Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 10



I understood this, but it did not make things any easier for me.

I was now prepared to accept any faith, as long as it did not demand of me a direct denial of reason, for such a denial would be a lie.

So I studied the texts of Buddhism and Mohammedanism; and more than ever those of Christianity and the lives of Christians who lived around me.

Naturally, I turned first of all to believers from my own class -people of learning, Orthodox theologians, elder monks, progressive Orthodox theologians, and even the so-called New Christians, who professed salvation through faith in redemption. I seized upon these believers and questioned them about what they believed and how they viewed the meaning of life.

In spite of the fact that I made every possible concession and avoided all arguments, I could not accept the faith of these people:

I saw that what they took to be faith did not explain the meaning of life but only obscured it, and that they themselves professed their faith not in response to the question of life that had drawn me to faith but for some purpose that was alien to me.

I remember the agonizing feeling of horror upon returning to my original despair, which followed the hope I had felt so many times in my relations with these people:

The more they laid their teachings before me in ever-increasing detail, the more clearly I could see their error, until I lost all hope of discovering in their faith any explanation of the meaning of life.

I was not alienated so much by the fact that in presenting their beliefs they would mix the Christian truths that had always been so dear to me with much that was superfluous and irrational.

Rather, it was that their lives were so much like my own, but with this one difference: they did not live according to the principles they professed.

I felt very strongly that they were deceiving themselves and that, like myself, they had no sense of life's meaning other than to live while they lived and to lay their hands on everything they could.

This was clear to me because if they harboured any meaning that might destroy all fear of privation, suffering, and death, they would not be frightened of these things.

But these believers from our class lived a life of plenty, just as I did; they endeavoured to increase and preserve their wealth and were afraid of privation, suffering and death.

Like myself and all the rest of us unbelievers, they lived only to satisfy their lusts, lived just as badly as, if not worse than, those who did not believe.

No rationalization could convince me of the truth of their faith, though one thing might have: actions proving that these people held the key to a meaning of life that would eliminate in them the fear of poverty, sickness, and death that haunted me.

But I saw no trace of such actions among the various believers in our class. On the contrary, I saw such actions among people in our class who were not believers but never among the so-called believers.

Thus I realized that the faith of these people was not the faith I sought, that their faith was not faith at all but only one of the epicurean gratifications in life.

I realized that while this faith may not console, it might serve to dispel the remorse of a Solomon on his deathbed; but it is of no use to the overwhelming majority of humankind, those who are called not to amuse themselves at the expense of the labours of others but to create life.

In order for all humankind to live, to sustain life and instil it with meaning, these millions must all have a different, more genuine concept of faith.

Indeed, it was not that Solomon, Schopenhauer, and I did not kill ourselves that convinced me of the existence of faith but that these millions have lived and continue to live, carrying the Solomon and me on the waves of their lives.

And I began to grow closer to the believers from among the poor, the simple, the uneducated folk, from among the pilgrims, the monks, the Raskolniks, the peasants.

The beliefs of those from among the people, like those of the pretentious believers from our class, were Christian. Here too there was much superstition mixed in with the truths of Christianity, but with this difference:

the superstitions of the believers from our class were utterly unnecessary to them, played no role in their lives, and were only a kind of epicurean diversion,

while the superstitions of the believers from the labouring people were intertwined with their lives to such a degree that their lives could not be conceived without them: their superstitions were a necessary condition for their lives.

The whole life of the believers from our class was in opposition to their faith, while the whole life of the believers from the working people was a confirmation of that meaning of life which was the substance of their faith.

So I began to examine the life and the teachings of these people, and the closer I looked, the more I was convinced that theirs was the true faith, that their faith was indispensable to them and that this faith alone provided them with the meaning and possibility of life.

Contrary to what I saw among the people of our class, where life was possible without faith and scarcely one in a thousand was a believer, among these people there was scarcely one in a thousand who was not a believer.

Contrary to what I saw among the people of our class, where a lifetime is passed in idleness, amusement, and dissatisfaction with life, these people spent their lives at hard labour and were less dissatisfied with life than the wealthy.

Contrary to the people of our class who resist and are unhappy with the hardship and suffering of their lot, these people endure sickness and tribulation without question or resistance - peacefully, and in the firm conviction that this is as it should be, cannot be otherwise, and is good.

Contrary to the fact that the greater our intellect, the less we understand the meaning of life and the more we see some kind of evil joke in our suffering and death, these people live, suffer, and draw near to death peacefully and, more often than not, joyfully.

Contrary to peaceful death - death without horror and despair, which is the rarest exception in our class - it is the tormenting, unyielding, and sorrowful death that is the rarest exception among the people.

And these people, who are deprived of everything that for Solomon and me constituted the only good in life, yet who nonetheless enjoy the greatest happiness, form the overwhelming majority of mankind.

I looked further still around myself. I examined the lives of the great masses of people who have lived in the past and live today:

Among those who have understood the meaning of life, who know how to live and die, I saw not two or three or ten but hundreds, thousands, millions.

And all of them, infinitely varied in their customs, intellects, educations, and positions and in complete contrast to my ignorance, knew the meaning of life and death, laboured in peace, endured suffering and hardship, lived and died, and saw in this not vanity but good.

I grew to love these people.

The more I learned about the lives of those living and dead about whom I had read and heard, the more I loved them and the easier it became for me to live.

I lived this way for about two years, and a profound transformation came over me, one that had been brewing in me for a long time and whose elements had always been a part of me.

The life of our class, of the wealthy and the learned, was not only repulsive to me but had lost all meaning:

The sum of our action and thinking, of our science and art, all of it struck me as the overindulgences of a spoiled child. I realized that meaning was not to be sought here.

The actions of the labouring people, of those who create life, began to appear to me as the one true way. I realized that the meaning provided by this life was truth, and I embraced it.