16 May 2013

"God perceives immediately, but renders judgment slowly"

Vitalii and Skripachka
Vitalii Adamenko of Samara is a student of the writings and philosophy of Lev Tolstoy, a member of the editorial board of Alternativshchik (a periodical for people interested in conscientious objection and alternative civilian service), curator of an enormous Russian-language online library of worldwide pacifist writings ... and a wonderful conversationalist. This is the second time we've been lucky enough to host him during his visits to Moscow's Lenin State Library and state archives. When we get into conversations, we don't get to bed early!!

As Vitalii showed me a booklet written by the controversial Tolstoyan Vladimir Chertkov (played by Paul Giamatti in The Last Station), he recommended reading the preface written by Tolstoy. The booklet--and especially Tolstoy's preface--reminded me of Daniel Berrigan's letter to Ernesto Cardenal, but Chertkov and Tolstoy were writing before all of the 20th century's revolutionary upheavals.

Just a few paragraphs to let you share in these wonderful conversations....

From Tolstoy's preface:
So the [conventional] definition of freedom as the right to do anything that does not violate the freedom of others, or anything that is not prohibited by law, obviously does not correspond to the actual concept of "freedom." And it cannot be otherwise, because, under this definition, freedom has a positive attribute, something that is present, whereas the concept of freedom is actually negative, something that is absent. Freedom is the absence of constraint. People are only free when nobody prohibits any given action under the threat of violence.

And therefore in a society where people's rights are somehow defined in this way--certain behaviors are permitted, certain behaviors are prohibited under threat of punishment--people cannot be free. People can only be truly free when they are all convinced of the uselessness and unlawfulness of violence, and obey the rules, not through violence or the threat of it, but because of reasonable belief.

But I'm told that "no such society exists, and therefore true freedom cannot exist."

The truth is that no society exists that denies the need for violence. But there are different degrees of adherence to a need for violence. The whole history of humanity is a greater and greater tendency to replace violence with reasonable belief. The more a society realizes the irrationality of violence, the closer it gets to true freedom.
Chertkov, page 8:
But let's suppose that the incredible happened: Suppose that local riots and killings finally caused a more widespread rebellion among working people. What would happen then? This would only lead to a bloody, fratricidal war between workers and troops. And in this sort of civil war, all the advantages would again be on the government's side. But even suppose that, in due time, the people would have won. Is it possible, then, to expect that they would be able to introduce a new and better social order? If, after a long civil war, the people were to win their victory, these people would become an angry crowd, ready to engage in carnage. It is clear that this feral mass, having lost their divine image and all sense of self-regulation, would be at the complete disposal of those leaders who directed them in wartime. And the leaders who would oversee this internecine carnage would be of the most unscrupulous and desperate kind. Having seized power, leaders even worse than their predecessors would ensnare the working people by the hundreds of thousands into whatever bondages were necessary to satisfy their own vanity, ambitions, and personal benefit. So has it ever been in human history. And it can hardly be otherwise: when people lose self-determination, they inevitably become blind tools in the hands of liars.

That's not how it is with the other way of struggling with evil--opposing evil not with evil but with good. The consequences of this sacred struggle are always beneficial, even though to impatient people the outcome seems too slow in coming. "God perceives immediately--but renders judgment slowly."
By implication (in my interpretation), Tolstoy and Chertkov point toward the essential work of an evangelist. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27, NIV; context.

A gift from Vitalii: Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans, 1910s - 1930s, the original book from which our late Friend Bill Edgerton of Western Yearly Meeting (and Indiana University) drew his  Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans in Soviet Russia

Another gift: Ursula K. Le Guin in a Russian edition, including Planet of the Exiles and  The Word for World Is Forest, plus four short stories.
Vitalii knows my tastes!!

From Mission Frontiers, "Church on the Porch." Thanks to Micah Bales for the recommendation.

Allen C. Guelzo, "No Union with Slaveholders." Quoting Don Fehrenbacher, "The wonder is that slavery managed to survive as long as it did before the anti-slavery assumptions of the Constitution forced slaveholders into rebellion."

"DOJ Defends Review of AP Phone Records" and "AG Holder 'Confident' DOJ Followed Rules in AP Phone Review."

"Russia and US jail inmates in Skype chess tournament."

"Norwegian 'explains' 17th May." Yes, there is such a thing as "Norwegian exceptionalism."

Another serving of blues in Russia... Levan Lomidze and friends:

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