“And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do? And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner. And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do? But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.” Luke 3:10-14
The title of this post is taken from the question asked of John the Baptist, and which so many Russian thinkers have responded to in the past. The first answer to this question in the Russian history of ideas came from the social critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky in his 1863 novel titled, you guessed it, “What Is To Be Done?”. The book advocated for the creation of small socialist cooperatives based on the age old Russian peasant commune, but organized towards industrial production rather than agriculture. It influenced generations of Russian revolutionaries following its publication. Leo Tolstoy also answered this question in his conveniently titled polemic “What Is to Be Done?”, published in 1886, where he documents the dreadful social injustices of Russia in his time and lays out his vision for an ascetic, spiritual, and holy approach to life for men to take up that will cure the country. Perhaps the most famous answer to this question comes from Vladimir Lenin’s 1902 pamphlet “What Is to Be Done?”, where he argues that the proletariat will not spontaneously overthrow its oppressors, but rather needs to be lead by a revolutionary vanguard who will guide the the masses to true freedom. This laid the intellectual roots for the 1917 October Revolution.
My own response will consist of comments some of the Bible verses that I try to live my life by, most of which are from the Sermon on the Mount, especially those which inform how I think about the state and government. I would characterize my beliefs as a 21st century version of Tolstoy’s religious philosophy with a greater emphasis on environmental issues. I will venture a name for my nascent philosophy of life - Christian ecoanarchism. A more tongue-in-cheek term is eco-Tolstoyanism. Yes I am pretentious.
These are maxims that guide me. I fail to reach them constantly, but I think they’re good principles anyways. I do not live out these commandments to their logical conclusion in many cases (I should probably be a vegetarian but alas), but am working on it. At times I write as if I am directing the reader to enact what I say. I will note that the reader is myself. Everyone has their own way of living and I am not an authoritarian. The tone of this post is polemical at times (a lot of the time) which is clearly opposed to Jesus’ teaching to not judge others. I recognize the hypocrisy but will nonetheless do it anyways.
The Kingdom of God is Here, Now
“And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come? he answered them, and said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
The Kingdom of God is meant to be fulfilled in the here and now, by every person who aspires to be a Christian. We are not called to perform acts of faith and obeisance in the hope of a future time spent in the eternal bliss of heaven, although that is a plus if you do believe that to be the case, but instead are obligated to live out Christ’s teachings in our every waking moment.This heavenly kingdom is no abstraction. It exists in every single one of us by virtue of God residing in us. We must call it forth by our actions. To live up to this great gift that God has given us, we must strive for perfection and self-mastery no matter the state of the world around us. Every individual has the choice of whether to live by God’s law or not. If they choose to follow God’s law, then let no Earthly power stop them on their path towards holiness. For if you have faith as the mustard seed, nothing can stop you.
The Call to Love All
“You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you”You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
The guiding principle of a Christian life is to love all living beings without fail. God loves all of his creatures, and makes the same nature shine its light on all of them regardless of how holy or wicked they are. Love is not meant to be easy. It is easy to love those who you are already predisposed to love. To love the dispossessed, the marginalized, the untouchables - that is out of the ordinary. To love those who hate you, those who spit on you, those who would stop at nothing to see your destruction - that is radical. The call to love all humanity recognizes no boundaries, least of all borders, as all are one in Christ. The division of the human family into arbitrary divisions - into nation-states, by race, ethnicity, social and economic class, religion - limits the development of the universal, all-encompassing love that we Christians are called to practice. To love all of God’s creation, the pigeons on the street, the buffalo on the range, the whales in the sea, the trees in the forest, the cacti in the desert, the mushrooms in the forest - that is going above and beyond Jesus’ call. We a must act out our love by doing good to all.
Do Not Resist
“You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two, Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.” Matthew 5:38-42
Jesus supersedes the Old Testament teaching that sometimes retribution is justified, and replaces it with the law of love. We are called to not resist evil, no matter what form it may come in. Turn the other cheek in all situations and accept what God wills. Violence begets more violence, and killing more killing. There is no justification for the act of killing or for engaging in war. This principle leads to the rejection of state power in all of its forms. The state sends men to kill other men in war, it kills people who break its “laws”, and enforces these mandates with an iron first. The true Christian is a pacifist in all circumstances, no matter how terribly they may be persecuted. This is an extremely hard commandment to live up to. Nonetheless it is what we are called to do. If someone robs you, let them take whatever you have. If someone beats you up, let them do so without resistance on your part. If someone kills you, then so be it. You will have suffered for Jesus’ sake.
The last line of the quote above is one of the most important commandments for in my religion. It calls us to love others as we love ourselves, and give to our brothers and sisters all things we think of as “ours”. I find the call to put these words into action most deeply when I interact with my friends on the street. When I am asked for money, when I am asked to purchase someone a meal, when I am asked to give, I strive to do as the Lord commands. I fail occasionally, but am getting better and better at it. This willingness to part with material possessions is also hard to follow, but it has its satisfactions as well. Giving what you owe another on the basis of your shared humanity is a beautiful thing. It is also right and just. Do not rely on your taxes or tithes to serve your fellow men. Do it yourself.
Do Not Judge
“Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. Any why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:2-5
Jesus is an unfailing critic of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. If you judge another for their actions, then you open yourself to the divine judgement of God in the same manner. We all fail to live up to the principles we are obligated to follow. To displace your own guilt onto another person is to ignore your own failings and allows you to feel holier than you are. We must work on removing the filter we view the world through, which makes everybody other than us an object of derision. We are not in the position to judge others because we are deserving of judgement ourselves. Rather, we should focus on self-perfection and strive to make our own lives unblemished so that we may serve as examples of Godly living in the present.
This commandment is flagrantly flouted by the state. We are born into a world with laws at odds with the will of God. The government enforces these rules with violence and the wrath of the courts. The “halls of justice” of are seats of iniquity, where the downtrodden are brought before the powerful to make restitution for illusory infractions. A Christian judge is an oxymoron, no matter how many “Christians” are in these positions of authority (yes, I know I’m judging!). The law of men is not the law of God, and judging men using edicts passed by men is a great moral evil. Abide by no Earthly laws, rather do what God commands you to do.
Do Not Swear Oaths
“Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God: Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king: Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” Matthew 5:33-37
“I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America…” How many times have American Christians been forced to say these words as they are processed by the public school system? To swear loyalty to a flag of all things! What a shameful form of idolatry. At least make the icon something cooler! Jesus commands us to swear no oaths at all, least of all to the state. God has made each of us for a purpose, his purpose, not for anyone else or any other organization. The Christian is called to speak humbly, act simply, and love the Lord with all of their heart. Being devoted to Earthly causes, no matter how “good” they may be, only serves to drag us farther from our true affiliation, which is to the Kingdom of God. We are not members of any man-made polity, but are one in the body of Jesus Christ.
Does Jesus Accept State Authority?
“And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou dost not regard the person of men. Tell us therefore what dost thou think, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But Jesus knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the coin of the tribute. And they offered him a penny. And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and inscription is this? They say to him: Caesar’s. Then he saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:16-21
This saying of Jesus is often used to justify statism. Supposedly, Jesus recognizes the authority of the state and its laws and tells us to honor both God and Caesar by giving them each their due. My reading is obviously not this one. In my opinion, Jesus mocks the scribes for tempting him with this dangerous question and points out their obsession with the things of this world. Caesar may have made the denarius, but who made Caesar? Who made the silver from which it was wrought? Who made the sea they sail across, the desert they retreat to, and the city they worship in? God did. So when Jesus says to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s, he is telling them that if they truly believed in the unspeakable power of God they would know that his answer is a paradox in terms. Caesar owns nothing, God owns everything. The state is but a transient trespasser in God’s eternal Kingdom, and we must serve that which is higher with all of our heart and ignore the government when it contradicts God’s law.
On Man and Nature
“And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28
Many Christians believe that it is humanity’s right to dominate, exploit, and control the natural world. Man was created in God’s image, and thus should have God-like authority over his fellow creatures. God left the Biosphere in humanity’s hands, goes this view, so we can do whatever we please with it. I would respond: What does “dominion” mean, and what rights and obligations does it entail? Does it mean that we are to treat God’s creation with a harsh, predatory hand, or does it teach us to steward the complexity of life towards utmost potential? All things on Earth, the birds of the air, the beasts on the plans, the fish in the sea, were created by God and they are good. We should not destroy the bounty the Lord has given us to shepherd, rather we should be at the service of the Biosphere to help it reach its highest potential.
“But Jesus called them to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
Indeed, Jesus tells us that in all of our relationships, be it in man’s connection with his fellow man or in man’s response to the great, green nature he is a member of, that we are to be servants rather than masters. Those of us in positions of greater authority are to be all the meeker for it. They are not to use this power to augment their own gains and oppress others, but are called to uplift the downtrodden, the dispossessed, and the disadvantaged. This same ethic holds true for all of humanity in our interactions with the Biosphere. Yes, we are a special species that can achieve great things. But if the goals we direct ourselves towards lead to the exploitation and destruction of the planet we call home, then to what end was any of it? Let us recognize all life as our brothers and sisters and treat them accordingly.