top of page

The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

Published 1894

"I love this book so much that I'm posting it just to say so, more content coming soon," that was in 2019. Call me the Tolstoy Tortoise. Here's the rest; keep in mind I read this book in 2008!

Tolstoy's religious period has been considered an unfortunate aberration by some of his admirers, such as the French biographer Romain Rolland, but I see it as an extension of a lifelong search for Truth he could no longer satisfy through his literature. We see this search intensify in his novel, Anna Karenina, published one year before he started writing A Confession (1879), a personal questioning of how life can have any meaning if God does not exist. I like reading philosophical discussions regarding Truth, and I like questioning.

In The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy calls out the hypocrisy of Orthodox Church practices, which he had come to consider contrary to the teaching of Christ. His attitude resulted in ex-communication. Here is a key quote from the Church decision (edited and commented by Boris Ivanov):

"In his writings and letters,.. he preaches, with fanatic zeal, the overthrow of all the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and the very essence of the Christian Faith. He rejects the individual living God - the glorious Creator and Provider of the Universe. He denies the Lord Jesus Christ - the God-Man, the Redeemer and Savior of the world, who has suffered for the sake of people and has risen from the dead. He denies the seedless conception of Christ the Lord and virginity before and after Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He does not recognize the afterlife. He rejects all the Sacraments of the Church and the blessed action of the Holy Spirit in them. He curses at the most sacred Doctrines of faith of the Orthodox people. And he even dares to mock the greatest of the sacraments, the Holy Eucharist. Count Tolstoy preaches all these things continuously, in word and in writing, to the temptation and horror of the entire Orthodox world. And in so doing, openly, consciously and intentionally, he himself rejected himself from any communion with the Orthodox Church."

In his public reply, Tolstoy agreed with pretty much everything that he was accused of. He really was against most of the Chruch dogmas and teachings. He was a believer, but not in the Christian Holy Trinity.

Back in 2008, my brother Kevin and I exchanged several letters on Tolstoy’s beliefs. Here is our correspondence.

Letter 1 from Kevin

Kellie, I've read about a third of the book as well as "What I Believe." It's possible that some of my disagreements will be addressed when I read the rest of the book, but so far I find things on almost every page that I find to be, from my point of view, misinterpretations of what Christianity is. The problem that I see is that Tolstoy decides that when Jesus said "Resist not evil," he meant that force was not to be used in any manner by any individual or state in any circumstance including states, courts of law, police, or circumstances where others were in danger (helpless children, for example) He makes a very good point that Rome became a Christian state not by force but by non-resistance and love. This is true. He also says that at this point, when Rome became Christian the church became entangled with the power of Rome and at this time began to hide the true message of Jesus. Both of these things are convincing arguments for his point. The biggest problem I see is that he views "resist not evil" as the overiding message of Jesus and then looks at the rest of the Bible and the rest of Jesus's teaching through that prism. It's as if I found that what really made sense to me is when Jesus told the parable of the talents and decided that anyone who didn't see that this was the main point of Jesus's teaching was misguided. I also think that he views Christianity as a philosophy which if followed will one day lead to the Kingdom of God being ushered into the world. If you look at all of Jesus's words you can't come to that conclusion. Jesus said that all of God's laws could be summed up with these two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. I'm not sure that opposing evil men with force neccesarily goes against these commands. What do you think of these radical ideas? (April 1, 2008)

Letter 2 from Kellie

Letter 3 from Kevin

Letter 4 from Kevin

Letter 5 from Kellie

Letter 6 from Kevin

72 views0 comments


bottom of page