Turning the other cheek to terrorism: reflections on the contemporary significance of Leo Tolstoy's ‘Exegesis of the sermon on the Mount'

2010-09-29T13:42:24Z (GMT) by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos
The “war on terror” has brought to the fore the old debate on the role of religion in politics and international relations, a question on which Tolstoy wrote extensively during the latter part of his life. He considered Jesus to have clearly spelt out some rational moral and political rules for conduct, the most important of which was non-resistance to evil. For Tolstoy, Jesus’ instructions not to resist evil, to love one’s enemies and not to judge one another together imply that a sincere Christian would denounce any form of violence and warfare, and would strive to respond to (whatever gets defined as) evil with love, not force. In today’s “war on terror,” therefore, Tolstoy would lament both sides’ readiness to use violence to reach their aims; and he would call for Christians in particular to courageously enact the rational wisdom contained in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Tolstoy’s exegesis of Christianity may be too literal and too rationalistic, and may lead to an exceedingly utopian political vision; but it articulates a refreshingly peaceful method for religion to shape politics, one that can moreover and paradoxically be related to by non-Christians precisely because of its alleged grounding in reason.