Resurrection Sunday: On Tolstoy’s Law of Love and Violence

When I was young, we dipped and colored Easter eggs. I remember how my mother dropped the tiny tablets into plastic cups turning the clear water into yellow, green, red, blue. There were stickers, too. I remember years later preparing the same cups for my son and daughter and I remember my aunt who is now dead, hiding plastic eggs with money inside them around her house and getting animated as we searched. She was a ham and we loved her for it. After she died, the tradition passed on, like a form of resurrection—life after death. We tend to revive things that give meaning.

This year, I’m alone on Easter. My children are at school, grown up, my husband is dead and I’m living in another country. I’m reading The Law of Love and The Law of Violence by Leo Tolstoy, a small, old hardcover book I found with a friend in a quaint bookshop in London. It just called to me through the packed window. I hadn’t started reading it until this week. It’s funny because we recently discussed the war in Ukraine and Russian brutality and the topic of how absurd our practice is in the face of such crime, such shame. The question of whether there is ever an alternative to war came up and the futility of prayer or the feeling that some passive behaviors are self-serving. I was surprised to find that this is the main topic of Tolstoy’s book and further, it’s steeped in Christianity. Not the Christianity that burns crosses on people’s lawns or tortures and hangs people for blasphemy—the real Christ work of ‘love thy neighbor.’

At one point in the book, Tolstoy lists the names of conscientious objectors who sacrificed their lives for this premise. He argues a real Christian, a real man of conscience will not kill under any circumstance. This is a difficult concept to grasp in society when war is normalized and we have this business of war and whole careers are carved out of killing other people.

Tomorrow is Easter and although I don’t consider myself a religious person, I’m spiritual and aware. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ centered on love, forgiveness, healing and the kingdom of God being within you—resonate with me. So, I thought I’d take a moment to post and share a few lines from Tolstoy’s book. There are so many to choose from and I recommend you read it, but for now, I offer you three that raised my consciousness about the dilemma we face today:

"War will disappear only when men shall take no part in whatever violence and shall be ready to suffer every persecution that their abstention will bring them. It is the only way to abolish war."    (Anatole France. Daily Reading, December 29th, p. 49)
"The following objection is often made: “All that you say is true, but it will be possible to abstain from every act of violence only when the whole world, even the majority, will understand the disastrous, futile, and senseless meaning of violence. While waiting for that, what can a few isolated individuals do? Must we not defend ourselves, and let our neighbors be attacked by the wicked?” (p. 105)
"…Stop looking for an illusionary happiness by participating in the administration of the state, by judicial institutions, by instruction, by all kinds of parties who have the good of the masses as aim. Pay attention to only one thing, that which you need the most, that is the most accessible, which gives the most happiness to us and everyone: the increase of love in us by the suppression of vices and passion that keep it from manifesting itself…observance of this supreme law of love… (p. 112)

Leo Tolstoy was a great Russian writer and a Christian anarchist who continues to influence my thoughts and inner being. I am grateful for his life of service to humanity.


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