Sat in work’s canteen, I found myself enjoying a bit of Tolstoy, nothing beats having a paid fifteen minute break to sit and read a book. This book wouldn’t have been my obvious choice for a début work read but it was something I had started and quite simply didn’t wish to distract myself with another book.
I remember picking up my somewhat battered 1902 version from a wonderful second-hand shop four or so years ago and it is worth every penny of the £4.95, I paid for it. Why somebody would let this go I have no idea. Tolstoy writes with a simplicity and a logic that whilst sometimes seeming a little repetitive, makes his points with an effective and compelling clarity.
The primary essay centres on Tolstoy asking what is religion and its essence? He begins by analysing the key message of all religions, what they have in common, the teachings, in particular Christianity (and the teachings of Jesus) and how far the established church has diverted from certain tenets of its own faith.
In this and the other writings, class is a big factor for the author, asking why small groups of powerful people be it in the Church or not are working for their own ends and not for the good of everybody. Tolstoy also asks us to consider the logic of some of the dogma that surrounds the modern-day state of the church, these are issues that are around today and seem to still be largely ignored.
Although these letters and essays were written between 1896 and 1902 they seem remarkably relevant, not only from a spiritual standpoint but also a moral one. It was for this stance of outspoken Christian anarchy, if you will that Tolstoy was eventually excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It was explosive stuff for the time and is pretty compelling should you be in the right frame of mind for it.
The author has many other short works in the book including the problem of soldiers reconciling the commandment of thou shalt not kill with their day jobs, religious tolerance and the questioning of the established churches and how they convey the teachings of Jesus as well as how the flock is treated by the hierarchy. As well as a letter outlining how non-violent resistance could be used as a tool to for India to gain autonomy from the British, this was the letter that influenced Ghandi’s independence movement and the correspondence between the two men.
The mixture of social and spiritual reform that Tolstoy espouses is fascinating and still relevant today for the most part, as well as being a snap shot into the past and the similar struggles that were going on even then. Anybody with an interest in religion, or spiritual and moral awareness will find something here. You can’t go far wrong with a bit of Tolstoy, anybody with an interest in either the author or theology will get a lot out of this.