I NOW understand what Christ meant when he uttered the words: 'It was said to you: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you: resist not him that is evil, but bear with him.'17 Matthew 5:38-39 Christ said: It has been instilled into you and you are accustomed to think that it is good and reasonable to resist evil by force and to tear out an eye for an eye, to institute criminal courts, police, an army, and to defend yourselves from foes; but I say, Do not use violence, do not take part in violence, do no harm to anyone, not even to those whom you call 'enemies.'
I now understand that Christ, in the position he takes up of non-resistance to the evil man, is speaking not only of what will result directly for each man from non-resistance to him that is evil but, in contradiction to the principle under which mankind lived in his time under the law of Moses and under the Roman law, and now lives under various legal codes, he sets up the principle of non-resistance to the evil man, which principle according to his teaching should be the basis of man's social life and should free mankind from an evil they inflict on themselves. He says: 'You think that your laws correct evil - they only increase it. There is but one way to end evil - by rendering good for evil to all men without distinction. For thousands of years you have tried your principle; now try my contrary one.'
I have recently spoken to people of most divergent opinions about this law of Christ's - non-resistance to the evil man. It did occur, though rarely, that I met some who agreed with me. But, strange to say, two kinds of people never, even in principle, tolerated a straightforward understanding of the law, but always warmly defended the justice of resistance to the evil-doer. These are people who belong to the two extreme poles: patriotic Conservative Christians, who consider their Church to be the only true one, and Revolutionary Atheists. Neither these nor those wish to abandon the right to resist by violence what they consider evil. And the wisest and most learned of them are quite unwilling to see the simple and obvious truth that if one admits that one man may use violence to oppose what he considers evil, another may do the same to resist what he, in turn, considers evil.
A correspondence lately passed through my hands between an Orthodox Slavophil and a Christian-Revolutionary, which was instructive in this respect. The one advocated the violence of war on behalf of our oppressed brother-Slavs; the other, a revolutionary violence on behalf of our oppressed brethren, the Russian peasants. Both demanded violence, and both relied on the teaching of Christ.
People in general understand Christ's teaching in very various ways, but not in the direct, simple meaning which inevitably flows from his words.
We have arranged our whole life on the very foundations he denies. We do not wish to understand his teaching in its simple, direct meaning, and we assure ourselves and others either that we do not acknowledge his teaching or that it is unsuited to us. The so-called believers believe that Christ is God, the Second Person of the Trinity who descended to earth to show us how to live, and they arrange most elaborate ceremonies necessary for the administration of the sacraments, for erecting churches, for sending out missionaries, for ordaining priests, for the direction of their flocks, for amending the creeds, but one little thing they forget - namely, to do what he told us to do. The unbelievers try to arrange their lives in all sorts of ways, only not according to the law of Christ, having decided in advance that that law will not do. But no one wishes to try doing as Christ bids us. Moreover, before even trying to do it, both the believers and the non-believers decide in advance that it is impossible.
He says simply and clearly: the law of resistance by violence to him that is evil which you have made the basis of your lives, is false and unnatural; and he gives another basis - non-resistance - which in his opinion can alone deliver mankind from evil. He says: You think your laws of violence correct evil; they only increase it. You have tried for thousands of years to destroy evil by evil, but instead of destroying it you have increased it. Do what I do, and you will know whether it is true.
He not only says this but in his whole life, and by his death, he carries out his teaching of non-resistance to the evil man.
Believers hear all this, they read it in their churches, they say the words are divine and that he who spoke them was God, but they say: It is all very well, but it is impossible with our arrangement of life - it would upset the whole way of life to which we are accustomed and which we like. Therefore we believe all this only as being an ideal toward which humanity must strive - an ideal to be attained by prayer and by faith in the sacraments and the redemption and in the resurrection from the dead. Others, the unbelievers, the free-thinking investigators of Christ's teaching - Strauss, Renan, and others - who follow the historic method, having thoroughly imbibed the Church's explanation that Christ's teaching has no direct reference to life but is a visionary doctrine consoling to feeble-minded people, say most seriously that Christ's teaching was only fit to be preached to the savage inhabitants of the wilds of Galilee, but that for us, with our culture, it appears merely a sweet dream - 'du charmant docteur,' as Renan says. In their opinion Christ could not rise high enough to understand all the wisdom of our civilization and culture. Had he stood on the height of education on which these learned people stand he would not have talked such charming rubbish about the birds of the air, about turning one's cheek, and about not being troubled for tomorrow. These learned historians judge of Christianity by the Christianity they see in our society. The Christianity of our society and day regards our present life as true and sacred, with its organizations, prisons, solitary confinements, Ciros,18 The translator finds himself in a difficulty when he has to devise an equivalent for the most improper type of Moscow restaurant. factories, newspapers, brothels, and parliaments, and from the teaching of Christ it selects only what does not infringe that life. But as Christ's teaching is the negation of all that life, nothing is accepted of it except mere words. The learned historians see this, and, as they are under no necessity to hide it as it is hidden by the pseudo-believers, this version of Christ's teaching deprived of all substance is subjected to profound criticism and very rightly repudiated. The deduction is clear that there never was anything in Christianity except dreamy ideals.
It would seem as though before judging Christ's teaching one should understand what it consists of, and to decide whether his teaching is reasonable or not one should first of all admit that he said what he said; but that is just what is not done either by the Church or by the free-thinking expositors. And we know very well why they do not do it.
We know very well that Christ's teaching always included and includes the denial of all those human illusions, those 'vain things,' empty idols, which we, by calling them Church, State, culture, science, art, and civilization, think we can separate from the ranks of delusions. But it is just against them that Christ speaks, without excluding any 'empty idols.'
Not Christ only, but all the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, and all the world's true sages, have spoken of that same State, culture, and civilization, as an evil, ruinous to mankind.
Suppose a builder says to a man, 'Your house is bad, it must be entirely rebuilt,' and then gives details as to what beams should be cut, and how it should be done and where they should be placed. The man does not listen to the words about the house being bad and being rebuilt, but with a pretense of respect listens to the builder's further instructions and arrangements in the house. Obviously all the advice given by the builder will appear inapplicable, and any disrespectful person will say plainly that his advice is stupid. This is what happens with regard to Christ's teaching.
Not finding a better comparison, I made use of the above. And then I remembered that Christ when preaching his doctrine used that same comparison. He said: I will destroy your temple and in three days will build a new one. For that he was crucified; and it is for that very thing that his teaching is now crucified.
The least one can demand of people who judge any doctrine is that they should judge of it in the sense in which the teacher himself understood it. And he understood his teaching not as a distant ideal for humanity, obedience to which is impossible, nor as a mystical poetic fantasy wherewith he captivated the simple-minded inhabitants of Galilee. He understood his teaching as a real thing, and a thing which would save mankind. And he did not dream on the cross but died for his teaching, and many others are dying and will yet die. Of such a teaching one cannot say that it is a dream!
Every true doctrine is a dream to those in error. We have come to this, that there are many people (of whom I was one) who say that this teaching is visionary because it is not natural to man. It is not in accord, they say, with man's nature to turn the other cheek when one cheek is struck; it is not natural to give what is one's own to another; it is unnatural to work for others instead of for oneself. It is natural to man, they say, to defend his safety and the safety of his family and his property: in other words, it is natural for man to struggle for his own existence. The learned jurists prove scientifically that man's most sacred duty is to defend his rights, that is - to struggle.