Each part of this review is going to deal with the separate essays contained in this collection.
Tolstoy’s Confession is a brief, rather laconic in biographical matters, summary of his spiritual development; from carouse and debauchery to the attempts of understanding the relationship between man and the infinite (God). We are presented with an illness that perhaps many contemporaries could relate to: the apparent truth that life is meaningless. Through the essay, we are presented with the reasons why rationality isn’t able to solve this atavistic existential dread, because of the intimate connection the desire for meaning has with our emotion and overall thinking.
The two proceeding essays can be summarised in a single paragraph, for both What is Religion and of what does its essence consist? and Religion and Morality deal with a central issue of modern age Christianity that has been manifesting itself globally over the centuries ever since Jesus’ birth, that being the utter misapprehension of what religion is meant to be and what connection should a believer establish between themselves and the infinite. Paganism is largely emphasised by Tolstoy, as he believed that this is what Christianity of the modern age has become, impinging much criticism against the church and the establishment especially.
The last essay is called The law of love and the law of violence which focuses on explaining why prodigious establishments as the government and the church fail to fulfil the role that would appropriately comply with true human nature, that is the tenet of universal law. Here we see Tolstoy outline his anarchist convictions and the indispensable role played by meaning and religion along this radical political belief.
All of the essays give a sufficient explanation of Tolstoy’s beliefs for a curious reader, yet I do not believe that the teachings contained in them should be taken as outdated ramblings, for the arguments made in the second essay on religion do expose the moral impoverishment that Christianity was plunged into after the creation of the church.
The Christian thought of Tolstoy maintains its revolutionary undertone and incredible determination to defend what he deems to be the antidote for man’s existential suffering. A provocative collection.