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

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.

Jeff Shelnutt

I was excited when I started this book, as I am both a Tolstoy fan and an advocate of biblical non-resistance. Tolstoy made some excellent points and many of his arguments are irrefutable if we are take Jesus' teachings at face value. However, I confess I was a bit disappointed by Tolstoy's overall belief/assumption that society is progressively evolving into a more "Christianized" form. I think if Tolstoy were to see where things are at today, over one hundred years later, he would be compelled to admit his theory did not pan out too well. While Tolstoy maintained what I feel is a healthy distinction between the church and the state, and did not hesitate to criticize the church for its hypocritical (and unbiblical) entanglements with the state, I feel he departed from some key historic Christian positions. He de-emphasized the need for a personal salvation experience (the new birth) and instead continually came back to the need for each individual to apply themselves diligently to Jesus' teaching. The latter sounds good, but apart from the foundation of faith in Christ's finished work and the subsequent Spirit of God working in a man, there is no hope of redemption--either for the individual or society. So I give it three stars. It was worth the read, but not what I'd anticipated. However, if you are interested in the practical application of non-resistance, Tolstoy will definitely offer you something to chew on.


In this book, Tolstoy uses Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to makes a brave, impassioned argument for pacifism and the abolishment of all governments. He makes some great points, but his argument is utterly lacking in nuance. For example, the Bible commands us not to lie, but polite society would undoubtedly break down if, every time we said "nice to see you" to someone, we had to stop a moment and ascertain whether such was indeed actually the case. We can also reasonably assume that "turning the other cheek" wasn't meant to apply in the event you come face-to-face with a serial killer who wants to make you his next victim; and we can suppose that "Thou shalt not kill" goes out the window if you have a chance to take out a terrorist about to detonate a nuclear weapon. However, for Tolstoy, every Biblical imperative is rendered in complete black and white, and there is no such thing as mitigating circumstances regarding their implementation. Jesus' words were certainly the ideal by which to live, but, in the case of the terrorist, who do you apply the golden rule to--the murderer or the potential victims? Because, obviously, if you were the terrorist, you would want something completely different than if you were the victim. Tolstoy would say that, in such case, "do unto others" applies to the terrorist, and we, as a society, would best try to just absorb the damage as best we could. Tolstoy believes that there should be no government, no prisons, and no law enforcement of any kind, because such would violate Christ's call for us to be forgiving. But the idea of forgiveness doesn't always necessitate freedom from punishment, and forgiveness was never put forth as a licence to act with impunity. I think you can forgive someone for crashing into your car and yet still expect them to pay for the damages. Tolstoy argues that, through non-violent resistance, we can bring about heaven on earth (thus the title of the book, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You"). But Tolstoy is taking this verse out of context, and, in reality, humanity has little hope for true world peace until Christ returns. That's not to say we shouldn't try, and Tolstoy's book best serves as a wake-up call to remind us of our duty to our fellow man. Then there's the presentation of the book itself, which is badly in need of a good editor (as noted in the introduction by the translator, who states that Tolstoy was much more careful about structuring his novels than his non-fiction works) and, in the case of my copy, a much better proofreader. It's fatally repetitive and a complete slog to get through, but parts of it are rewarding enough to make it worthwhile--though just barely so.


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.


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.

Danielnylinnilsson Nylin Nilsson

This is a really strong book. Tosltoy argues for the justification of non-violence in all situations, and why war and coercion is necessary wrong. His biggest point is probably this - that if war is bad some times, it will always be bad, and waging war for a good cause is despicable hypocrisy. If you do not agree, I think you should really consider reading this book, to make sure that you have considered all arguments for non-violence.

La pointe de la sauce

"Ye have heard, it was said of old, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you Resist not evil. But if one smites thee on the right cheek, turn him the other also; and if one will go to law with thee to take thy coat from thee, give him thy cloak also." I have always said that Jesus Christ is one of the greatest humanists there has ever been and the starting point of many revolutionary ideas. Here Tolstoy attempts to disassociate Christ's teachings from the church and Christianity. I'll let the man speak for himself:'The conventional positions, established hundreds of years, recognized for centuries and by everyone, distinguished by special names and dresses, and, moreover, confirmed by every kind of solemnity, have so penetrated into men's minds through their senses, that, forgetting the ordinary conditions of life common to all, they look at themselves and everyone only from this conventional point of view, and are guided in their estimation of their own actions and those of others by this conventional standard.It is principally through this false idea of inequality, and the intoxication of power and of servility resulting from it, that men associated in a state organization are enabled to commit acts opposed to their conscience without the least scruple or remorse. Under the influence of this intoxication, men imagine themselves no longer  simply men as they are, but some special beings— noblemen, merchants, governors, judges, officers, tzars, ministers, or soldiers—no longer bound by ordinary human duties, but by other duties far more weighty—the peculiar duties of a nobleman, merchant, governor, judge, officer, tzar, minister, or soldier.'It's worth mentioning that it's this same book that inspired Ghandi to pursue non-violent protest which led to India's independence, this further inspired the civil rights movement in the U.S with off-shoots all across the world and all because Tolstoy, despite the strangeness of the concept of 'turning the other cheek', firmly believes that it is the only way to emancipate man and return the reign of truth on earth. He is vindicated in every respect. I expected this book to be preachy but its actually a brutal attack on the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the state, the Czar and indeed all institutions that feign acceptance of Jesus' teachings whilst engaging creative ways of sanctioning war or robbing the poor. In his commentary he sites other thinkers who have reached the same conclusion about Christianity one of which I thought was strikingly concise:'War, too, is a Christian duty. Is it not a Christian duty to kill hundreds of thousands of one's fellow-men, to outrage women, to raze and burn towns, and to practice every possible cruelty? It is time to dismiss all these false sentimentalities. It is the truest means of forgiving injuries and loving enemies. If we only do it in the spirit of love, nothing can be more Christian than such murder. - Adin Ballou, It has always struck me as strange that under the guidance of the religion, the state or certain institutions, people of upright character have been somehow deceived into committing the most heinous crimes. Like in the Milgram Experiment where people keep pushing that button because their ability to reason has somehow been transferred to a 'higher authority.' Im always disgusted by UK Judge's who give 7 years imprisonment to pedophiles who have managed to rape their victims because it's written in some book that that is the right response. And on another level bankers take huge bonuses because it's somehow their right and just recently the government increasing student fees three fold and cutting NHS services to deal with the deficit and in the same week advancing millions to save UK Banks in Ireland. I digress but you get the point. 

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.


Recommended by a friend. Just started it today.I can't make up my mind whether I am in love with or outraged by Tolstoy's emphatically constructed case for pacifism. It makes me want to strangle the man.UPDATE:I skimmed over a lot of Tolstoy's polemics. I enjoyed his critiques of Christianity more than his case for pacifism. My caveat is personal: I prefer a more nuanced argument.If you don't mind the polemic style, Tolstoy actually lays out a good case for pacifism especially based upon a Christian morality.


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.


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!


Things your ordinary citizen thinks when he hears "Leo Tolstoy":-Some damn commie Russian-Yeah, I think I heard some of them literary people mention him. Whatever. Speaking of literature, I need to go buy new Dan Brown.-That dude who wrote that long-ass book about war or something no one ever really finished. LBR, they all use Cliffnotes for book reports.-The one who wrote that famous tragic forbidden love story between a married woman and a hot officer. I've seen the movie(s) (KK is my homegurl!), but then I opened the book and it was full of some guy talking about peasants and shit. It was a bore. The movie was much better.-A very important Russian writer. I've tried reading some of his work, but it's not for me. Things I wish more people would know about Leo Tolstoy:-He was an anarchist-He might have been Christian, but he was not a fan of the way Church has been interpreting the religion. Thus, this book was born.-One day, a young lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi read this book.Onto the Part 2(FLAG AWAY!)


Without a doubt, one of the most important books I've ever read. I'd read "What I Believe" and "A Confession" previously, but this work among all of his stands as the most personally significant to me. Life-changing.


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.


What does a nation established in Christ’s principles look like?Does it wage war?Does it maintain a standing army?Does it manufacture nuclear weapons? Landmines? Assault rifles? Hand guns?Does it torture people?Waterboard people?Imprison people?Are there poor people in a Christian nation?Are there rich people in a Christian nation?Does a women die from hunger in a Christian nation?Does she die from preventable disease?Does anyone aspire to wealth in a Christian nation?Does anyone aspire to power?When you give these questions anything more than cursory thought, they’re troubling questions indeed. Leo Tolstoy (of War and Peace fame) found himself struggling with these questions at the end of the 19th century as the nations of Europe rattled sabers and amassed massive armies in the lead-up to the first world war. Germany, Russia, France, and England all considered themselves Christian nations, yet each rallied for war, ready to murder each other by the millions against the direct prohibition of their God.Today the governor of Texas organizes public prayer for rain while also supporting the death penalty. A presidential candidate accentuate the words “under God,” while swearing allegiance not to that God but to a nation. With a cross pinned to his lapel, a politician fights to cut funding for services to the sick and to the poor. In this midst of this, the hard analysis that Tolstoy puts forth about what it truly means to be a Christian nation is more important than ever.In imagining a Christian society, Tolstoy looks not to Deuteronomy or Leviticus whose strict legalism lends itself to the loophole-seeking of the Pharisees, but to the Sermon on the Mount. He looks to Jesus’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” Rather than a legal code, Jesus commandments were appeals to the heart, statements that awoken men’s consciences to the suffering that they were causing one another so that they may truly repent of this injustice. This is the revelation of Truth, the opening of blind eyes.To live in this Truth is not just to speak it, but to have it guide every action. This is easy enough when dealing with our families and sometimes even our neighbors. We can forgive insults, respond to hatred with love, and exhibit great generosity with our loved ones. Yet, as we expand outwards to social action, Christ’s true challenge becomes apparent. Referring to the opening questions, do I feel that there is a difference between Christ’s response and the practical response?The great hypocrisy of war-mongering Christians deeply disturbed Tolstoy in his day, and it should likewise both every Christian of conscience today. Do we only follow Christ’s teaching in the small and convenient actions, the street-corner preaching and public acts of generosity that make us feel self-righteous, or do we follow it when it’s difficult?It is not difficult to wave a picture of an aborted fetus in front of a Planned Parenthood building. It is difficult to provided a pregnant mother with the social and financial support she needs to continue the pregnancy. Which do we do?It is not difficult for an American to preach an end to human rights abuses in Iran. It is difficult for an American to take a stand against torture carried out by our own government. Which do we do?It is not difficult to wear TOMS shoes and Falling Whistles necklaces. It is difficult to quit your job at the corporation that profits from the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. Which do we do?Tolstoy’s thesis is that a veneer of Christianity does not make either a person or a nation Christian. It is the integration of Christ’s principles into every individual action in my life and the refusal to cooperate with anything that is counter to those principles.It’s a bold proposition, indeed. When Mohandas Gandhi read The Kingdom of God Is Within You while he was in South Africa, it helped inspire his first Satyagraha campaign against the abuses of the British. What revolution is in store for America is we too could take this message to heart?What happens when Christian consumers refuse to support businesses that exploit their workers, but support worker cooperatives instead?What happens when Christian juries refuses to condemn drug addicts to jail, but open drug treatment programs instead?What happens when Christian men and women refuse to join the military, but join interfaith groups to build bridges of understanding instead?These are the questions that Tolstoy asks and they’re deeply challenging for those who prefer a convenient Christianity that asks nothing of its followers except a Sunday lip service and a cross hung around the neck. Christ’s Truth was revolutionary and he was hung on a cross between two revolutionaries for it. What happens when Christians take up that revolutionary charge today?

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