The Case for Conscientious Non-Voting Part 7
Christ and Tolstoy
Since about 1979, the Christian church and the Republican Party of the US have “co-branded” patriotism and religion in the United States. That in and of itself is a series of strange events since and evangelical Democrat named Jimmy Carter was president at the time. The genesis is this; Carter supported the lawsuit that ended up at the US Supreme Court that forced religious colleges admit black students. Prior to that, evangelicals around the US had stayed out of politics since at least the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.
Of course, this is not the first time co-branding has happened, nor will it be the last. It probably first happened in the Christian church in 325 CE when the Roman Emperor Constantine standardized the books of the Bible. Presto, the “Holy” Roman Empire was born. How the words “holy” and “empire” can be used in the same sentence is beyond my ability to comprehend. Other faiths co-branded religion and patriotism prior to 325 CE of course. The ancient Mayans did it in Central America before Columbus landed. Much of the Muslim world is doing it today. It is a sure bet that once an individual abandons reason for faith, and starts believing things like a savior being virgin-born; it is a short hop to becoming a tool of the state. Evangelical Christians, especially in the southern US, have been a tool of the Republican Party since 1979, plain and simple.
The Republican/Christian connection has been so well ingrained into the American political psyche that usually thinks of them as the same. It has been an amazing thing for me to witness over the last 29 years.
There is a bigger question: should Christians participate in electoral politics at all? I will be the first to admit that the Bible is a pretty lousy source document. Early Christian leaders destroyed “heretical” documents, especially those writing by the Gnostics. Only in the last 60 years or so are we re-discovering those documents and analyzing them. Further, early leaders altered combined writings and totally skipped the “missing” years of Jesus.
We know very little about the authors of the Bible either. It is, at best, a second-hand account of Christ’s words and teachings. Since it is impossible to know what Christ said exactly, we have to use our best judgment. All that being said, let’s go back to the original question, should Christians participate in politics? If one is to read Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest writers and Christians to ever live, the answer is “no,” Christians should not participate in politics. Tolstoy’s most famous book during the latter period of his life is entitled, “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” The title is, of course, taken from Christ’s most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount (TSOTM).”
One would think that Christian denominations would follow the most famous sermon of its founder before following other teachings. That would only seem logical. In fact, you would be seriously wrong if you made that assumption.
A quick Wikipedia search of TSOTM turns up some interesting information. There are 12 major schools of thought in interpreting the sermon according to McArthur. The one most closely associated with TSOTM are the “peace churches.” Specifically, these sects are:
Church of the Brethren,
the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Old German Baptist Brethren
Old Order River Brethren
others in the Anabaptist tradition
Community of Christ
Churches of Christ
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Most scholars would agree that these are smaller sects of Christianity. It’s hard to believe that the smallest subgroup of Christianity is the only ones following Christ’s most famous teachings.
Wiki also says there are no source hypotheses for TSOTM. I would disagree. There is a growing body of evidence that the origin of TSOTM is Indian. The “kingdom of God is in you” is an Indian thought not Jewish. Hindu and Yoga (and to a lesser extent Buddhism and Jain) philosophies share this idea. Non-violence is an Indian idea. In fact, TSOTM shares 4 of the 5 vows common to the Indian philosophies. It only sounds “unique” to Jewish ears of the 1st century. Since this sermon was written from memory years after it was delivered it is understandable why one vow may have been omitted.
Excavations of the library in Alexandria Egypt are stating to turn up Asian skeletons from around the time of Christ. We know that religious seekers traveled between the Middle East and India before, during and after the time of Christ. The Thomas Christians are a sect founded in India by Thomas the disciple. And, of course, there are “the missing years” of Jesus. He probably went to India or Alexandria and studied with Buddhists. Jesus was probably a Buddhist, get over it.
Tolstoy was very interested in TSOTM. He noted that there is a difference between the Christian church and Christ. He believed Christ was human, not divine. Heaven and hell were unknowable. In fact, he was ready to accept that Christ might not have spoken the words in TSOTM. Frankly, scholars don’t know who wrote those words. “Matthew” appears not to be one person, but many. The important element in Tolstoy’s mind is that humankind should follow the words even if Christ never spoke them. He firmly believed in TSOTM as a salvation for humankind, and he believed the Christian church strayed away from Christ’s teaching in 325 CE.
What are the key points contained within TSOTM that Tolstoy so firmly believed:
Live in peace with all men
Take no oaths
Resist not evil by force
Renounce national distinctions
Today, we would interpret “resist not evil by force” as non-violence such as that as practiced by MK Gandhi, ML King, Reverend Desmund Tutu, Thich Nhat Hahn,Father Oscar Romero etc. Gandhi was a big fan of both TSOTM and Mr. Tolstoy and corresponded with Tolstoy after reading this book.
I have been deeply involved in the peace movement since late 2001. In that time, I’ve interacted with many religious people. For the most part, these peace-loving religious people practice the universal truth of non-violence. When we look at the spiritual leaders above, it is plain to see that once they make non-violence they pass into a higher state, call it what you will.
Now some words from Tolstoy himself on the ideas of government:
(NOTE: all page numbers are referenced from “The Kingdom of God is Within You”)
“To suggest to governments that they should not have recourse to violence, but should decide their misunderstandings in accordance with equity, is inviting them to abolish themselves as rulers, and that no government can ever do.” Page 110
The error arises from the learned jurists deceiving themselves and others by asserting that government is not what it really is, one set of men banded together to oppress another set of men” p. 111
“No one has an absolute right to govern others” page 116
“We are enslaved by the laws we set up for our protection, which have become our oppression” Page 118
“All state obligations…to which people appear to submit voluntarily, are always based on bodily violence or the threat of it….The basis of authority is violence” page 127
“All methods of appointing authorities that have been tried, divine right, and election and heredity, and balloting, and assemblies, and parliaments and senate-have all proved ineffectual” page 128
“Governments assert that armies are needed above all for external defense, but that is not true. They are needed principally against their subjects and every man, under universal military service becomes an accomplice in all the acts of violence of the government against the citizens….page 134
“For a Christian the oath of allegiance to any government whatever-the very act of which is regarded as the foundation of the existence of a state is a direct renunciation of Christianity” page 162
“Those who refuse to take the oath of allegiance refuse because to promise obedience to authorities, that is, to men who are given to acts of violence is contrary to the sense of Christ’s teachings.” Page 176
Elections and Christian participation:
“…elect others or be yourself elected, to take a pretended share in the government knowing all the while that the government will proceed quite without regard to the foolish speeches you, and those like you, may utter, and knowing that its proceedings will according…to those who have the army in their hands” page 167
Why should I go wasting my time and hoodwinking myself, giving to miscreant evildoers a semblance of legality by taking part in elections, and pretending that I am taking part in the government, when I know very well that the real control of the government is in the hands of those who got hold of the army? Page 167
“The Christian says: I know nothing about the form of government, I don’t know whether it is good or bad, and I don’t want to overturn precisely because I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but for the very same reason I don’t want to support it either. …All state obligations are against the conscience of a Christian…” page 176
“The progressive movement of humanity does not proceed from the better elements of society seizing power and making those who are subject to them better” page 189
One of the famous tennis-playing Williams sisters was asked recently if she was voting for Obama. She replied that she did not vote because she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I would disagree with much of that faith, but they do follow TSOTM better than most and that is what is most important.
She is in the company of Leo Tolstoy.
It is undeniable that, since 1979, US evangelicals have been violating the main teaching of Christ. Frankly, it is not understandable to me. Aren’t they the ones who believe that the Bible is the written word of God and are supposed to be following it? Early Americna Baptists insisted that an amendment be placed in the new constitution separating church and state, not to put religion into the state, but to keep the state out of the church. It looks to me like evangelicals could learn a thing or two from the peace churches.
by Joey King