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Religion and Non-violence (Quotes)

by Leo Tolstoy

During certain periods in the existence of all human societies, a time has come when religion has first strayed from its basic meaning, and then digressed further and further until it has lost track of this meaning and eventually ossified in the already established forms, at which point it has come to have less and less influence on people’s lives. At these times the educated minority, no longer believing in the existing religious teaching, simply pretend to believe in it because they find it necessary for the purpose of holding the masses to the established order of life. Although the masses might cling to the established religious forms through inertia, their lives are no longer guided by religious demands, but simply by popular custom and state regulations.

This has occurred many times in various human societies. But what is happening today in our Christian society has never happened before. Never before have the educated minority, those with the most influence on the masses, not only had no belief in the existing religion, but seemed convinced that today’s world no longer has any need of one. Rather than persuading those who doubt the truth of the professed religion that there is a more rational and lucid doctrine than the existing one, they persuade them that on the whole religion has outlived itself and become not just useless, but a harmful organ of social life, like the caecum in the human body...

In the opinion of these learned people there has been a period of ignorance: the religious period which humanity outlived long ago leaving occasional atavistic indications of its existence. Then followed a metaphysical period, and this has been outlived. Today we, enlightened people, are living in a scientific period, a period of positive science which will replace religion and lead humanity to a height of development which was unattainable while it was subordinated to superstitious religious teachings.

At the beginning of the year 1901, the renowned French scholar Berthelot delivered a speech in which he informed his audience that the age of religion has passed and that it must now be replaced by science. I refer to this speech because it was the first to fall into my hands and because it was delivered in the capital of the educated world by a person whom everyone recognised to be a scholar. The same thought is constantly expressed everywhere, from philosophical treatise to newspaper feuilletons. In his speech Mr Berthelot says that formerly there were two principles motivating human society: force and religion.

Today these principles have become superfluous because science has replaced them. By the word science, Mr Berthelot evidently means, like all who believe in science, a science that embraces every aspect of human knowledge, harmoniously united, assessed according to its degree of importance and in command of such methods that the data obtained is indisputably true. But since there is really no such science, and what is referred to as science is a collection of incidental, totally disconnected items of knowledge which are often completely useless, and not only fail to present the indisputable truth but very often present the most crude delusions, displayed as the truth today and refuted tomorrow, it is obvious that the thing which Mr Berthelot claims must replace religion does not exist. Therefore when Mr Berthelot and those in agreement with him say that science will replace religion, their assertion is entirely arbitrary and based on a completely unjustified belief in the infallibility of science, a belief quite similar to faith in the infallibility of the Church. Moreover, those considered and referred to as learned are quite convinced that a science already exists which should and can replace religion and which has already obviated the need for it.

‘Religion is obsolete; to believe in anything other than science is ignorance. Science will arrange all we need and we need only science to guide us through life.’ This is what the scientists themselves say ...

None of the important questions in life can be resolved by a rational person through considerations of the immediate results and consequences. He cannot be satisfied by the same things that guide an animal’s behaviour. Man may regard himself as an animal living among animals, by the day, or he may think of himself as a member of a family, or society, or a nation that lives for centuries. Or he may find himself obliged (because his reason drives him irresistibly to it) to regard himself as a part of an infinite universe, living in infinite time. And, therefore, in respect of the infinitely small phenomena of life that influences his behaviour, a rational person must do what in mathematics is called integration: that is, establish a relation to the immediate issues of life, a relation to the entire infinite universe in time and space, conceiving of it as a whole. And the relationship established by man to that whole, of which he feels himself a part and from which he draws guidance for his behaviour, is that which has been, and is called religion. And therefore religion has always been, and cannot cease to be, an essential and indisposable condition of the life of rational humanity...

This is how religion has always been understood by people who do not lack the faculty of higher (i.e. religious) consciousness, which distinguishes man from the animals. The oldest and most common definition of the word religion (religare, to bind) runs as follows: religion is the bond between man and God. ‘Les obligations de l’homme envers Dieu voila la religion,’ says Vauvenargues. Schleiermacher and Feuerbach attribute a similar meaning to religion when they acknowledge that the basis of religion is man’s consciousness of his dependence on God.

‘Religion is a certain method by which man recognises his relationship to the superhuman and mysterious forces on which he regards himself dependent’ (Goblet d’Alviella). ‘Religion is a definition of human life based on the bond between the human spirit and those mysterious spirits whose dominion over the world and over himself is recognised by man, and with which he feels himself united.’ (A. Reville).

Thus the essence of religion has been, and still is, understood by people with the highest human faculty, as the establishing by man of a relationship with the infinite Being, or beings, whose power he feels over him. No matter how this relationship has varied, for different peoples and at different times, it has always defined man’s destiny in the world, from which guidance for conduct followed naturally. The Jew has understood his relationship to the infinite as follows: being a member of the nation God chose from among all nations, he must therefore observe in God’s eyes the agreement He has entered into with his people.

The Greek understood his relationship as follows: being dependent on the representatives of eternity- the gods- he ought to please them. The Brahmin has understood his relationship to the infinite Brahma in this way: he is a manifestation of this Brahma and ought, by renouncing life, to strive after unity with the Higher Being. The Buddhist has understood, and understands, his relationship with the infinite thus; in passing from one form of life to another, he inevitably suffers. This suffering originates from passions and desires, therefore he ought to try and nullify them, and make the transition to Nirvana. Every religion is the establishment of a relationship between man and the infinite Being of which he feels he is a part, and from which he derives guidance in his conduct. If therefore a religion fails to establish this relationship, as for instances in idolatry, or sorcery, then it is not a religion, but merely a degeneration of one.

Even if a religion establishes a relationship between Man and God, but does so through affirmations which are so contrary to the level of knowledge people have reached that they cannot believe in them, then neither is this a religion, but merely a semblance of one. Again, if it does not bind man to the infinite being, it is not a religion. Neither is a belief in propositions which give man no definite guidance in his conduct. It is similarly impossible to give the name religion to Comte’s positivism, since it only establishes a relationship between man and mankind, not with the infinite. This relationship leads quite arbitrarily to Comte’s morals, which despite making very high demands are unfounded. The most educated Comtist finds himself in a religious relationship that is incomparably lower than that of a simple person who believes in God, whatever the god, as long as it is infinite, and whose behaviour is derived from this faith. The Comtist’s argument about the ‘grand etre’ does not constitute belief in God and cannot replace it...

True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions...

Despite the fact that at no time and in no place have people ever lived without religion, the learned people of today say we can and must live without religion. But, as always, religion remains the chief motivator and heart of human societies. Without it, as without a heart, there cannot be rational life. Today, as in the past, there are a number of different religions, because the expression of man’s relationship to the infinite, to Gods or the God, varies according to the times and according to the level of development of different peoples. However, since the appearance of rational man there has not been one human society that could live or has lived without religion.

It is true that there have been and still are periods in the life of nations when the existing religion has become so distorted and remote from life that it no longer guides it. But this interruption of religious influences on people’s lives, occurring at certain times in all religions, has always been temporary. Religion, like all that lives, has the characteristics of birth, development, ageing, death and rebirth- rebirth in forms that are ever more perfect than the previous ones.

After a period of heightened development religion always enters into a period of decline and death, which is usually followed by a period of regeneration and the formation of religious doctrine that is more rational and lucid than before. These periods of development, death and rebirth have always occurred in all religions. As soon as the profound religion of Brahmanism began to grow old and fossilise in rigid, coarse forms deviating from the original meaning, there appeared on the one hand a rebirth of Brahmanism, and on the other the elevated doctrine of Buddhism, which advanced humanity’s understanding of its relationship to the infinite. The same kind of decline occurred in the Greek and Roman religions, with Christianity appearing after the lowest ebb of the decline had been reached.

The same happened with Church Christianity in Byzantium, which degenerated into idolatry and polytheism. To counteract this distortion there appeared on the one side the Paulicians, and on the other, strict Mohammedanism with its fundamental teaching of the one God, as opposed to the doctrines of the Trinity and the Virgin Mother.

The same happened with Papal Christianity during the Middle Ages, leading to the Reformation. Thus, these periods when there is a decline in the religious influence on the majority are an essential condition of the life and development of all religious teachings. The reason they occur is because no matter how unsophisticated it may be, every religion in its true meaning always establishes a relationship between man and the infinite, which is one and the same for all people. In all faiths man is regarded as equally insignificant before the infinite; they therefore all include the concept of equality between men in the eyes of what is called God, whether it be lightning, the wind, a tree, an animal, a hero or a King (living or dead), as occurred in Rome.

The acceptance of equality between all men is a necessary and fundamental characteristic of all religions. Since in no place, and at no time, has this equality ever existed in reality, nor will it ever, what has happened is that as soon as a new religious teaching appeared (including as always a recognition of equality between all men) those for whom inequality was more advantageous have immediately tried to conceal this basic feature, thereby misconstruing the actual doctrine. This has always and everywhere happened whenever a new religious teaching has appeared. On the whole it has been done unconsciously, because those for whom inequality is advantageous, the rulers and the rich, have tried to justify themselves in the eyes of the new religious teaching without having to alter their own position by using every possible means to instill a meaning into the doctrine that admits rule over others to feel justified in doing so, when passed on to the masses naturally gave them the idea that their submission to their masters was demanded by the religion they professed.

Whenever any religious teaching has started becoming distorted its guardians, having already brought people to a state of weakened rational activity, have then employed every means of persuading them of what they wanted. In all faiths it has been necessary to persuade them of the same three tenets which lie at the basis of all the perversions that have corrupted ageing religions. Firstly, that there are special people who alone can act as intermediaries between man and God, or the Gods; secondly, that miracles have been, and are being, performed which prove and confirm the truth of what the intermediaries say; and thirdly that there are certain words repeated orally or written in books which express the unwavering will of God, or the Gods, and which are sacred and infallible.

As soon as these propositions are accepted, under hypnotic influence, everything said by these intermediaries is recognised as the holy truth, and then the chief purpose of the religious perversion is accomplished. The purpose is not only to conceal the law of human equality, but to construe and affirm the highest inequality: the division of castes, the distinction between people and gays [sic], Orthodox and heretic, holy and sinful. The same division has always occurred in Christianity: complete inequality between men has been accepted, as well as division, not just according to their understanding of the doctrines into lay and cleric, but according to social status into those with power and those who must submit, which the teaching of St Paul acknowledges as ordained by God...

Inequality between people, not just between lay and clergy, but between rich and poor, and masters and slaves, was established by the Church Christian religion in the same clear cut manner as in other religions. And yet, judging by what we know of the original conditions of Christianity from the teachings expressed in the Gospels, it would appear that the chief methods of distortion used by other religions had been foreseen and that warnings against them had been clearly stated. It was straightforwardly said against the priestly caste that none could be the teacher of another (‘Do not call yourselves fathers and teachers’).

Against the attribution of sacred knowledge to books it was said that what is important is the spirit and not the letter, that man ought not to believe in human traditions, and that all the laws and the Prophets, that is all those books in which the writing is considered sacred, lead only to the fact that we should do to others as we would wish them to do to us. If nothing is said against miracles, and if in the Gospels themselves there are descriptions of miracles presented as if performed by Jesus, it is nevertheless evident from the whole spirit of the teaching that the validity of Christ’s doctrine is not based on miracles, but on the actual teaching (‘Whosoever wishes to know if my teaching is true, let him do as I say’). The most important thing is that Christianity proclaims the equality of all men, no longer merely as a basic teaching of universal brotherhood, but because all men are recognised as being sons of God.It would therefore seem impossible to twist Christianity in such a way as to destroy the awareness of equality between all men.

But human intelligence is shrewd, and whether it was done unconsciously or semi-consciously, an entirely new method was devised (a ‘truc’ as the French say) in order to make the warnings in the Gospels and the clearly proclaimed equality between men inoperative. This ‘truc’ consisted in attributing infallibility not only to certain words, but to a certain group of people called the ‘Church’, who had a right to pass this infallibility on to people selected by themselves.

A slight addition to the Gospels was invented saying that when He departed for heaven, Christ handed certain people the exclusive right not just of instructing people in the sacred truth (according to the Gospel texts he handed over at the same time a right, seldom used, of being invulnerable to snakes, poisons and fire), but of saving and condemning people, and more importantly of conferring this power on others. As a result, as soon as the idea of the Church was firmly established all the Gospel proposals for hindering the distortion of Christ’s teaching became inoperative, for the Church was superior to both reason and to the writings considered sacred. Reason was acknowledged as the source of all error and the Gospels were not interpreted in the light of common-sense, but merely as those who constituted the Church wished.

And thus, all the three previous methods of religious distortion- priesthood, miracles, and the infallibility of the Scriptures- were adopted wholeheartedly by Christianity. It was admitted as lawful to have intermediaries between God and man, because the Church recognised them as such. The reality of miracles was admitted because they bore witness to the infallibility of the Church, and the sanctity of the Bible was agreed because it was acknowledged by the Church.

Christianity was perverted in the same way as all the other religions with the single difference that precisely because Christianity voiced its fundamental doctrine of equality between all men with such clarity, it was necessary to use special force to distort the teaching and conceal its basic clause. With the help of the concept of a Church this was done to a greater extent than in any other religion. Indeed no other faith has ever preached things so incompatible with reason and contemporary knowledge, or ideas so immoral as those taught by Church Christianity.

This is without mentioning all the nonsense in the Old Testament, such as the creation of light before the sun, the creation of the world six thousand years ago, the housing of all the animals in the ark, and all the various immoral atrocities such as the order to murder children and entire populations at God’s command. Nor have we mentioned the absurdity of the sacrament of which Voltaire said that there have been and are a great many absurd religious teachings, but never before was there one in which the main religious act consists in eating your own God. And what can be more ridiculous than saying that Our Lady was both mother and virgin, or that the heavens opened up and a voice rang forth, or that Christ flew up to heaven and is seated up there somewhere, at the right hand of His father, or that God is three persons in one, not three gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, but three combined in one.

There can be nothing as immoral as those dreadful teachings according to which an angry and vengeful God punishes everyone for the sin of Adam, or that he sent his son to earth to save us, knowing beforehand that men would murder him and be damned for it. Again it is absurd to suggest that man’s salvation from sin lies in baptism, or in believing that all these things actually happened, and that the son of God was killed in order to save people and that those who do not believe it will be punished by God with eternal torment.

And so, putting aside those things some people consider to be additions to the essential religious dogma, such as faith in certain relics or icons of the Virgin Mary, prayers of supplication, addresses to various saints according to their specialty, or the Protestant doctrine of predestination, even so the very premises of this religion, accepted by all and formulated in the Nicene Creed, are so ridiculous and immoral, and so contradictory to healthy human feeling and reason, that people cannot believe in things devoid of meaning. One can use one’s lips to say: ‘I believe the world was created six thousand years ago’, or: ‘I believe in God the Father in three persons’, but no one can believe it all because the words make no sense. Therefore, the people of our world who profess a distorted form of Christianity do not actually believe in it. This is the peculiarity of our times...

People in our world live without faith. One section, the educated, wealthy minority, having freed themselves from the persuasion of the Church, believe in nothing because they regard every faith either as an absurdity, or as a useful means of controlling the masses. The vast, poor and uneducated majority, consisting of people who with few exceptions are true believers, finding themselves slaves under the influence of hypnosis, think they believe in what is suggested to them beneath the guise of faith. But it is not faith, for rather than clarifying man’s position in the world, it only obscures it. This situation and the mutual relations between the non-believing, pretentious minority, and the hypnotised majority, shapes the life of our world, which we call Christian.

And this life, both of the minority who hold the means of hypnosis in their hands, and of the hypnotised majority, is terrible on account of both the cruelty and immorality of the rulers, and the oppression and stupefaction of the enormous working massses. Never before at any period of religious decline has such a low level of disregard and negligence towards the chief characteristic of all religions and of Christianity in particular- the equality of all men- been reached as in our time.

The main reason for the terrible cruelty between men today, apart from the absence of religion, is still the refined complexity of life which shields people from the consequences of their actions. However cruel Attila, Genghis Khan and their followers may have been, the act of killing people personally, face to face, must have been unpleasant: the wailing relatives and the presence of corpses. And thus their cruelty was restrained. Nowadays we kill people through such a complex process of communication, and the consequences of our cruelty are so carefully removed and concealed from us, that there is no restraint on the bestiality of the action. The cruelty of some people towards others will continue to increase until it has reached unprecedented dimensions.

The basic principle of all religions - the equality between all men - has been forgotten, neglected and buried under so much ridiculous dogma put forward by the religion; and in science this same inequality (expressed in the theory of the struggle for the existence and survival of the fittest) is acknowledged as such a necessary condition of life, that the destruction of millions of human lives for the convenience of the ruling minority is regarded as a most commonplace and necessary facet of living, and happens continually. People of today’s world cannot take enough delight in the brilliant, unprecedented and colossal achievements of nineteenth century technology.

There is no doubt that never before in history has such material success, i.e. in conquering the forces of human nature, been achieved as in the nineteenth century. But there is also no doubt that never before in history has there been such a display of immoral living, free of any force restraining man’s animal desires, as that which exists now in our Christian humanity, which is becoming even more bestialised. The material progress achieved in the nineteenth century is truly enormous, but it was, and still is being, purchased at a cost of neglect for the most elementary demands of morality, such as humanity has never witnessed before, not even under Genghis Khan, Attila, or Nero. No one would argue that iron-clads [battleships], railroads, printing presses, tunnels, phonographs, Rontgen rays and so forth are very fine things.

Indeed they are, but what are also fine, as Ruskin says, finer beyond comparison with all else, are human lives, of which millions are now destroyed for the acquisition of iron-clads, roads, tunnels, etc., all of which disfigure rather than beautify life. The usual reply to this is that they are already inventing, and with time will have invented, devices to check the destruction of human life existing at the moment. But this is not true. So long as people do not consider all men as their brothers and do not consider human life as the most sacred thing, which rather than destroy they must consider it their first and foremost duty to support; that is so long as people do not behave towards one another in a religious manner, they will always ruin one another’s lives for the sake of personal gain...

Christian nations have conquered and subdued the American Indians, Hindus and Africans. They are now doing the same to the Chinese and are proud of it. But these conquests and subjugations really arise, not through the spiritual superiority of the Christian nations, but on the contrary, because on a spiritual level they are far beneath the others. Forgetting the Hindus and the Chinese, even among the Zulus there were, and are, obligatory religious rules, whatever they might be, which condone certain actions and forbid others. In Christendom we have none. Rome conquered the world when it had freed itself from all religions. The same is happening, only to a greater extent, among the Christian nations. They all share in common an absence of religion and consequently, despite internal dissension, are united in one federal band of criminals where theft, plunder, debauchery, individual and mass murder are performed without the slightest pang of conscience and even with utmost self-complacency, as for instance in China not so long ago. Some do not believe in what to their own advantage they have persuaded the masses to believe in beneath the guise of faith. The rest, the great majority of the population, accept as faith the hypnotism exercised over them and slavishly submit to everything demanded of them by their non-believing rulers and persuaders.

Reason is the power man possesses to define his relationship to the universe. Since the relationship is the same for everyone the establishing of it, i.e. religion, unites men. Union among men gives them the highest attainable well-being, on both the physical and the spiritual level.

Complete unity with the highest and most perfect reason and, thereby, perfect well-being is an ideal towards which humanity strives. By giving identical answers to all members of any particular society, when they ask questions about what the world is and what they the inhabitants are, all religions unite men and bring them closer to the reality of well-being. But, when reason diverges from its own particular function (the clarification of the relationship with God and the activities that conform to it), and is directed not only at service to the flesh, or bitter strife with other men and other creatures, but also at justifying this evil existence, so contrary to man’s nature and purpose, then these dreadful misfortunes occur from which the majority of today’s people are suffering. Moreover, a situation then arises whereby it is almost impossible to return to a reasonable, decent life.

It is man’s nature to create harmony between his rational (spiritual) and his bodily (physical) activity. A person cannot be at peace until he has somehow established this harmony. But it can be established in two ways. The first is when he uses his reason to decide on the necessity, or desirability, of a certain action, or actions, and then acts on his reason. The second is for a person to perform actions under the influence of his emotions and then to invent intellectual explanations or justifications for them. The first method of teaching conformity between action and reason is typical of those who profess some kind of religion and on the basis of its doctrines know what they ought to do, and what they ought not to do. The second method is typical of the majority of non-religious people, who lack a general standard of evaluating the worthiness of their actions and who therefore always establish conformity between their reason and their actions, not by subjecting the latter to the former but - having accomplished an action under the impulse of feeling - by using reason to justify them.

The religious person, knowing what is good and what is wrong in his actions and in those of others, and why one is good and another bad, when he sees a contradiction between the demands of his reason and his actions (other than the pleasure they afford), and yielding to the impulse of his varied and frequently contradictory emotions, involuntarily falls into a contradiction. Finding himself in this state he tries to resolve, or hide the contradiction with rationalisations that are variously complicated and skilful, but always dishonest. Thus, while the deliberations of religious people are always simple, uncomplicated and honest, the mental activity of non-religious people is particularly subtle and extremely complex and dishonest.

Thus, due to the absence of religion, the people of today’s world have built themselves a very cruel, bestial and immoral life. They have also led their complex, subtle and useless mental activities to such a level of unnecessary intricacy and confusion in order to conceal the evil in their lives, that the majority has entirely lost the capacity of differentiating between good and evil, falsehood and truth.

There is not a single question which the men of our world can approach simply and straightforwardly. Every question, be it economic (internal or foreign), civil, diplomatic, scientific, not to mention religious and philosophical ones, are put so artificially and mistakenly, wrapped in such a thick layer of complex, unnecessary argument and full of so many subtle twists of meaning and words and such sophistry and debate that all discussions of such questions go round and round in circles, grasping hold of nothing, like a disconnected car wheel. They lead nowhere except to achieve the one purpose for which they are instigated: to conceal from oneself and others the evil in which men live and which they commit.

Added to all this, the applied sciences, such as technology and medicine, inevitably diverge from their reasonable purpose and adopt a false direction as a result of the absence of any religious guiding principle. Thus the whole of technology is aimed not at easing the burden of the working masses, but at the improvements requested by the wealthy classes, thus increasing the division between rich and poor, masters and slaves. If some advantage from these inventions and improvements, some small fragment, falls into the lap of the working classes, it is certainly not because they were intended for the people, but simply because by their nature they could not be kept from them.

This divergence and perversion of the essential question is most striking in what goes today by the name of philosophy. There would seem to be only one question for philosophy to resolve: what must I do? Despite being combined with an enormous amount of unnecessary confusion, answers to the question have at any rate been given within the philosophical tradition of the Christian nations. For example, in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, or in Spinoza, Schopenhauer and especially Rousseau. But in more recent times, since Hegel's assertion that all that exists is reasonable, the question of what one must do has been pushed to the background and philosophy has directed its whole attention to the investigation of things as they are, and to fitting them into a prearranged theory. This was the first step backwards.

The second step, degrading human thought yet further, was the acceptance of the struggle that can be observed among animals and plants. According to this theory the destruction of the weakest is a law which should not be opposed.

And finally, the third step was taken when the childish originality of Nietzsche’s half-crazed thought, presenting nothing complete or coherent, but only various drafts of immoral and completely unsubstantiated ideas, was accepted by the leading figures as the final word in philosophical science. In reply to the question: what must we do? The answer is now put straightforwardly as: live as you like, without paying attention to the lives of others...

From the very earliest childhood years, the years most susceptible to suggestion, when educators cannot be careful enough about what they impart to children, they teach them the ridiculous, immoral dogmas of the so-called Christian religion, which are incompatible with reason and knowledge. Children are taught the dogma of the Trinity, which cannot be accommodated in a healthy mind, and the descent of one of the three Gods to earth for the salvation of the human race and His resurrection and ascent to Heaven. They are taught about the awaited second coming and the punishment of eternal torments for not believing in these dogmas. They are taught to pray for their needs and many other things. And when all this doctrine, compatible with neither reason, contemporary knowledge or human conscience, is indelibly stamped on a child's receptive mind, they leave him alone to fathom as best he can the contradictions arising from the dogmas he has accepted and assumed as the undoubted truth.

No one tells him how he can and should reconcile these contradictions. If theologians do try to reconcile them they only succeed in confusing the matter still further. And bit by bit a person grows accustomed (with strong support from theologians) to the fact that he cannot trust in his reason and therefore everything in the world is possible, for he has nothing with which to differentiate between good and evil, lies and the truth. And in the thing most important to him – his actions m – he must not be guided by his reason but by what others tell him. One can see the terrible distortion of man’s spiritual world that inevitably results from such an education, and is supported in adult life by all the techniques of persuasion which, with the aid of the clergy, are continually exercised on people.

Principles of True Religion

True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions. (Leo Tolstoy, 1879)

Reason is the power man possesses to define his relationship to the universe. Since the relationship is the same for everyone, thus religion unites men. Union among men gives them the highest attainable well-being, on both the physical and the spiritual level. Humanity can only be saved from disaster when it frees itself from the hypnotic influence the priests hold over it, and from that into which the learned are leading it. In order to pour something into a full vessel one must first empty it of its contents. Likewise, it is essential to free people from the deception they are held in, in order for them to adopt the true religion: a relationship with God, the source of all things, which is correct and in accord with the development of humanity, together with the guidance for conduct that results from this relationship.

The principles of this true religion are so appropriate to man that as soon as people discover them they accept them as something they have known for a long time and which stand to reason.

..The principles are very simple, comprehensible and uncomplicated. They are as follows:
that there is a God who is the origin of everything;
that there is an element of this divine origin in every person, which he can diminish or increase through his way of living;
that in order for someone to increase this source he must suppress his passions and increase the love within himself;
that the practical means of achieving this consist in doing to others as you would wish to do to you.

All these principles are common to Brahmanism, Hebraism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism. (If Buddhism does not provide a definition of God, it nevertheless recognises that with which man unites and merges as he reaches Nirvana. And that something is the same origin which the other religions recognise as God.)

‘But that is not a religion,’ say the men of today, accustomed as they are to regarding the supernatural, i.e. the absurd, as the main sign of religion. ‘It is anything else you like, philosophy, ethics, rationalisation, but not religion.’ According to their way of seeing things, religion must be ridiculous and incomprehensible (credo quia absurdum). Yet it was from just these very religious principles, or rather as a consequence of their being propagated as religious doctrines, that through a long process of distortion, all the religious miracles and supernatural events were drawn up, which are now considered basic characteristics of any faith. To claim that the supernatural and irrational form the basic characteristics of religion is much the same as noticing only the rotten apples and then claiming that the basic features of the fruit named apple are a flaccid bitterness and a harmful effect produced in the stomach.

Religion is the definition of man’s relationship to the origin of everything, and of the purpose acquired as a result of this relationship, and of the rules of conduct that follow from this purpose. And the religion common to all, the basic principles of which are alike in all practices, fully satisfies these demands. It defines man’s relationship to God as of a part to a whole. From this relationship follows man’s purpose, which lies in increasing his spiritual qualities, and man’s purpose leads to the practical rules of the law: do to others as you would have them do unto you.

The law of human life is such that the improvement of it, whether for the individual or for society, is only possible through inner, moral perfection. All the efforts people make to improve their lives through violent external behaviour towards one another serve as the most potent form of propaganda and example of evil, and do not improve life, but, on the contrary, increase the evil which gathers size like a snowball and increasingly alienates people from the only possible way of genuinely improving their lives.

The extent to which the habit of violence and criminal behaviour committed under the guise of a law by the guardians of order and morality becomes ever more frequent and cruel, and is increasingly justified by the false assurances that are presented as religion, will determine the extent to which people will become more and more convinced of the idea that the law of their life does not lie in love and service to one’s neighbour, but in struggling against and devouring one another.

A vicious circle has been established: the absence of religion makes animal life, based on violence, possible; animal life, based on violence, makes it increasingly impossible to be free of hypnotic influence and to adopt the true religion. And, therefore, people do not do what is most natural, possible and necessary in our times: they do not destroy the deception that resembles religion, and do not adopt and propagate the truth.

The essence of any religion lies solely in the answer to the question: why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me?

From the most elevated to the most primitive, there is not one single religion that does not have as its basis the establishment of man’s relationship to the universe, or to its first cause.

It is impossible for there to be a person with no religion (i.e. without any kind of relationship to the world) as it is for there to be a person without a heart. He may not know that he has a religion, just as a person may not know that he has a heart, but it is no more possible for a person to exist without a religion than without a heart. Religion is the relationship a person recognises himself to have with the external world, or with its origin and first cause, and a rational person cannot fail to have some kind of relationship to it.

But you may well say that the establishing of a relationship between man and the universe is not the concern of religion but of philosophy, or of science in general, if philosophy is to be regarded as a part of science. I do not think so. I believe quite the opposite, that to suggest that science as a whole, including philosophy can establish a relationship between man and the universe is entirely mistaken and is the main reason for the confusion that is understanding religion, science and morality that exists among the cultured strata of our society.

Science, including philosophy, cannot establish man’s relationship to the infinite universe, or towards its origin, if no other reason than that before any kind of philosophy or science could come into existence there must have been that, without which it is impossible to have any kind of mental activity, or any kind of relationship whatsoever between man and the universe.

Philosophy always has been, and always will be, merely an investigation of things that stem from an established religious attitude between man and the universe. Therefore, until that relationship is established there is no material for philosophical investigation.

Neither philosophy nor science is able to establish man’s relationship to the universe, because this relationship must be established before any kind of philosophy or science can begin.

Leo Tolstoy Quotes on Religion & Morality

If religion is the establishing of a relationship between man and the universe, defining the meaning of life, then morality is the indication and explanation of those activities that automatically result when a person maintains one or other relationship to the universe.

Morality cannot be independent of religion, since it is not only a consequence of religion- that is, of the relationship a person has to the world- but it is also included in religion by implication. Every religion is an answer to the question of the meaning of life. And the religious answer includes a certain moral demand.

Even if we accept the impossible and believe that in a thousand years social progress alone will have united the whole of humanity in one entity which will form a single state, with a single government, even then one must not forget that the struggle between nations and States that will have been abolished will turn into a struggle between the human and the animal kingdom.

It is truly desirable that moral teaching should not be adulterated by superstition, but the truth of the matter is that moral teaching is only a result of a particular relationship established between man and the universe, or God. If the establishment of such a relationship is expressed in forms we feel to be superstitious, then in order to avoid this we must strive to express it more reasonably, clearly and precisely, or even to destroy the previously established relationship between man and the universe that is now inadequate, and replace it with one that is more reasonable, clear and precise.

Religion is a particular relationship that man establishes between his own separate personality and the infinite universe, or its origin. And morality is the permanent guide to life that follows from this relationship.

‘The reform of evil that exists in life must begin with a denunciation of the religious lie and the establishing of religious truth within each individual person.’

‘There is no greater unhappiness than when a person starts to fear the truth lest it denounce him.’ (Pascal75)

‘Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.’

The majority of the working people, deprived of land and consequently of the possibility of enjoying the fruits of their labour, hate the landowners and capitalists who hold them in servitude.

The Christian teaching in its true meaning, acknowledging the SUPREME LAW of human life to be the law of love which in no instance permits violence between men, is so close to the heart of man and gives such undoubted freedom, such independent happiness to both the individual and groups of people, as well as to the whole of humanity, that it would seem this need only be known for all men to accept it as the guiding principle of their behaviour.

Thus, in order to accept the Christian teaching in its true meaning, the people of the Christian world, who have, to a greater or lesser extent, understood the truth of Christianity, must free themselves not only from their belief in the false forms of a perverted Christian teaching, but also from belief in the necessity and inevitably of that system of government that was founded on this false Church religion. Thus, although liberation from false religious forms is taking place ever more frequently, the people of our time, having rejected belief in dogmas, sacraments, miracles, the sanctity of the Bible and other institutions of the Church, are nevertheless unable to free themselves from those false teachings of the State, founded on a perverted Christianity and hiding the true one.

And so, those who, like the working populace, believe in the lawfulness of the existing structure of society, as too the so-called educated people who try, either gradually or by revolutionary processes, to change the existing order, believe equally in the necessity of violence as a chief weapon for structuring society. And neither one of them either acknowledges, or is capable of imagining, a social structure other than one based on violence.

One need only recall Christ’s teaching forbidding violent resistance to evil, and people, from the privileged gentry as compared to the labouring classes, will, whether they are believers or non-believers, simply smile ironically at such a reference, as if the idea that non-violent resistance to evil were possible is such blatant nonsense that serious-minded people would not even mention it.

I sit on a man's back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back. The changed form and substance of law is rather like what a jailer might do who shifted a prisoner's chains...or removed them and substituted bolts and bars. A Russian should rejoice if Poland, the Baltic Provinces, Finland, Armenia, should be separated, freed from Russia; so with an Englishman in regard to Ireland, India and other possessions; and each should help to do this, because the greater the state, the more wrong and cruel is its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded. Therefore, if we really wish to be what we profess to be, we must not only cease our present desire for the growth of the state, but we must desire its decrease, its weakening, and help this forward with all our might. (Leo Tolstoy, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence, 1886).



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