The Kingdom of God Is Within You

ISBN: 0486451380
ISBN 13: 9780486451381
By: Leo Tolstoy Constance Garnett

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About this book

Banned in Russia, Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You was deemed a threat to church and state. The culmination of a lifetime's thought, it espouses a commitment to Jesus's message of turning the other cheek. In a bold and original manner, Tolstoy shows his readers clearly why they must reject violence of any sort—even that sanctioned by the state or the church—and urges them to look within themselves to find the answers to questions of morality.In 1894, one of the first English translations of this book found its way into the hands of a young Gandhi. Inspired by its message of nonresistance to evil, the Mahatma declared it a source of "independent thinking, profound morality, and truthfulness." Much of this work's emotional and moral appeal lies in its emphasis on fair treatment of the poor and working class. Its view of Christianity, not as a mystic religion but as a workable philosophy originating from the words of a remarkable teacher, extends its appeal to secular and religious readers alike.

Reader's Thoughts


I like the beginning although I do not entirely agree with the non-resistance to violence principle; sometimes using violence to warrant the safety of one or more of loved ones is necessary; nor do I believe that Jesus intended the turn the other cheek to be interpreted as a mandate for the absolute rejection of using violence. The first laws are to love God and your neighbor as yourself, and sometimes you have to hurt another neighbor to protect your neighbor out of love. I do however generally deplore violence and most assuredly do think war to be conceptually inhuman and should always be prevented from actualization as much as possible. The mid section of the book, about the advent of a universally accepted pure Christian life-conception (perfect absence of violence), was not that interesting and proved to be too much wishful thinking and overoptimism on Tolstoy's part; although it can hardly be denied, especially for our persistently thoroughly blood-soaked world, that it is a most noble goal for humanity to pursue. Tolstoy's principled antagonism toward war and conscription is outstanding and worthy of eternal applause not least because of his brave maverick position. The arrival of communism, world war I, Nazism and world war II would have been brutally vicious slaps in the face for poor old Tolstoy.... had he lived.The last portion of the book, however, the conclusion spanning some 80 pages, was most interesting and most inspiring and had he not included it I would've given the book a considerably lower ranking. His anarchic stance on general (abusive) government is as exemplifying as courageous. On a personal note, Tolstoy presented me the material for me to finally be able to fully understand system-idolatry.

Sean Wilson

Having read 'War and Peace' and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich', I was always interested in reading Tolstoy's non fiction works. His ideas in W&P were very interesting and I always saw Tolstoy as a great philosopher. 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' signifies his many years of research and observation during his later years. It is a life changing account on the nature of not just Christianity, but humanity.As a fellow Christian, I was always aware of the falseness of the religion I tried to adhere to. I wanted to fully commit myself to it. I never really went to church because I saw so many hypocrites and I never bothered to really research or 'search' for my faith until a few years ago. This work is exactly what I needed to read all those years back. Tolstoy's views on the Church, leaders and the religion itself is very painfully true and quite liberating to read. Tolstoy dissects Christianity to its basic, fundamental roots which is found in Jesus Christ's teachings: Non-violence, non-resistance and achieving 'perfection' (or in Buddhist terminology: 'enlightenment'). After reading this, I knew Christianity's core principles made sense to me. It's probably one of the greatest works of Christian theology and philosophy out there and something that certainly opened my eyes.


This is a great book to read before you go to sleep. I gave it three stars because it gave my brain a bit to think about, not because it is a well-written book by any stretch of the imagination. Tolstoy has a lot of great ideas, but this book is more of a collection of ramblings than a comprehensive work. Each chapter begins with a summary of its contents, which can be up to two pages on its own, and then proceeds to restate those ideas in even clumsier prose. Tolstoy's short stories were works of art, so I was disappointed that he seemed to put little effort into the writing of this book, seeking only to have his ideas heard.For those who see that the Christian Church has ceased to follow the most important teachings of Christ, this book can be good back-up. For those who believe that the Church is the be-all and end-all of Christian doctrine, I'd recommend you at least read parts of this book for a serious wake-up call.


Confession time: I have never read War and Peace (though I have read most of Dostoevsky, his Russian rival for the age), and stumbled across this title in serendipitous style, scrolling through a library (yes, of the real life brick & mortar type) aisle seeking another title. I started reading and was quickly captivated, in some part due to the discovery that this text was a source of inspiration for Gandhi.I was surprised how lucid most of the book was, given that it is an ~120 year old book. And while the title is not inaccurate, it is not reflective that most of Tolstoy's words are centered on Christian nonviolence, even as I suspect that English word had not come to be known, as yet. Sure, there were lots of redundant parts where it seemed that the author banged a drum into dilapidated submission, but that is easily outweighed by the shining passages just as relevant today as they were back in the 1890s. In fact, a good bit of it seemed prophetic, given how history played out in Europe (and in all of Christendom) during the next 50 years.Basically, Tolstoy contends that Christians have been in denial, in both creeds and deeds, of Jesus admonition against prescriptive violence to riddle the world of evil. Like I stated, in many pages, Tolstoy keeps hitting the same notes over and over, but in other sections, the narrative is so vivid and cries out to a modern reader. Here are a few brief instances: (1) Tolstoy depiction of evolution of humankind Christian consciousness -- from self focused Christ-less to family/tribe/nation centric God infancy to adolescence of Christ flowering in the "opinion" of all Christian brothers and sisters. That it is an arc measured in thousands of years, with final conclusion inevitable… and (2) In the end of the book his wrenching words on Russian authorities carrying out flogging and torture of those who bumped against the rich ownership class. How self-confessed, proclaiming Christians could engage in such conduct totally at odds with the edicts of Christ.


Tolstoy calls on all people to live by the Law of Jesus, primarily set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. For Tolstoy, living like this is what it means to be a Christian. Early on he makes it clear he has no love for the rest of the New Testament outside the Gospels. He finds the whole idea of sin and salvation by grace as really part of the problem. Thus, his view of being a Christian is quite different than the traditional view as he simply says - live like Jesus. Of course, this begs the question - why should I live like Jesus? He was executed as a criminal and in the very same text where we find the Sermon on the Mount, we find him saying all kinds of crazy things. It makes me think of Lewis' famous argument that Jesus is either lunatic, liar or lord. Tolstoy takes Jesus as a teacher, arguing that we follow Jesus because he taught truth. But how do we separate the truth of what he taught, which Tolstoy likes, from the error?That said, Tolstoy's work is extremely challenging. Too many Christians explain away some of Jesus' more challenging statements. Tolstoy will have none of this. For Tolstoy, when Jesus says love your enemies or forgive those who persecute you, he meant it. At one point Tolstoy asks why Christians have no problem literally accepting other parts of the sermon on the mount (such as the call to not look at a woman lustfully) but then explain away the nonviolent parts.His critique of the church for its near unquestioning support of the state at times made me forget he was writing in 1890s Russia and not 2000s America. So Tolstoy is challenging in this book. The problem is, other writers are equally challenging without sacrificing the rest of the Christian tradition. You can find people who put forth this radical ethic of following Jesus along with orthodox theology from the church fathers on to people like John Howard Yoder. Finally, Tolstoy seems way too optimistic about human nature than he should be. In the 200s AD Origen wrote Against Celsus, replying to the criticisms of one of the great Roman writers. Celsus said that if everybody became like Christians, laying aside the sword, no one would be left to defend the empire. Tolstoy, like Origen, provides an answer to this question. For Tolstoy, if everyone became lived like Jesus the world would be at peace. Further, Tolstoy believes this will inevitably happen, he has a sort of postmillenial vibe at points, with the idea the world will get better and better. But does the reality of human sin and depravity allow such optimism? Tolstoy wrote at the end of the 19th century, leading into the bloodiest century humanity has known. The reality of human corruption makes it clear to me that we cannot hope everyone will simply live like Jesus.Now, traditional Christianity, with trust in the indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit, can hope for these future things. But it is a bit more complex then humans simply living it; we need help.Overall, I recommend this book as a classic of Christian ethics, despite the many shortcomings I see. I look at it this way: most Christians have no problem lifting up Calvin as a model of Christian orthodoxy despite his ethical failings (such as his role in the execution of Servetus) so why can't we lift up a Christian ethic despite its other theological failings?


Mhatma Ghandi said of this book, "Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You overwhelmed me. It left an abiding impression on me. Before the independent thinking, profound morality and the truthfulness of this book, all the books given me...seemed to pale into insignificance." This was lovingly written in the cover of the book when I picked it out of pile of books destined for recycling, where the hard covers would be ripped off and the pages put through the recycling bin. I could not toss this book. My brother (a professor of English studies) pointed out to me the geneology of its publication, how ever year of its reissuing was during a massive era of change (World War II and the civil rights movement.). I do love this book. I am a slow reader. It will be a slow arduous journey through this book, but I am certain it will be worth it.


My gracious, what a book.It's a long, long read, of course. But 'tis Tolstoy, so this isn't much of a surprise.What's striking about it is that it establishes, through storytelling and history and reflection, a really solid basis for Christian anarchy. Meaning, it's a strikingly articulation of what he views as the essential nature of the Reign of God in Christianity. His vision of the perfect human society, drawn from the Sermon on the Mount, is totally nonviolent, devoid of either physical or economic coercion, one that strips away the absurdities of bureaucracy and the state.Tolstoy himself worked to create and participate in communities that expressed that ethic, as he struggled to live so that his faith would be alive, real, and not hypocritical.It's a beautiful, difficult, and fiercely hopeful book, one that requires patience with the gracious patterns of his thinking. Well worth the read.


this is an amazing book. i'm not a religious person and i can't say i believe in god, but this book sort of made me believe in jesus. not the supernatural aspects of him, but in his philosophy. tolstoy rips into the Church and gives no quarter, saying that the clergy are no better than gangsters. his elucidation of the profound madness involved when "christians" march off to war made me jump out of my chair and say, "yes!" read this book.

Vance Halfaker

My reactions to Tolstoy's arguments oscillated rapidly from "YES! YES!" to "What?! Come on, man!" very rapidly. His criticisms of established religion and Christian justifications of violence are provocative and incredibly relevant to contemporary issues.


It's easier to go along with the flow of life than it is to stand firm on eternal truths and thus to oppose political and religious paradigms. Sure enough Tolstoy can find dozens of ways to state his case that Christianity is good and organized religion is not. And every way is relevent and true. Church complicity with worldly authorities, ready to support the violence of war and the oppression of the weak is quite at odds with the messages of Jesus Christ himself. Read this (p. 317): " is madness to remain under the roof of a building which cannot support its weight, and that we must leave it. And indeed it is difficult to imagine a position more wretched than that of the Christian world today, with its nations armed against one another, with its constantly increasing taxation to maintain its armies, with the hatred of the working class for the rich ever growing more intense, with Damocles sword of war hanging over the heads of all, ready every instant to fall sooner or later."Whew! And this was written in 1894!

Conrad Johnson

Reportedly, this book changed Ghandi's life and helped solidify his philosophy regarding nonviolence. You would expect from the title that this is a 'preacher's book' and is apologetic in nature and attempts to convert the reader to Christianity but it does no such thing. What it does do, however, is offer an insular, social commentary on the pervasiveness of war, military conscription and servility to the 'all powerful' state which most people on the planet contribute to willingly because either of fear of retribution or lack of not knowing any better. What amazed me most about this discourse is that, although it was published at the end of the 19th century, many of the author's observations remain truisms today. Tolstoy was a keen observer of social behavior but had the privilege of commenting on faults from a protected vantage point as a member of Russia's privileged class. Any other person who wrote such a blistering critique of his own government at that time would have probably been taken out and shot or thrown into a dungeon.My favorite concept from this work (and I paraphrase) is that so called Christian society views all forms of sex outside of marriage as clearly being wrong and sinful. However, war and state sanctioned executions are judged upon different standards even though the most fundamental law of Judeo-Christian principles clearly states: Thou shall not kill. Tolstoy repeatedly refers to Christ's Sermon on the Mount throughout this narrative and provides adequate references from that memorable speech that violence in any shape or form against another human is clearly not the Christian way, although 'Christian' nations have sanctioned wars for centuries and still continue to do so in the name of God. However, what is unpalatable to me is that he suggests that self defense, even at the personal level, is unscriptural and that if someone were to invade your home and plan to butcher yourself or your family, you should just surrender and forgive them for the evil they are about to commit. Because of this ridiculous notion stated by a man who probably had an entire posse of bodyguards protecting him, I find his argument flawed and his theory being as contradictory as those that he takes great pains to expose as contradictory. He is, what many call, 'cherry picking' suitable passages from the bible that support his premises and ignore others that dismiss his convictions. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, when Christ was about to be captured by Roman soldiers and led to his crucifixion, he said to his disciples: "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then he said unto them, "But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip, and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me. And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end." And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, "It is enough." Luke 22:36-38 KJV.Clearly, Christ was telling his followers to be ready to protect themselves with force if necessary. This is often referred to by theologians as the Doctrine of the Sword of Just Defense. Obviously, just like almost everything else that Christ said, it has been misconstrued, misinterpreted and taken to such extreme levels of fanaticism that has resulted in countless 'holy wars' throughout the centuries. Tolstoy does an excellent job of pointing out these absurdities, particularly within the social milieu of his time, and even though they still exist today, I doubt that anyone who is armed and faces the threat of violence from a rapist, murderer or madman against himself or his family would simply lay down his weapon, embrace his potential killer and say, "Jesus told me to love you and forgive for what you are about to do." In summary, The Kingdom of God Is Within You is an extremely well written and carefully thought out social commentary about the incompatibility of nation states that profess themselves to be officially Christian yet unceasingly rely upon force to maintain the status quo of the powerful and the elite who run governments and the military, but, in the end his argument, at least for me, lacks practical substance in a society filled with increasingly random acts of violence where most of the time law enforcement does nothing more than clean up after the fact if they even bother to show up at all.


I have considered this since I read it probably 6 years ago to be my favorite book, or at least the book that has challenged me the most. It's as powerful of a testament to Christian nonviolence as I imagine has ever been written. Probably it's most well-known claim to fame is that Gandhi cites it as the book that influenced him most in his life, even though he was a devout Hindu.

Tom McKone

Tolstoy is my favorite writer. 'The Kingdom of God Is Within You' is a book that heavily influenced Gandhi in his epic battle for justice and compassion within and, then, against the British Empire. It is not what you might think though. It is heavily censorious of prevailing assumptions in Christianity as they were practiced in the 18th century. Tolstoy is a radical and allows Christians no wriggle room. You are either a believer and follow the spirit and teachings of Jesus or you are not. It is only in living by the teachings that one becomes a Christian. He gives very little attention to any Christologies. What one may believe about the afterlife has very little sway here. His main criticism of religion is that it might actually serve as an obfuscation and hinder one in ascertaining the real message and value of Jesus' teachings. Religion might prevent Jesus from coming into one's life. Christ is what most people want; a simple affirmation. But, to Tolstoy, belief requires more. Hence, a point of view: no Jesus, no Christ.

Acton J Northrop

Tremendously lucid work by the great novelist on Christian Anarchism. Does not shy away from addressing the pragmatic difficulties posed by a fully realized pacifist, anti-authoritarian society nor does it let mankind off the hook to ignore its obligation to move toward this telos. Garnett's translations of the great Russian writers continue to be the standard nearly a century later.

David Lentz

I have read two of Tolstoy's other masterpieces in "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina." For all the brilliant prose in these two works of penultimate genius, to really understand the heart of the novelist writing about his society, these essays lend powerful insight. The essays begin as Tolstoy rides a train with soldiers sent to beat Russian peasants who have lodged a complaint against a rich landowner bent upon cutting down a forest, with which serfs had always enjoyed common rights, for the profit in the timber. After a judge's unjust verdict in favor of the landowner, after the serfs send packing the men who appeared to cut their timber, the landowner requests government troops to enforce the unjust verdict by beating the serfs to death with rods packed onboard the train. Tolstoy examines this great chain of injustice from the rich landowner's arrogance and greed, to the government judge's feeble acquiesence to power, to the soldiers' blind obedience to administer the famished serfs' inhumane punishment and asks why any of this must play out as it does. How often has this great chain of injustice perpetuated itself upon humanity? Does this chain not define and insitutionalize the greatest instances of inhumanity in the course of history? Tolstoy asks earnestly why each of the players in the administration of this injustice just doesn't try to make a true "moral effort." Why doesn't the rich landowner recognize his own arrogance and greed and duty to the serfs? Why doesn't the government intercede and stand up to the landowner's will to power? Why don't the soldiers refuse to administer mindlessly this injustice? Why must famished, diseased and half-dead peasants be beaten to death as they simply try to survive? Who wins in this oft repeated scenario? Not a dead soul. Tolstoy's argument is that we have the ethical wherewithal at every level to stand-up to such injustice and he makes the argument as a wealthy Russian landowner, former soldier and provincial adminsitrator with great influence upon the tsar. In other words he is fully qualified by virtue of experience to argue this case and he makes it with a profundity and simplicity which is inspiring. "There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is to recognize and profess the truth." Tolstoy's thesis is that the Power to do this exists within every person and that it is the divine responsibility of each of us to exercise this power for the good and happiness of humanity. Tolstoy sees a threefold relationship of man to truth: "Some truths have been so assimilated by them that they become the unconscious basis of action, others are just only on the point of being revealed and a third class, though not yet assimilated by him, have been revealed to him with sufficient clearness to force him to decide either to recognize them or refuse to recognize them." Tolstoy urges mankind simply to make a moral effort and he advises that the happiness open to mankind is available only if and when we do so. Why don't we make more of a moral effort? There is great wisdom in this work which I urge you, despite the daunting title, to read as it is wisdom from a century and a half ago, that no generation of humanity may need more than our own right now.

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