The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Tolstoi's Temptations Destructive of Happiness

The First Temptation

Jesus has shown me that the first temptation destructive of happiness is enmity toward men, anger against them. I cannot refuse to believe this, and so I cannot willingly remain at enmity with others. I cannot, as I could once, foster anger, be proud of it, fan into a flame, justify it, regarding myself as an intelligent and superior man and others as useless and foolish people. Now, when I give up to anger, I can only realize that I alone am guilty, and seek to make peace with those who have aught against me.

But this is not all. While I now see that anger is an abnormal, pernicious, and morbid state, I also perceive the temptation that led me into it. The temptation was in separating myself from my fellows, recognizing only a few of them as my equals, and regarding all the others as persons of no account ( rekim ) or as uncultivated animals ( fools ). I see now that this wilful separation from other men, this judgment of raca or fool passed upon others, was the principal source of my disagreements. In looking over my past life I saw that I had rarely permitted my anger to rise against those whom I considered as my equals, whom I seldom abused. But the least disagreeable action on the part of one whom I considered an inferior inflamed my anger and led me to abusive words or actions, and the more superior I felt myself to be, the less careful I was of my temper; sometimes the mere supposition that a man was of a lower social position than myself was enough to provoke me to an outrageous manner.

I understand now that he alone is above others who is humble with others and makes himself the servant of all. I understand now why those that are great in the sight of men are an abomination to God, who has declared woe upon the rich and mighty and invoked blessedness upon the poor and humble. Now I understand this truth, I have faith in it, and this faith has transformed my perception of what is right and important, and what is wrong and despicable. Everything that once seemed to me right and important, such as honors, glory, civilization, wealth, the complications and refinements of existence, luxury, rich food, fine clothing, etiquette, have become for me wrong and despicable. Everything that formerly seemed to me wrong and despicable, such as rusticity, obscurity, poverty, austerity, simplicity of surroundings, of food, of clothing, of manners, all have now become right and important to me. And so although I may at times give myself up to anger and abuse another, I cannot deliberately yield to wrath and so deprive myself of the true source of happiness,—fellowship and love; for it is possible that a man should lay a snare for his own feet and so be lost. Now, I can no longer give my support to anything that lifts me above or separates me from others. I cannot, as I once did, recognize in myself or others titles or ranks or qualities aside from the title and quality of manhood. I can no longer seek for fame and glory; I can no longer cultivate a system of instruction which separates me from men. I cannot in my surroundings, my food, my clothing, my manners, strive for what not only separates me from others but renders me a reproach to the majority of mankind.

Powerful insights. Wow.

The Second Temptation

Jesus showed me another temptation destructive of happiness, that is, debauchery, the desire to possess another woman than her to whom I am united. I can no longer, as I did once, consider my sensuality as a sublime trait of human nature. I can no longer justify it by my love for the beautiful, or my amorousness, or the faults of my companion. At the first inclination toward debauchery I cannot fail to recognize that I am in a morbid and abnormal state, and to seek to rid myself of the besetting sin.

Knowing that debauchery is an evil, I also know its cause, and can thus evade it. I know now that the principal cause of this temptation is not the necessity for the sexual relation, but the abandonment of wives by their husbands, and of husbands by their wives. I know now that a man who forsakes a woman, or a woman who forsakes a man, when the two have once been united, is guilty of the divorce which Jesus forbade, because men and women abandoned by their first companions are the original cause of all the debauchery in the world.

In seeking to discover the influences that led to debauchery, I found one to be a barbarous physical and intellectual education that developed the erotic passion which the world endeavors to justify by the most subtil arguments. But the principal influence I found to be the abandonment of the woman to whom I had first been united, and the situation of the abandoned women around me. The principal source of temptation was not in carnal desires, but in the fact that those desires were not satisfied in the men and women by whom I was surrounded. I now understand the words of Jesus when he says:—

" He which made them from the beginning, made them male and female… So that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. " (Matt. xix. 4-6.)

I understand now that monogamy is the natural law of humanity, which cannot with impunity be violated. I now understand perfectly the words declaring that the man or woman who separates from a companion to seek another, forces the forsaken one to resort to debauchery, and thus introduces into the world an evil that returns upon those who cause it.

This I believe; and the faith I now have has transformed my opinions with regard to the right and important, and the wrong and despicable, things of life. What once seemed to me the most delightful existence in the world, an existence made up of dainty, æsthetic pleasures and passions, is now revolting to me. And a life of simplicity and indigence, which moderates the sexual desires, now seems to me good. The human institution of marriage, which gives a nominal sanction to the union of man and woman, I regard as of less grave importance than that the union, when accomplished, should be regarded as the will of God, and never be broken.

Now, when in moments of weakness I yield to the promptings of desire, I know the snare that would deliver me into evil, and so I cannot deliberately plan my method of existence as formerly I was accustomed to do. I no longer habitually cherish physical sloth and luxury, which excite to excessive sensuality. I can no longer pursue amusements which are oil to the fire of amorous sensuality,—the reading of romances and the most of poetry, listening to music, attendance at theatres and balls,—amusements that once seemed to me elevated and refining, but which I now see to be injurious. I can no longer abandon the woman with whom I have been united, for I know that by forsaking her, I set a snare for myself, for her, and for others. I can no longer encourage the gross and idle existence of others. I can no longer encourage or take part in licentious pastimes, romantic literature, plays, operas, balls, which are so many snares for myself and for others. I cannot favor the celibacy of persons fitted for the marriage relation. I cannot encourage the separation of wives from their husbands. I cannot make any distinction between unions that are called by the name of marriage, and those that are denied this name. I am obliged to consider as sacred and absolute the sole and unique union by which man is once for all indissolubly bound to the first woman with whom he has been united.

That is a hard sell in these debauched times. But the words are very necessary.