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WHAT I BELIEVE
by Leo Tolstoy
We say that it is hard to live in accordance with Christ’s precepts! How can it be otherwise than hard while we conceal our state from ourselves and earnestly try to maintain the trust that our state is not what it really is? Calling that trust ‘faith’ we exalt it into something sacred, and either by violence, by working upon the feelings, by threats, by flattery, or by deceit we seek to allure others to that false trust. A Christian once said, ‘Credo quia absurdum,’ and other Christians now enthusiastically repeat the words, thinking a belief in absurdities is the best way to the truth.
A clever and learned man observed to me, a short time ago, in the course of conversation, that the Christian doctrine was of no importance as a doctrine or morality. ‘We find the same,’ he said, ‘in the teachings of the Stoics, the Brahmins, and in the Talmud. The substance of the Christian doctrine is in the theosophical teaching contained in the dogmas.’ That means that what is eternal and general to all humanity, what is necessary for life, and what is rational, is not of most value. But what is quite incomprehensible, and therefore unnecessary, but in the name of which millions have been put to death, is the most important point of Christianity!
We have formed an erroneous idea of life, both as concerns ourselves personally and the world in general. We have based it on our own wickedness and on our personal lusts; and we look upon that erroneous idea – united only by outward observances to the doctrine of Christ – as most important and necessary to life. Were it not for that trust in what is but falsehood, which has been upheld by men for ages, the falsity of our view of life, as well as the truth of Christ’s doctrine, would have become manifest long ago.
Awful as it may seem to say so, I sometimes think that if the doctrine of Christ, with the Church teaching that has become a part of it, had never existed, those who now call themselves Christians would be nearer than they are now to the doctrine of Christ; i.e., to a rational idea of the true happiness of life. The morality taught by all the prophets would not then have been a closed book for mankind. Men would have had their petty preachers of the truth, and they would have believed them. But now that the whole truth has been revealed, it seems so awful to those whose deeds are evil that they have interpreted it falsely, and men have lost their trust in the truth. In our European world the saying of Christ, that ‘He came into the world in order to bear witness of the truth, and that he who is of the truth hears Him,’ has long since been answered in the words of Pilate, ‘What is the truth?’ We have taken in earnest these words of Pilate’s, expressive of such sad and deep irony, and we have made them our faith. In our world not only do all live without knowing the truth, and without a desire to know it, but also with the firm conviction that of all idle occupations the idlest is the search after truth. The doctrine of life that all nations, long before the existence of European society, considered as most important, that doctrine which, as Christ told us, is the only thing necessary, is alone excluded from our lives. This is done by the institution called the Church; and yet even those who themselves belong to that institution have long ceased to believe in it.
The only aperture that lets in the light, toward which the eyes of all who reflect and suffer turn, is concealed. There is but one answer to the questions, ‘What am I? What shall I do? Can I not render my life easier by following the commandments of the God who, according to your words, came to save us?’ And that answer is, “Honor and obey the authorities, and believe in the Church.’ ‘But why is there so much suffering in the world?’ cries a despairing voice; ‘Why is there so much evil? Can I not refuse to take part in it? Can evil not be mitigated?’ The answer is, ‘It is impossible. Your wish to lead a good life, and to help others to do so, is but pride and vainglory. The only thing you can do is to save yourself, your soul, for a future life. If you wish to flee from the evils of the world, leave the world.’ ‘There is a way open to each,’ says the teaching of the Church, ‘but know that, having chosen it, you have lost all right to return to the world, that you must cease to live, and must voluntarily die a lingering death.’ There are only two ways open to us; our teachers tell us that ‘we must either believe our spiritual pastors and obey them and those who are in authority over us, and take an active part in the evil they organize, or else leave the world and enter a monastery, deprive ourselves of food and sleep, let our bodies rot on a iron pillar, bend and unbend our bodies in endless genuflections, and do nothing for our fellow-creatures.’ Thus, a man must either confess the doctrines of Christ to be impracticable, and live contrary to them, or renounce the life of this world, which is but a type of slow suicide.
Surprising as the erroneous assumption that the doctrine of Christ is sublime but impracticable may seem to him who understands it, the error by which it is maintained, that he who wishes to keep the commandments of Christ, not only in word but in deed, must leave the world, is still more surprising.
The erroneous idea that it is better for a man to leave the world than to submit to its temptations is an old error, known to the ancient Hebrews, but entirely foreign not only to the spirit of Christianity, but even to that of Judaism. It was against that very error that the story Christ loved and so often quoted, of the prophet Jonah, was written. The story contains one idea from beginning to end. The prophet Jonah wishes to be the only just man, and flies from association with the depraved inhabitants of Nineveh. But God shows him that he is a prophet – one whose duty it is to make the truth known to those who have gone astray – and that he must not flee from them, but live among them. Jonah has an aversion to the depraved Ninevites, and once more tries to escape by flight. But God brings him back in the body of a whale, and the will of the Almighty is accomplished; the Ninevites receive the teaching of God, through Jonah, and amend their lives. But Jonah does not rejoice at having been instrumental in accomplishing the will of God; he is angry, jealous of the Ninevites; he wishes to be the only wise and good man. He goes away into the wilderness, bemoans his fate, and reproaches God. And then a gourd grows over Jonah in one night and protects him from the rays of the sun; but on the next night worms eat the gourd. Jonah, in his despair, reproaches God for letting the gourd, so precious to him, wither. Then God says to him, ‘You regret the gourd, which you called yours; it grew and perished in one night; and do you think I had no pity for so numerous a people, who were perishing, living like the beasts, unable to distinguish their right hands from their left? Your knowledge of the truth was needed that you might have given to those who did not have it.’
Christ knew this story and often quoted it; we are likewise told in the gospel that Christ Himself, after visiting John the Baptist, who had retired to the wilderness before he began his preaching, was subjected to the same temptation, and was conducted into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (by delusion). He overcame that delusion and, in the strength of the spirit, came back into Galilee and, from that time, without abhorring those who were depraved, He passed His life among publicans, Pharisees, and sinners, teaching them the truth.
According to the teaching of the Church, Christ, who was God and man, gave us an example of how we were to live. Christ passed His whole life, as we know, in the turmoil of life, with publicans, adulteresses, and the Pharisees in Jerusalem. His two great commandments are love to our fellow-creatures and the preaching of His doctrine to all men. Both commandments require constant communication with the world. Yet the conclusion drawn from Christ’s doctrine is that, in order to be saved, we must leave all, cease all communication with our fellow-creatures, and stand on a pillar. Thus it would seem that, in order to follow the example of Christ, we must do just the contrary of what He taught and of what He did Himself.
According to the interpretation given by the Church, Christ’s doctrine does not teach either secular men or monks how they are to live in order to make their own lives and the lives of their fellow-creatures better, but teaches the former what they must believe in order to be saved in the next world, in spite of their evil lives, and enjoins the latter to make their lives on earth still harder.
But this is not what Christ teaches us.
Christ preaches truth, and if abstract truth is truth, it will be truth in reality. If life in God is the only true life, blissful in itself, it will be true and blissful here on earth, in all the various circumstances of life. If life here did not confirm the doctrine of Christ, that doctrine would not be true.
Christ does not call men from good to evil, but on the contrary, from evil to good. He pities men, whom He considers as lost sheep perishing without their shepherd, and promises them a shepherd and good pasture. He says that His disciples will be persecuted for His doctrine, that they must suffer, and bear the persecution of the world. But He does not say that if they follow His doctrine they will suffer more severely than if they follow the teaching of the world; on the contrary, He says that those who follow the teaching of the world will be miserable, and those who follow His doctrine will be blessed.
Christ does not teach us that we shall be saved either through faith, or through asceticism, i.e., self-deception, or voluntary torments in this life; but He teaches us a life in which, besides salvation from the ruin of individual life, there will be less suffering and more joy than in individual life, even here on earth.
Revealing His doctrine to men, Christ says that by following His doctrine, even in the midst of those who do not do so, they will be happier than those who do not fulfill His doctrine. Christ says that, even from a worldly point of view, it is a successful plan not to care about the life of this world.
Mark 10:28-31: Then Peter began to say to Him, ‘Lo, we have left all, and have followed You.’ Matt.19:27,29-30: ‘What shall we have therefore?’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.’ (Matt. 19:27; Luke 5:11; 18:28)
Christ mentions, it is true, that those who follow Him shall be persecuted by those who do not; but He does not say that the disciples shall lose anything by doing so. On the contrary, He says that His followers shall have more joy in this world than those who are not His.
We cannot doubt that Christ spoke and thought thus. He says it clearly; the spirit of His teaching proves it, as well as the way in which He Himself and His disciples lived. But is it true?
On an abstract examination of the question, whether the state of the followers of Christ or that of those who live for the world will be best, we cannot help seeing that the state of the followers of Christ must be better, because, by doing good to all, they avoid exciting the hatred of men. The follower of Christ will do no harm to any, and will therefore be persecuted by the wicked; but the followers of the world will be persecuted by all, because the law of life, of those who live for the world, is a law of strife, or the persecution of each other. The chances of suffering may be the same for both, with the difference that the followers of Christ will be ready to bear them, while the followers of the world will use all their endeavors to avoid them; the followers of Christ will suffer, but will know that their suffering is necessary for the good of humanity, while the followers of the world will suffer without knowing the reason why they suffer. Reasoning abstractly, the state of the followers of Christ should be more profitable than that of the followers of the world. But is it so?
Let each verify this by calling to mind all the trying moments of his life, all the suffering, both moral and physical, which he has gone through, and still goes through, and let him ask himself in whose name he bore, and still bears, all that misery. Was it for the sake of the world, or for the doctrine of Christ? Let him examine his past life, and he will see that he never once suffered from having followed the doctrine of Christ; he will see that all the unhappiness of his life proceeded from his having, contrary to his own inclinations, followed the teaching of the world.
During my life, which has been an exceptionally happy one, according to the opinion of the world, I can remember so much suffering borne by me for the sake of the world, that it might have sufficed for the life of one of the greatest martyrs of Christianity. All the most trying moments of my life, from the orgies and debauches of my student days, to duels, war, and ill health – all the unnatural and painful conditions of life in which I now live – were and are but martyrdom for the sake of the world.
I speak of my life, which, as I say, has been an exceptionally happy one, according to the opinion of the world. But how many martyrs there are who have suffered, and still suffer, for the teaching of the world, whose sufferings I cannot even picture to myself!
We do not see the difficulty and peril there is in following the teaching of the world, only because we look upon all we bear for its sake as being absolutely necessary.
We have become convinced that all the misfortunes that we create for ourselves are indispensable conditions of life, and we cannot understand that Christ shows us the way to escape suffering and to attain happiness.
In order to examine the question, which life is a happier one, we must cast aside all our mistaken notions, and examine all those around us and ourselves without any preconceived idea.
Pass through a crowd of people, especially those living in a town, and see their wearied, sickly, and anxious faces; then think of your own life, of the lives of those you know; think of all the unnatural deaths, all the suicides that you may have chanced to hear of, and ask yourself what led to all the despair and suffering that drove these men to commit suicide. And you will see that nine-tenths of the suffering there is in this life is borne for the sake of the world; that it is all unnecessary suffering that need not exist; that men are, for the most part, martyrs of the teaching of the world.
A short time ago, on a rainy Sunday in the autumn, I drove in an omnibus through the market place near Souhareva tower, in Moscow. For the space of half a mile the carriage made its way through a compact mass of people. From morning to evening thousands of human beings, the greater part of whom are ragged and hungry, prowl about here in the dirt, abusing, cheating, and hating each other. The same may be seen in all the market places of Moscow. These men will spend their evenings in taverns and public houses, and the night in their corners and dens. Sunday is the best day in the week for them. On Monday, in their infected dens, they will again set to the work that they are heartily sick of.
Reflect what the lives of all these men and women are; think of all they have left, of the hard work to which they have voluntarily condemned themselves; and you will see that they are true martyrs.
These men have left their homes and fields; they have left their fathers, brothers, wives, and children; they have forsaken all, and have come into the town to procure what the teaching of the world forces each to consider as indispensable. And not only these thousands and thousands of miserable beings who have lost all, and now live from hand to mouth on tripe and brandy, but all, I say, from workmen, cabmen, seamstresses, and harlots, to rich merchants, bureaucrats, and their wives, lead the hardest, most unnatural lives, and yet fail to attain what is considered necessary according to the teaching of the world.
Tell me whether you can find among all these men, from the beggar to the rich man, a single man who finds that what he earns is sufficient for all that he considers as indispensably necessary, and you will not find one in a thousand. Each struggles to get what he does not of himself require, but what is considered requisite by the world, and the want of which, therefore, makes him miserable. No sooner has he attained it, than more and more is required, and so this labor of Sisyphus goes on without intermission, ruining life after life. Take, in an ascending scale, the fortunes of men, from those who spend thirty rubles a year to those who spend fifty thousand, and you will seldom find a man who is not tormented and worn out with his efforts to obtain four hundred if he has but three hundred, five hundred if he has four, and so on without end. There is not one who, having five hundred, would voluntarily exchange with him who has but four hundred. Each strives to lay a still heavier burden on his already heavy-laden life, and gives up his whole soul to the teaching of the world. Today a man has earned an overcoat and galoshes; tomorrow he gets a watch and a chain; then a lodging with a comfortable sofa, carpets in the drawing room, and velvet clothes; then he buys a house, horses, pictures in gilt frames; and then, having overworked himself, he falls ill and dies. Another continues the same career, likewise sacrificing his life to the same Moloch, dying in the same way, without knowing why he does all this. Well, but perhaps, with all this, men are happy.
What are the principal requisites for earthly happiness, those that no one can deny?
The first condition essentially necessary for happiness has always been admitted by all men to be a life in which the link between him and nature is not destroyed – that is, a life in the open air, in the sunshine, in communion with nature, plants and animals. Men have always considered being deprived of this as the greatest misfortune that could befall them. Prisoners feel this privation above all others. And now consider what the life of those who live according to the teaching of the world is. The more successful their worldly career is, the further they are from all that is true happiness. The higher the worldly prosperity they have attained, the less sunshine do they enjoy, the fewer are the fields, woods, and animals they see. Many, indeed almost all, women dwelling in towns live to old age without having seen the rising of the sun more than once or twice in their lives. They have never seen the fields and woods, except through the windows of their coaches or of railway carriages; not only have they never brought up and tended cows, horses, or poultry, but also they have no idea even how animals grow and live. These people see stuffs, stones, and wood worked by human hands, and do not even see them in the light of the sun, but in an artificial light. They hear the noise of machinery, cannons, or musical instruments; they inhale strong scents and tobacco smoke; their enfeebled digestions crave stimulating food that is neither fresh nor savory. Nor are they nearer to nature even when traveling from one place to another. They travel shut up in boxes. Wherever they go, be it into the country or abroad, the same curtains hide the light of the sun from their eyes; footmen, coachmen, and watchmen prevent all communication between them and nature. Wherever they go they are, like prisoners, deprived of this condition that is so necessary for happiness. As prisoners find consolation in a blade of grass that grows in the yard of their prison, or a spider, or a mouse, so do these men and women find consolation, from time to time, in keeping half withered plants on their window sills, or in parrots, lap dogs, or monkeys, the care of which they leave to others.
A second indubitable condition necessary for happiness is labor – congenial, free labor, physical labor, which gives a man a good appetite and sound, invigorating sleep. And, again, the greater the prosperity a man has attained, according to a worldly estimate, the further he is from this second condition, essentially necessary for happiness. All the ‘fortunate’ of this world, the great dignitaries and rich men, are either as completely deprived of labor as prisoners are, and struggle unsuccessfully against ill health, which is the result of the absence of physical labor, and still more unsuccessfully against the ennui to which they are a prey (I say ‘unsuccessfully,’ for work is a source of pleasure only when it is necessary), or they have work to do that they hate, as, for instance, our bankers, attorneys, generals, and bureaucrats. I say it is work they hate because I never yet met one among them who liked his work, and who found as much pleasure in it as a stable boy does in clearing away the snow before his master’s house. All these so-called fortunate beings have either no work to do or work that they hate; they are, indeed, in much the same position as a galley slave.
A third condition essentially necessary for happiness is family life. And again, the further advanced men are in worldly prosperity, the less accessible that happiness is for them. Most of them are adulterers, and voluntarily renounce all family ties. Even if they are not adulterers, they consider children as a burden rather than a joy, and try by all possible means to make their unions sterile. If they have children, they take no joy in them. They are obliged to confide them to others, for the most part to complete strangers; at first they are left to the care of foreign nurses or governesses, then sent to some government school, and the children grow up as miserable as their parents, and often have but one feeling toward their parents: the wish for their death, that they may inherit their property. These men are not prisoners, but the result is more painful than that entire separation from all family ties to which a prisoner is condemned.
A fourth condition essentially necessary for happiness is a free, friendly communication with all men. And again, the higher the step on which a man stands in the world, the further he is from this condition. The higher your position, the narrower and closer is the circle of men with whom you can have any communication, and the lower in intellectual and moral development are the few persons who form this spellbound circle, out of which there is no escape. The whole world is open to the peasant and his wife. If one million men refuse to have anything to do with him, there are eighty million working men left like himself, with whom, from Archangelsk to Astrachan, he enters immediately into the closest, most brotherly communication, without waiting to be called upon or introduced. There are, for a functionary and his wife, hundreds of men who are their equals; but their superiors do not admit them into their circle, and they are cut off from all the lower classes. There may be ten fashionable families for a rich man of the world and his wife, but they are cut off from all the rest. Bureaucrats and very wealthy men and their families may find about ten friends as important and as rich as themselves. The circle of emperors and kings is still more restricted. Isn’t that called solitary confinement, when a prisoner can only have communication with two or three jailers?
The fifth and last condition essentially necessary for happiness is health and a painless death. And again, the higher a man stands on the social scale, the further he is from it. Take, for instance, a moderately rich man and his wife, and a well-to-do countryman and his wife; in spite of hunger and the hard work – which is the peasant’s lot through the inhumanity of others, and not through any fault of his own – you will find, if you compare the two, that the lower men stand on the social scale the healthier they are, and the higher they stand the weaker they are in health. Recall to your minds all the rich men and their wives whom you have ever known, and those whom you know at present, and you will see that they almost all suffer from ill health. A healthy man among them – one who does not take medicine continually, or at least periodically every summer – is as great an exception as is a sick man among the working classes. Almost all the ‘fortunate beings’ are toothless, gray haired, or bald at the age when a working man is still in the full vigor of his manhood. They are almost all sufferers from nervous diseases, dyspepsia or worse, from over-eating, from drunkenness or depravity; and those who do not die young spend half their lives under medical treatment, using frequent injections of morphine, and becoming shriveled cripples, unable to maintain themselves; living on like parasites. Think of what the deaths of these men are: one has shot himself, another’s body has rotted from disease, another again has died in his old age from a too frequent use of medicines; one has died in a drunken fit, another of gluttony, etc. All perish, one after the other, for the world’s sake. And the crowd crawls after them like martyrs in search of suffering and death.
One life after another is cast under the wheels of their god; the carriage drives on, tearing lives to pieces, and again and again fresh victims fall under its wheels, with groans, wails, and curses.
It is difficult to live as Christ enjoins! Christ says, ‘He who will follow Me must leave houses, fields, and brethren, and he shall receive a hundredfold more than houses, fields and brethren in this world, and shall, besides, have life eternal.’ And none follow Him. The world says, ‘Leave your home and your brothers; leave the country to live in a corrupt town; pass your whole life either as a servant in a bath-house, soaping other people’s backs with vapor bath; or as a clerk, counting other people’s money; or as an attorney general, spending your life in courts of law, busied with various documents, in order to make the fate of the miserable more miserable still; or as a bureaucrat, hastily signing useless papers all your life; or as a commander-in-chief, killing your brethren. Lead a wicked life, the end of which is always a painful death, and you shall suffer in this life, and not attain eternal life’ – and all go the world’s way. Christ says, ‘Take up your cross, and follow Me,’ by which He means, ‘Bear the fate allotted you humbly, and submit to Me, your God’ – and none do so. But the first lost man, wearing an epaulet, and fit for nothing but murder, who says, ‘Take up, not the cross, but your knapsack and your sword, and follow me to suffering and certain death,’ is instantly obeyed.
Leaving their parents, their wives and children, they go in their buffoon attire, blindly submissive to some superior whom they hardly know; cold, hungry, worn out by a march above their strength, they follow him like a herd of oxen to the slaughter. But they are not oxen – they are men! They cannot help knowing that they are driven to slaughter, with the unsolvable question, ‘Why must I go?’ And with despair in their hearts they go on, many dieing off through cold, hunger, and infectious diseases, until those who are left are placed under bullets and cannon balls, and ordered to kill men whom they know nothing about. They kill and are at last killed themselves, and not one of those who kill their fellow-creature knows why he does so. The Turks roast them alive; they flay them; they tear out their bowels. And no sooner does anyone call than others go to the same dreadful suffering and to death. And nobody finds it hard. Neither do they themselves think it hard, nor do their fathers and mothers think so; the latter even advise their children to go. Not only do they think it necessary and unavoidable, but even perfectly right and moral.
We might think the fulfilling of Christ’s doctrine difficult if it were really an easy and pleasant thing to live according to the teaching of the world. But it is much more difficult, dangerous, and painful to do so than it is to live up to the doctrine of Christ.
It is said that formerly there were martyrs for Christianity, but these were exceptional cases; we reckon about three hundred and eighty thousand voluntary and involuntary martyrs for Christianity in the course of 1800 years. Now count those that have died for the teaching for the world, and for each martyr for Christianity you will find a thousand martyrs for the world’s sake, martyrs whose sufferings were a hundredfold more dreadful. Thirty million have been killed in war during the present century alone.
Those were all martyrs for the world’s sake. Had they but rejected the teaching of the world, even without following the doctrine of Christ, they would have escaped suffering and death.
Were a man but to act as he finds best for himself, were he but to refuse to go to war, he would have to dig ditches; but he would not be tortured in Sebastopool or Plevna. Let a man not believe that it is indispensable to wear a watch chain and to have useless drawing rooms, let him but understand that all the foolish things the world teaches him to consider as indispensable are but useless trash, and he will not work beyond his strength; he will not have to endure suffering and constant care; he will not have to labor without purpose or rest; He will not be deprived of communion with nature, or of the work he loves, or of his family or his health, and he will not die a uselessly painful death.
We need not be martyrs for Christ’s sake; that is not what He requires of us. But He teaches us to cease making ourselves martyrs for the sake of the false teaching of the world.
The doctrine of Christ has a deep metaphysical purpose; it has a purpose general to all humanity; the doctrine of Christ has the simplest, clearest, most practicable purpose for each of us. We may express this idea in a few words. Christ teaches men not to act foolishly. In this lies the simplest sense of Christ’s doctrine, and it is one each has it in his power to understand.
Christ says, ‘Never give way to angry feelings, nor consider another as worse than yourself; it is foolish. If you give way to anger, if you abuse others, it will be worse for you.’ Christ says, too, ‘Do not lust after all women, but take one to you, and live with her; it will be better for you.’ He says, likewise, ‘Make no promise, lest you be forced to act foolishly and wickedly.’ He says, likewise, ‘Never return evil for evil, for it will fall back upon you.’ Christ says, ‘Consider no men as strangers to you because they live in other lands and speak in other tongues than you do. If you consider them as your enemies, they will do the same with respect to you, and it will be worse for you. Do not act thus, and it will be better for you.’
Yes, but as the world is organized it is more difficult to resist it than to live up to its precepts. If a man refuses to become a soldier he will be imprisoned, and possibly shot. If a man does not assure his future by acquiring property for himself and his family, they will all starve. Men say so in order to defend the social organization of the world, but they do not think so themselves. They say so only because they cannot deny the justice of Christ’s doctrine, which they pretend to believe in, and they must justify themselves in some way for not fulfilling it.
Christ calls men to the spring that is near them. Men suffer from thirst, eat mud, and drink each other’s blood; but their teachers have told them that they will suffer more if they go to the spring toward which Christ calls them, and men believe them rather than Christ, and suffer and die of thirst when they are but a few steps from the spring, and dare not approach it. But if we believed in Christ, if we believed that He came to bring bliss on earth, if we believed that He offers us, who are thirsting, a spring of living water, if we drew near to it, we should see how craftily we are deceived by the Church, and how senseless it is to suffer as we do, when salvation is so near. Accept the doctrine of Christ in all its sublime simplicity, and the grievous deception in which you all live will grow clear to you.
We labor, generation after generation, to secure our lives by violence and the consolidation of property. We think that our happiness depends upon power and property. We are so used to that idea that the doctrine of Christ – which teaches us that the happiness of man does not lie in wealth, that a rich man cannot be happy – seems to us to require some great sacrifice for the sake of future bliss. And yet Christ does not call upon us to make any sacrifice; His doctrine does not tend toward making our present lives worse for us, but better. Christ in His infinite love teaches men to forbear from trying to assure their lives by violence, from caring about riches, just as philanthropists teach men to forbear from quarrelling and drunkenness. Christ says that if men live without resisting evil, and without riches, they will be happier, and He confirms His teaching by His own life. He says that he who lives according to His doctrine must be ready to die at any moment of his life, either of cold or hunger, and cannot call a single hour of his life his own. And so it seems that Christ requires great sacrifices of us; yet it is but a general assertion of the inevitable condition of each man. The follower of Christ must always be ready to suffer and to die. Isn’t the follower of the world in the same position? We are so used to the deception we are in that we have come to consider all that we do for the imaginary security of our lives – our armies, fortresses, medicines, property, and money – as indispensable for the welfare of our lives. We forget what happened to him who intended to build barns, in order to provide himself with riches for a long time. He died the same night. All we do for the security of our lives is but what the ostrich does when hiding its head in order not to see itself killed. We do worse, for in order to secure an uncertain life, for an uncertain future, we resolutely ruin our real lives in the actual present.
The deception lies in the false assumption that we can secure the welfare of our lives by a struggle with others. We are so used to this erroneous idea that we do not see all we lose. We lose even our lives. Our lives are swallowed up in the cares of this world, so that no real life is left.
Let us set aside all we have become so used to, and then we shall see that all we do for the imaginary security of our lives is not done to assure our welfare, but to make us forget that our life here is not secure, and that it never can be secure. The French take up arms in the year 1870 to assure their existence, and that leads to the destruction of hundreds and thousands of Frenchmen; and every nation that takes up arms does the same thing with the same result. The rich man thinks his money assures the welfare of his life, and the money attracts a robber who kills him. A man who is overly careful of his health seeks to assure it by taking medicine, and the medicine kills him by slow degrees; and even if it does not kill him, it deprives him of all vigor and makes him like the paralytic who hardly lived during thirty-five years, while waiting for the angel at the pool.
The doctrine of Christ – that life cannot be assured, and that we must be ready for suffering and death every moment of our lives – is incontestably better than the teaching of the world, which says that we must strive to make our lives as comfortable as we can; it is better because, though the impossibility of avoiding death and the uncertainty of life are the same, yet, according to Christ’s doctrine, life is not wholly swallowed up in the idle employment of trying to ensure our own comfort, but is free, and can be given up to the only aim natural to it, namely, our own happiness in that of others. The follower of Christ will be poor. Yes, but he will enjoy the blessings given to him by God. We have come to consider the word ‘poverty’ as expressive of misery, yet it really is happiness. ‘He is poor’ means that he does not live in a town, but in the country; he does not sit idly at home, but labors in the fields or the woods; he sees the sunshine, the sky, beasts, and birds; he need not take thought what he shall do to excite his appetite, to facilitate his digestion; but he feels hungry three times a day. He does not toss about on his soft pillows thinking how to cure himself of sleeplessness, but sleeps soundly after his work. He sees his children around him, and lives in friendly communion with men. The main point is that he is not obliged to do work that he hates, and he need not fear the future. He will be ill, suffer, and die as others do (and judging by the way the poor suffer and die, his death will be an easier one than that of the rich); but he will indubitably have led a happier life. We must be poor, we must be beggars, wanderers on the face of the earth (πτοχος means ‘wanderer’); that is what Christ taught us, and without it we cannot enter the kingdom of God.
‘But then we shall starve,’ is the answer. Christ has given to us one short saying in reply to this observation, a saying that has been usually interpreted as justifying the idleness of the clergy.
Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7. ‘Take neither money for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a walking stick, because he who works is worthy of his meat. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give; for the laborer is worthy of his hire.’
He who works (εξεςτ) signifies literally, ‘can and shall have food.’ It is a very short saying, but he who understands it as Christ did, will never argue that if a man has no personal property he must die of hunger. In order to understand the saying clearly, we must renounce the idea that the dogma of the redemption has made habitual to us: that the happiness of man lies in idleness. We must re-establish in our minds the idea, natural to all unperverted men, that the necessary condition of happiness for man is labor, and not idleness; that every man must labor, that his life will be as wearisome and as hard without work as it is for an ant, a horse, or any other animal. We must cast aside the barbarous idea that the condition of a man who has an inexhaustible ruble in his pocket – a lucrative post, or some landed property that enables him to live in idleness – is a naturally happy condition. We must re-establish in our minds the idea of labor that all unperverted men have, and to which Christ referred when He said that ‘the laborer is worthy of his hire.’ Christ never could have thought that men would come to consider labor as a curse, and therefore He could not imagine a man who did not work, or who had no wish to work. It was an understood thing for Him that all His followers labored, and He says that a man’s labor feeds Him. And if one man profits from the work of another man, he will feed him who works for him; and so he who labors will always have food. He will not be rich; but there can be no doubt of his having food.
The difference is that, according to the teaching of the world, labor is a man’s service, for which he considers himself entitled to more or less food in proportion to the work he does; while according to the doctrine of Christ labor is the necessary condition of life, and food is its inevitable consequence. Work is the result of food, and food is the result of work; it is an eternal cycle – one is the effect and the cause of the other. However hard hearted a man may be, he will feed his workman as he feeds his horse, and he will give the workman sufficient food to enable him to work.
‘The Son of Man came, not be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His soul as a ransom for many.’ According to the doctrine of Christ every man will lead a better life if he understands that his duty is not to get as much work as he can out of others, but to pass his own life in working for them. The man who acts thus, Christ says, is worthy of his hire, and he cannot fail to obtain it. By the words ‘Man does not live to be ministered to, but to minister to others’, Christ lays the foundation of what is to assure the material existence of man; and by the words ‘he who works is worthy of his hire’ Christ sets aside the argument, so often used against the possibility of fulfilling His doctrine, that he who does so will perish of hunger and cold. Christ shows that a man does not assure his own food by depriving others of it, but by making himself useful and necessary. The more useful he is, the more assured his existence will be.
In our present social adjustments, those who do not fulfill the law of Christ, but who are forced by poverty to work for their neighbors, do not starve. Then how can we say that those who do fulfill His commandments, who work for their fellow-creatures, will starve? No man can starve while the rich have bread. Millions of men in Russia possessing no property live by their work alone.
A Christian will be as sure of his daily bread among pagans as among Christians. He works for others, consequently he is of use to them, and therefore he will be fed. A dog that is useful is fed and taken care of, then how can we think a human being will not be fed and taken care of?
But if a man is sick, he is of no use; he cannot work; no one will give him food. People say so, but they act in a very different way. The very persons who deny the practicability of Christ’s doctrine, in fact fulfill it. They do not even cast a sheep, an ox, or a dog that is ill adrift, neither do they kill an old horse, but give it work proportionate to its strength; they feed their lambs, their sucking pigs, and puppies in expectation of deriving profit from them by and by, and will they not feed a man when he falls ill?
Nine-tenths of the lower classes are fed, as beasts of burden are, by the one-tenth – by the rich and powerful of the earth. And however great the error may be in which this one-tenth lives, and however much they may despise the other nine-tenths, they never deprive the other nine-tenths of the food necessary for their sustenance.
Wherever man has worked, he has received food, as each horse receives its fodder. He is fed even though he works grudgingly, unwillingly, only caring to get his daily labor over as quickly as possible, or longing to earn as much as possible in order to get the upper hand of his master. Even he does not remain without food, and he is happier than the one who lives by the labor of others. And how much happier would the man be who worked in accordance with the doctrine of Christ, whose aim would be to work as much as possible, and to receive as little as possible! How much happier will his position be when there will be several around him, perhaps many such as he who will serve him in his turn.
The doctrine of Christ about work and its fruit is shown in the story of the five and seven thousand men fed with two fish and five loaves. Man will attain the highest happiness possible on earth when each, instead of only caring about his own personal comfort, acts as Christ taught those assembled on the seashore to do.
It was necessary to feed several thousand men. One of the disciples said to Christ that a boy there had a few fish. The disciples had also a few loaves. Christ knew that some of those who had come from a distance had brought food with them and others had not. That many had brought provisions with them is evident from there being twelve basketfuls gathered of what remained, as we read in all the four gospels. (If nobody had had anything except the boy, there would not have been twelve baskets in the field.) Had Christ not done what He did, that is, the ‘miracle’ of feeding thousands with five loaves, what now takes place in the world would have taken place them. Those who had provisions with them would have eaten all they had and would have over-eaten rather than see that anything should be left. Misers would perhaps have taken the remainder home. Those who had nothing would have remained hungry, looking on with wicked envy at those who ate, and some would very likely have stolen from those who had provisions. Quarrelling and fighting would have ensued, and some would have gone home satisfied, the others hungry and cross; exactly what takes place in our present lives would have happened then.
But Christ knew what He meant to do; He told them all to sit in a circle and enjoined His disciples to offer a part of what they had to those next them, and to tell others to do the same. The result was that when all those who had brought provisions with them followed the example set them by the disciples, and offered a share of their provisions to others, there was enough for all. All were satisfied, and so much remained that twelve baskets were filled.
Christ teaches men to act thus in all the circumstances of life, for this is the law of humanity. Labor is the necessary condition of life; and work is a source of happiness for man. But if a man keeps to himself the fruit of his own or others’ work, he prevents its contributing to the general good of mankind. By giving up his work to others he acts for the good of all.
We are accustomed to say, ‘If men do not despoil each other they will starve.’ Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that if men despoil each other there will always be some who will starve, for that is the actual fact.
It does not matter if a man is a follower of Christ or a follower of the world; he is never entirely independent of others. Others have taken care of him, fed him, and still take care of him. But, according to the teaching of the world, man forces others to continue feeding him and his family by threats and violence. According to Christ’s doctrine, man is taken care of, brought up and fed by others; and he does not force others to continue feeding him, but tries to serve others in his turn, to do as much good as possible to all his fellow-creatures. Which life is then a truer, more rational, and happier one? Is it a life in accordance with the teaching of the world, or in accordance with Christ’s doctrine?
 Luke 4:1-2. Christ is led into the wilderness by delusion, in order to be tempted there. Matt.4:3,5. Delusion says to Christ that He is not the Son of God if He cannot change stones into bread. Christ answers, ‘I can live without bread; I live by what is breathed into Me by God.’ Then delusion says, ‘If You are alive by what is breathed into you by God, cast Yourself down from this height; You will kill Your flesh, but the spirit breathed into You by God will not perish.’ Christ answers, ‘My life in the flesh is by the will of God. If I kill My flesh I act against the will of God – I tempt God.' Matt. 4:8-11. Then delusion says, ‘If that is so, serve the flesh, as all men do, and the flesh shall reward You.’ Christ answers, ‘My life is in the spirit; but I cannot destroy the flesh, because the spirit is put into My flesh by the will of God. Therefore, while living in the flesh I serve God My Father.’ And Christ returns from the wilderness into the world.
 The way we often hear parents try to justify such a state of things is really surprising. ‘I want nothing for myself,’ says a father; ‘my life is a hard one; but I love my children, all I do is for them,’ i.e., ‘ know, by experience, that to live as I do is to suffer, and I therefore bring up my children to be as unhappy as I am. I love them, and therefore I make them live in a town full of physical and moral infection, give them into the hands of mercenary strangers, and both physically and morally spoil my children.’ Thus do parents try to justify their own irrational lives.