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  • One of the Amazon reviewers refers to Tolstoy as being "essentially a liberal postmillennialist, believing in a humanistic method of success to the divine intent for man." Well, I'm a liberal postmillenialist (but not a full preterist, since full preterism is incompatible with the creeds) myself, so that's a point in Tolstoy's favor. I'm not exactly sure what the rest of that sentence, the part after "believing," actually means, though.
  • From Chapter 2:
    The command against fornication they [i.e., the teachers of the Church] do really recognize, and consequently they do not admit that in any case fornication can cease to be wrong. The Church preachers never point out cases in which the command against fornication can be broken, and always teach that we must avoid seductions which lead to temptation to fornication. But not so with the command of non-resistance. All church preachers recognize cases in which that command can be broken, and teach the people accordingly. [. . .] But in connection with the commandment of non-resistance they openly teach that we must not understand it too literally, but that there are conditions and circumstances in which we must do the direct opposite, that is, go to law, fight, punish.
    So since I (and other modern-day Christians who are in some sense or other social liberals) don't think fornication is always wrong, I can get away with not being a pacifist? (Admittedly, I'm not sure how we're defining "fornication" here. But there's a parallel equivocation in Tolstoy over "murder.")
  • From the same chapter:
    And to reply that that is evil which I think evil, in spite of the fact that my opponent thinks it good, is not a solution of the difficulty. There can only be two solutions: either to find a real unquestionable criterion of what is evil or not to resist evil by force.

    The first course has been tried ever since the beginning of historical times, and, as we all know, it has not hitherto led to any successful results.
    This seems to beg the question. That people disagree over what is to be termed evil is not particularly interesting, and indeed indicative of a healthy dialectic. It's true that I believe social conservatism to be evil, and the social conservative thinks the same of social liberalism. But we have a mechanism by which differing opinions on the nature of evil are able to engage with each other such that inferior arguments are placed to rest: it's the dialectic of history.

    Indeed, it's precisely my liberal postmillenialism which leads me to argue that our understanding of evil is improving over history in a way which will result in the final construction of the Kin(g)dom of God. (And note that when I put it that way, Tolstoy thinks that too.) Tolstoy's rejection of the Trinity robs him of the Spirit who, according to the Episcopal catechism, is revealed in the New Covenant "as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ." The deuterocanonical book known as the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us that God's "Wisdom guided Her disciples safely though all the tribulations" (11:9); "She rewarded the labors of a holy people and guided them on a wondrous quest" (11:17). (More on this in my essay History and Christ.)

    The notion that we cannot act unless we are 100% certain (and actual philosophical certainty, not just psychological conviction) of the moral rightness of our actions is a reductio ad absurdum in and of itself. Yes, we will err; that's a necessary result of our fallen human nature. But that doesn't free us from the obligation to fight for what we think is right.

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My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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