It is sufficient to free oneself for a moment from the thought that the order which exists and has been arranged by men is the best and is sacrosanct, for the objection that Christ's teaching is not accordant with man's nature to turn against the objector. Who will deny that to murder or torture, I will not say a man, but to torture a dog or kill a hen or calf is contrary and distressing to man's nature? (I know people who live by tilling the land, and who have given up eating meat merely because they had themselves to kill their own animals.) Yet the whole structure of our lives is such that each man's personal advantage is obtained by inflicting suffering on others, which is contrary to human nature. The whole order of our life and the whole complex mechanism of our institutions designed for the infliction of violence, witness to the extent to which violence is contrary to human nature. Not a single judge would decide to strangle with a rope the man he condemns to death from the bench. Not a single magistrate would make up his mind himself to take a peasant from his weeping family and shut him up in prison. None of our generals or soldiers, were it not for discipline, oaths of allegiance, and declarations of war, would, I will not say kill hundreds of Turks and Germans and destroy their villages, but would even decide to wound a single man. All this is only done thanks to a very complex state and social machinery the purpose of which is so to distribute the responsibility for the evil deeds that are done that no one should feel the unnaturalness of those deeds. Some men write the laws; others apply them; a third set drill men and habituate them to discipline, that is to say, to senseless and implicit obedience; a fourth set - the people who are disciplined - commit all sorts of deeds of violence, even killing people, without knowing why or wherefore. But a man need only, even for a moment, free himself mentally from this net of worldly organization in which he is involved to understand what is really unnatural to him.
As soon as we cease to affirm that the customary evil we employ is an immutable divine truth, it becomes obvious which of the two is natural and accordant to man: violence, or the law of Christ. Is it to know that my tranquility and safety and that of my family, and all my pleasures, are purchased by the destitution, corruption, and misery of millions, by hangings every year, by hundreds of thousands of suffering prisoners, by millions torn from their homes and stupefied by discipline - soldiers, policemen, and gendarmes who, armed with pistols against hungry people, safeguard my amusements - to purchase every sweet morsel I put into my mouth or into the mouths of my children, by the sufferings of humanity that are unavoidable for the procuring of these morsels? Or to know that, be the morsel what it may, it is mine only when no one else needs it and when no one has to suffer on account of it?
It is only necessary once to understand that this is so, and that every pleasure of mine, every moment of tranquility under our organization of life, is purchased by the deprivations and sufferings of thousands who are restrained by violence; one need but once understand that fact, to understand what is natural to man's entire nature - that is to say, not merely to his animal nature, but to his reasonable nature as well. One need only understand the law of Christ in its full meaning, with all its consequences, in order to understand that Christ's teaching is not contrary to man's nature, but that it really consists in rejecting what is contrary to man's nature, namely, the visionary human doctrine of resistance to evil which now makes life unhappy.
Christ's doctrine of non-resistance to him that is evil is a dream! But that the life of men in whose souls pity and love for one another is implanted, has been passed, and is now being passed, by some in organizing executions at the stake, knouts,19 A leather whip formerly used in Russia for floggings. - P.R. and breakings on the wheel, lashes, the splitting of nostrils, tortures, handcuffs, penal servitude, gallows, shootings, solitary confinements, prisons for women and children, in arranging the slaughter of tens of thousands in wars, in organizing periodic revolutions and Pugachev20 Pugachev was the Cossack leader of a very serious peasant revolt in the time of Catherine II. - A.M. revolts, and the life of others in carrying out all these horrors, and the life of a third set in evading these sufferings and avenging themselves for them - is this not a dreadful dream?
One has but to understand Christ's teaching to understand that the world, not that which God gave for man's delight but the world men have devised for their own destruction, is a dream, and a very wild and terrible dream - the raving of a maniac from which one need but awake in order never to return to that terrible nightmare.
God descended to earth; the Son of God - one of the Persons of the Trinity - became flesh and redeemed Adam's sin; this God, we were taught to think, must have said something secret, mystical, difficult to understand, and only to be understood by the aid of faith and the sacraments; and suddenly it appears that the word of God is so simple, so clear, so reasonable. God says simply: Do not do evil to one another - and there will be no evil. Is it possible that God's revelation is so simple? Can it be that God only said that? It seems to us that we all knew that: it is so simple.
Elijah the prophet, fleeing from men, hid in a cave, and it was revealed to him that God would appear to him at the entrance to the cave. A storm arose that broke the trees. Elijah thought this was God, and looked; but God was not there. Then came thunder; the thunder and lightning were terrible. Elijah went out to look whether God was not there; but God was not there either. Then there came an earthquake; fire arose from the earth, the rocks were rent, and the mountains quaked. Elijah looked, but God was still not there. Then a light, quiet breeze arose, bringing the refreshing scent of the fields. Elijah looked - and God was there!21 I Kings 19:9-13 Such, too, are these simple words of God: 'Resist not him that is evil.'
They are very simple, but in them is expressed the law of God and man, one and eternal. The law is to such an extent eternal that if there is in history a movement forward toward the elimination of evil, it is thanks only to those men who have so understood Christ's teaching and have endured evil and not resisted it by violence. Progress toward the welfare of mankind is made not by the persecutors but by the persecuted. As fire does not extinguish fire, so evil cannot extinguish evil. Only goodness, meeting evil and not infected by it, conquers evil. That this is so is in man's spiritual world an immutable law comparable to the law of Galileo, but even more immutable, clearer and more complete. People may deviate from it and hide it from others, but nevertheless the progress of humanity toward what is good can only be accomplished by that path. Every step forward is made solely in the path of non-resistance to evil. And in the face of all possible temptations and threats the disciples of Christ may, with more assurance than Galileo, declare: 'And yet, not by violence, but by goodness alone can you destroy evil.' If that advance is slow, this is thanks solely to the fact that the clearness, simplicity, reasonableness, inevitability, and necessity of Christ's teaching is hidden from the majority of men in the most cunning and dangerous way, hidden under a different doctrine falsely called his.