8 books. Check out his website, or reach him on Twitter.