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Demands of World vs Christ

 

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Demands of World vs Christ

Leo Tolstoy

Christ says that those who follow him will be persecuted by those who do not listen to him, but he does not say that the disciples will lose anything thereby; on the contrary, he says that his disciples will have more of joy here in this world than those who do not follow him.

That Christ says and thinks this is shown beyond possibility of doubt by the clearness of his words and the drift of his whole teaching, as well as by his way of life and that of his disciples. But is it true?

Examining the abstract question whether the position of the disciples of Christ or of the disciples of the world is the better, one cannot but see that the position of the disciples of Christ should be better, because they, doing good to all men, would not evoke hatred. The disciples of Christ, doing harm to no one, would only be persecuted by evil men, but the disciples of the world would be persecuted by all, since the law of their life is the law of strife - that is to say, the persecution one of another. The chances of suffering are the same for these as for those, with only this difference, that Christ's disciples will be prepared for the sufferings, but the world's disciples will employ all the powers of their souls to escape them; and that Christ's disciples when suffering will think that the world needs their sufferings, but the world's disciples when suffering will not know why they suffer. Arguing in the abstract, the position of Christ's followers should be better than that of those of the world. But is it so in reality?

To verify this let everyone remember all the painful moments of his life, all the physical and spiritual sufferings he has endured and still endures, and ask himself for what has he borne all these misfortunes, for the sake of the world's teaching or for that of Christ's? Let every sincere man remember well his whole life, and he will see that never, not once, has he suffered from obeying the teaching of Christ, but that most of the misfortunes of his life have come about because contrary to his own inclination he has followed the world's teaching which constrained him.

In my own life, exceptionally fortunate in a worldly sense, I can recall sufferings borne by me in the name of the world's teaching which would be sufficient to supply a good Christian martyr. All the bitterest moments of my life, from the drunkenness and debauchery of student-days, the duels, war, and so on, to that ill-health and those unnatural and trying conditions of life in which I now live - all this was martyrdom in the name of the world's teaching.

And I speak of my own life, which is exceptionally fortunate in a worldly sense. But how many martyrs are there who have endured and are now enduring, for the sake of the world's teaching, sufferings which I cannot even vividly imagine to myself!

We do not see all the difficulty and danger of obeying the world's teaching, merely because we consider that all we endure for it is unavoidable.

We have assured ourselves that all these misfortunes which we inflict on ourselves are necessary conditions of our life, and therefore we are unable to grasp the fact that Christ teaches just how we should free ourselves from these misfortunes and live happily.

To be in a condition to discuss the question which life is happier, we should dismiss that false notion, if only in thought, and look without prejudice within ourselves and around us.

Go among a large crowd of people, especially townsfolk, and notice the wearied, distressed, sickly faces, and then remember your own life and the lives of people about whom you have known; remember all the violent deaths, all the suicides of which you have heard, and ask yourself for whose sake was all this suffering, death, and suicidal despair? And you will see, strange as it at first seems, that nine-tenths of these sufferings are endured for the sake of the world's teaching, that all these sufferings are unnecessary and need not exist, and that the majority of people are martyrs to the world's teaching.

Recently, one rainy autumn Sunday, I went by tram through the Bazaar at the Sukharev Tower. For nearly half a mile the car made its way through a dense crowd of people who immediately closed in again behind it. From morning to night these thousands of people, of whom most are hungry and ragged, swarm here in the dirt, scolding, cheating, and hating one another. The same thing occurs in all the bazaars of Moscow. The evening is passed by these people in the dram-shops and taverns, the night in their corners and hovels.1 It was common for Moscow workmen to live in a corner of a room or passage, generally not even screened off from the rest of the room in which other people, besides the owner and his family, had other corners. - A.M. Sunday is the best day in their week. On Monday, in their infected dens, they will again resume the work they detest.

Consider the life of all these people in the positions they left to choose that in which they have placed themselves, and remember the unceasing toil these people voluntarily endure - men and women - and you will see that they are real martyrs.

All these people have left their homes, fields, fathers, brothers, and often their wives and children, and have abandoned everything, even their very lives, and have come to town to acquire that which according to the teaching of the world is considered indispensable for each of them. And they all - not to mention those tens of thousands of unfortunate people who have lost everything and struggle along on garbage and vodka in the doss-houses2 places where a night's lodging may be had very cheaply - P.R. - they all, from the factory hands, cabmen, seamstresses and prostitutes, to the rich merchants and Ministers of State with their wives, endure the most trying and unnatural manner of life and yet fail to acquire what, according to the teaching of the world, they need.

Search among these people for a man, poor or rich, for whom what he earns secures what he considers necessary according to the world's teaching, and you will not find one in a thousand. Everyone struggles with his whole strength to obtain what he does not need, but what is demanded of him by the teaching of the world and the absence of which therefore makes him unhappy. And as soon as he obtains what is required, something else, and again something else, is demanded of him, and so this work of Sisyphus3 In Greek mythology a greedy king of Corinth doomed forever in Hades to roll uphill a heavy stone which always rolled down again - P.R. continues endlessly, ruining the life of men.

Take the ladder of wealth of people who spend from £30 to £5,000 a year, and you will rarely find one who is not tormented and worn out with work to obtain £40 when he has £30, and £50 when he has £40, and so on endlessly. And there is not one who having £50 would voluntarily exchange into the way of life of one having £40, or if there are such cases the exchange is made not to live more easily, but to save money and hide it away. They all have to burden their already overladen life more and more with work and to devote their life and soul entirely to the service of the world's teaching. To-day I obtain a coat and galoshes, to-morrow a watch and chain, after to-morrow a lodging with a sofa and a lamp, then carpets in the sitting-room and velvet clothes, then race-horses and pictures in gilt frames, till finally I fall ill from my excessive labours and die. Another continues the same labour and also sacrifices his life to that same Moloch; he too dies and also does not know why he did what he did. But perhaps the life itself during which a man does all this is happy?

Test that life by the measure of what all men have always described as happiness and you will see that this life is terribly unhappy. Indeed, what are the chief conditions of earthly happiness - those which no one disputes?

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