Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Contradictory Lives


We live a life of contradictions.

“All men of the modern world exist in a state of continual and flagrant antagonism between their conscience and their way of life.

This antagonism is apparent in economic as well as political life.

But most striking of all is the contradiction between the Christian law of the brotherhood of men existing in the conscience and the necessity under which all men are placed by compulsory military service of being prepared for hatred and murder – of being at the same time a Christian and a gladiator.”

Tolstoy highlighted three contradictions.

1. Social and Economic Inequalities Perpetuated by Greed

All men are brothers under God. Yet we oppress them through unfair economic practices.

“We are all brothers – and yet every morning a brother or a sister must empty the bedroom slops for me.

We are all brothers, but every morning I must have a cigar, a sweetmeat, an ice, which my brothers and sisters have been wasting their health in manufacturing...

We are all brothers, yet I live by working in a bank, or mercantile house, or shop at making all goods dearer for my brothers.

We are all brothers, but I live on a salary paid me for prosecuting... the thief or the prostitute whose existence the whole tenor of my life tends to bring about,..

We are all brothers, but I will not give the poor the benefit of my educational, medical, or literary labors except for money.

The whole life of the upper classes is a constant inconsistency.

The more delicate a man’s conscience is, the more painful this contradiction is to him."

2. Unjust laws Enforced by Powers

There’s no one universal law for all nations, which means laws are artificial.

“We know and cannot help knowing that the law of our country is not the one eternal law; that it is only one of the many laws of different countries, which are equally imperfect, often obviously wrong and unjust,..”

And we obey these man-made laws out of fear of punishment.

“A man must suffer when his whole life is defined beforehand for him by laws, which he must obey under threat of punishment, though he does not believe in their wisdom or justice, and often clearly perceives their injustice, cruelty, and artificiality.”

3. War and Compassion

We teach our young to be kind and loving. Yet we expect them to kill another human for their country.

“I am surprised at the way religion is carried on in this country,” said Sir Wilfrid Lawson at the same congress. “You send a boy to Sunday school, and you tell him, ‘Dear boy, you must love your enemies. If another boy strikes you, you mustn’t hit him back,..’ Well. The boy stays in the Sunday school until he is fourteen or fifteen, and then his friends send him into the army. What has he to do in the army? He certainly won’t love his enemy; quite the contrary, if he can only get at him, he will run him through with his bayonet. I do not think that that is a very good way of carrying out the precepts of religion. I think if it is a good thing for a boy to love his enemy, it is good for a grown-up man.”

“G. D. Bartlett said among other things, “If I understand the Scriptures, I say that men are only playing with Christianity so long as they ignore the question of war.

What! All of us, Christians, not only profess to love one another, but do actually live one common life; we whose social existence beats with one common pulse – we aid one another, learn from one another, draw ever closer to one another to our mutual happiness, and find in this closeness the whole meaning of life!

And tomorrow some crazy ruler will say something stupid, and another will answer in the same spirit, and then I must go expose myself to being murdered, and murder men – who have done me no harm...

And this is not a remote contingency, but the very thing we are all preparing for, which is not only probable, but also an inevitable certainty.”

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