leo tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy on Love

Something remarkable happened yesterday. I wanted to write about Love. “What is Love?” I wrote in the title box. Then I deleted it and tried “Love vs Science”. I deleted that title, too and tried “Love vs Religion”. After trying four or five others, I moved my cursor to the sidebar and clicked the words next to the Publish icon, Move to Trash.

I went to the beach, but couldn’t stop thinking about Love. Not romantic love. Not spiritual love. Not love of family, country or some imagined deity. I was thinking about and feeling (to the best of my ability) Love — all embracing, all inclusive Love. How do you write about that? When I got home, something popped up on Facebook, of all places: Why We Hurt Each Other: Tolstoy’s Letters to Gandhi on Love, Violence, and the Truth of the Human Spirit, by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. I’ve always liked both Tolstoy and Gandhi, but didn’t know they corresponded. To my amazement, Maria covered everything I wanted to write about Love in her article.

Leo Tolstoy

leo tolstoyTolstoy led an unremarkable early life. He didn’t do particularly well in school and dropped out of college. His brother talked him into joining the Army and while serving in the Crimean War, he started his writing career. After the war, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he was a central part of the literary scene. He declared himself an anarchist, moved to Paris, gambled away his money and returned to Russia. That’s when his writing career took off in earnest.

After writing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy went through a spiritual crisis. He tried the Russian Orthodox Church on for size, but it didn’t fit and he adopted a spirituality of his own. Tolstoy’s spiritual transformation was so profound, he wanted to give away all his money, but his wife objected. Instead, he gave the copyrights of all his early books to her. Some say he summed up his beliefs in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but later writings seem to show he was continually refining his beliefs.

Love vs Religion

Like Gandhi, Tolstoy saw a similar theme running through all religions. In a letter to Gandhi, he wrote:

In every individual a spiritual element is manifested that gives life to all that exists, and that this spiritual element strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love… The mere fact that this thought has sprung up among different nations and at different times indicates that it is inherent in human nature and contains the truth.

This is sort of why I wrote Jews Against Zionism. Religions arise because of the kernels of truth contained within them. Unfortunately, they become tainted and corrupted when control groups take over.

Love vs Politics

In the next sentence, Tolstoy writes:

But this truth was made known to people who considered that a community could only be kept together if some of them restrained others, and so it appeared quite irreconcilable with the existing order of society.

There, in my opinion, is the rub. When a spiritual truth is revealed (and there’s only One: “God is Love”), it is usurped by the elites of society. He goes on to write:

The dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence.

I hinted at this in a recent blog, Village Life. Living in Cambodia has virtually proven to me that villagers maintain a reasonably harmonious life. When outside control groups get involved, they suffer the most.

Love vs Science

RumiThe major religions have strayed so far from their original messages today, it’s hard to take any of them seriously. Some believe atheism and science are the answer. The atheist’s God is reason, their Bible science. There are a few fundamental flaws in atheism:

  • Their most reasonable arguments are against “God” as defined by fundamentalists. Francis of Assisi, Rumi and others are well-known examples of religious figures whose concept of God transcended their religions, but atheists rarely if ever refer to them.
  • Science only works from one thing that is known to the next thing that is uncovered. “Love” is just an emotion to the reductionist scientist.
  • The intellect is a great tool, but a poor master. Without a heart, it leads to suffering, death and control. Some atheists are now calling themselves “humanistic atheists,” but they still believe they have the answers and are more than happy to dictate to us lesser mortals.

For more, read Richard Dawkins: The Evangelical Atheist.

Tolstoy put his opinion this way:

But by the term “scientific” is understood just what was formerly understood by the term “religious”: just as formerly everything called “religious” was held to be unquestionable simply because it was called religious, so now all that is called “scientific” is held to be unquestionable… The unfortunate majority of men bound to toil is so dazzled by the pomp with which these “scientific truths” are presented, that under this new influence it accepts these scientific stupidities for holy truth, just as it formerly accepted the pseudo-religious justifications.

Love is the Answer

Love is the answer. It’s that simple. Here’s what Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi:

As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence — as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual.

I urge you to read the whole article. Or even better, download the letters. You can get them for free on Amazon (link is Brain Pickings’).