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◄Chapter 7

CHAPTER 8

Chapter 9►




Do not that which your conscience condemns, and say not that which does not agree with truth.  Fulfill this, the most important duty, and you will have fulfilled all the object of your life.

No one can coerce your will; it is accessible neither to thief nor robber.  Desire not that which is unreasonable; desire general welfare, and not personal as do the majority of men.  The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane…

Remember that there is a God who desires neither praise nor glory from men created in his image, but rather that they, guided by the understanding given them, should in their actions become like unto him.  A fig tree is true to its purpose; so is the dog, and so also are bees.  Then is it possible that man shall not fulfill his vocation?  But, alas, these great and sacred truths vanish from your memory.  The bustle of daily life, war, unreasonable fear, spiritual debility, and the habit of being a slave stifle them…

A small branch cut from the main branch has become thereby separated from the whole tree.  A man in enmity with another man is severed from the whole of mankind.  But a branch is cut off by another’s hand, whereas man estranges himself from his neighbor by hatred and spite, without knowing that thereby he tears himself away from the whole of mankind.  But the Divinity, having called men into common life as brothers, has endowed them with freedom to become reconciled to each other after dissension.  Marcus Aurelius


Enlightenment is the escape of man from his own childishness, which he himself maintains.  The childishness consists in his incapacity to use his reason without another’s guidance.  He himself maintains this childishness when it is the result of an insufficiency, not of reason, but of the decision and manliness to use it without another’s guidance.  “Sapere aude!”[4]  Have the manliness to use your own reason.  This is the motto of enlightenment.  Kant

One must extricate the religion Jesus professed from the religion of which Jesus is the object.  And when we have laid our finger upon the state of conscience that is the original cell, the basis of the eternal Gospel, we must hold onto it.

As the faint illuminations of a village festival or the miserable candles of a procession disappear before the great marvel of the sun’s light, so also small local miracles, accidental and doubtful, will flicker out before the law of the world of the Spirit, before the incomparable spectacle of human history guided by God.  Amiel, Fragments d’un journal intimé


I recognize the following proposition as needing no proof: all by which man thinks he can please God, save a good life, is merely religious error and superstition.  Kant


In reality there is only one means of worshipping God: it is by the fulfillment of one’s duties, and by acting in accord with the laws of reason.  G. C. Lichtenberg


“But in order to abolish the evil from which we are suffering,” those who are preoccupied by various practical activities will say, “it would be necessary not for a few men only, but for all men to bethink themselves, and having done so to understand the vocation of their lives to lie in the fulfillment of the will of God and the service of their neighbor.  Is that possible?’

Not only is it possible, I reply, but it is impossible that it should not be so.

It is impossible for men not to bethink themselves – impossible, that is, for each man not to put to himself the questions of who he is and why he lives.  Man, as a rational being, cannot live without a knowledge of why he lives, and has always put that question to himself.  And according to the degree of his development, he has always answered it in his religious teaching.  In our time, the inner contradiction in which men feel themselves to be presents this question with particular insistence and demands an answer.  It is impossible for men of our time to answer this question otherwise than by recognizing the law of life to lie in loving others and being in their service.  This is the only rational answer as to the meaning of human life, this answer was expressed nineteen hundred years ago in the Christian religion, and it is known in the same way to the great majority of all mankind.

This answer lives in a latent state in the consciousness of all people of the Christian world of our time.  There are only two reasons why it does not openly express itself and serve as guidance for our lives.  On the one hand, those who enjoy the greatest authority – the so-called scientists – being under the coarse delusion that religion is a temporary stage in the development of mankind, which they have outgrown, and under the delusion that men can live without religion, impress this error on those of the masses who are beginning to be educated.  On the other hand, those in power consciously or unconsciously (being themselves under the delusion that the Church faith is the Christian religion) try to support and promote in people the crude superstitions that are given out as the Christian religion.

If only these two deceptions were destroyed, true religion, which is already latent in people of our time, would become evident and obligatory.

To bring this about it is necessary that, on the one hand, men of science should understand that the principle of the brotherhood of all men, and the rule of not doing to others what one does not wish for oneself, is not a casual conception.  It is not one of a multitude of human theories that can be subordinated to other considerations.  Instead, it is an indubitable principle standing higher than other perceptions and flowing from the unalterable relations of man to the eternal – to God.  It is religion, all religion, and therefore always obligatory.

On the other hand, it is necessary that those who consciously or unconsciously preach crude superstitions under the guise of Christianity should understand that all these dogmas, sacraments, and rites, which they support and preach, are not harmless as they suppose.  They are in the highest degree harmful, concealing from men that one religious truth which is expressed in the fulfillment of God’s will: the brotherhood of man and service of man.  The rule of doing to others as you wish others to do to you is not one of the prescriptions of the Christian religion but is the whole of practical religion, as is said in the Gospels.

That men of our time should uniformly place before themselves the question of the meaning of life, and uniformly answer it, it is only necessary for those who regard themselves as enlightened to cease to think and impress on others (a) that religion is atavistic – the survival of a savage past – and (b) that for the good life of men a spreading of education is sufficient, that is, the spread of very miscellaneous knowledge which is somehow to bring men to justice and a moral life.[5] These men should understand instead that religion is vital for the good life of humanity, and that this religion already exists and lives in the consciousness of the men of our time.  Authorities who are intentionally and unintentionally stupefying the people by Church superstitions should cease to do so, and should recognize that what is important and obligatory in Christianity is not baptism, or the sacraments, or the profession of dogmas, and so forth, but only love of God and one’s neighbor, and the fulfillment of the command to act towards others as you wish others to act towards you.  In this is all the law and the prophets.

If only this were understood both by pseudo-Christians and by men of science, and these simple, clear, and necessary truths were preached to children and to the uneducated, as they now preach their complicated, confused, and unnecessary theories, all men would uniformly understand the meaning of their lives and recognize the same duties as flowing from that meaning.


◄Chapter 7

Table of Contents

Chapter 9►

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[4] Transcriber’s note – “Dare to understand!”

[5] Translator’s note – Tolstoy’s essay Religion and Morality contains his reply to Thomas Huxley’s Romanes Lecture in 1894.