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Synopsis

What is religion? is a collection of articles and letters written by the mature Tolstoy of 1901 and 1902. Published originally by the Free Age Press it features all his trademark clarity and insight. Contained here is a wide variety of subject matter including a look at the causes of social inequality various attacks on the church and reflections on a recent political assassination. How shall we escape? opens with a brilliant rural vignette exposing the absurd inequalities of the social order. Tolstoy believes that ultimately its the government who is to blame for such inequity; but instead of choosing the path of the revolutionary he encourages people to look inwardly at themselves where the power of violence and evil lie. In My reply to the synod Tolstoy responds to the churchs Edict of Excommunication in which they accuse Tolstoy of being seduced by the pride of his intellect. In his reply Tolstoy quotes Coleridge approvingly: He who begins by loving Christianity better than the Truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity and end up by loving himself better than all. Tolstoy claims to love Truth above all things. Thou shalt not kill explores how the masses have been hypnotised into believing that killing is not only acceptable but desirable. For Tolstoy this is the old order of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which Jesus teaching had cancelled. The title piece What is religion? is the most substantial. Here Tolstoy explores the idea of religion and provides the following definition: True religion is the establishment by man of a relation to the infinite life around him; as long as in connecting his life with this infinitude and directing his conduct there is also agreement with his reason and human knowledge.

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