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A Confession

Part 10





I understood this, but it made matters no better for me.  I
was now ready to accept any faith if only it did not demand of me
a direct denial of reason -- which would be a falsehood.  And I
studied Buddhism and Mohammedanism from books, and most of all I
studied Christianity both from books and from the people around me.

Naturally I first of all turned to the orthodox of my circle,
to people who were learned:  to Church theologians, monks, to
theologians of the newest shade, and even to Evangelicals who
profess salvation by belief in the Redemption.  And I seized on
these believers and questioned them as to their beliefs and their
understanding of the meaning of life.

But though I made all possible concessions, and avoided all
disputes, I could not accept the faith of these people.  I saw that
what they gave out as their faith did not explain the meaning of
life but obscured it, and that they themselves affirm their belief
not to answer that question of life which brought me to faith, but
for some other aims alien to me.

I remember the painful feeling of fear of being thrown back
into my former state of despair, after the hope I often and often
experienced in my intercourse with these people.

The more fully they explained to me their doctrines, the more
clearly did I perceive their error and realized that my hope of
finding in their belief an explanation of the meaning of life was
vain.

It was not that in their doctrines they mixed many unnecessary
and unreasonable things with the Christian truths that had always
been near to me: that was not what repelled me.  I was repelled by
the fact that these people's lives were like my own, with only this
difference -- that such a life did not correspond to the principles
they expounded in their teachings.  I clearly felt that they
deceived themselves and that they, like myself found no other
meaning in life than to live while life lasts, taking all one's
hands can seize.  I saw this because if they had had a meaning
which destroyed the fear of loss, suffering, and death, they would
not have feared these things.  But they, these believers of our
circle, just like myself, living in sufficiency and superfluity,
tried to increase or preserve them, feared privations, suffering,
and death, and just like myself and all of us unbelievers, lived to
satisfy their desires, and lived just as badly, if not worse, than
the unbelievers.

No arguments could convince me of the truth of their faith. 
Only deeds which showed that they saw a meaning in life making what
was so dreadful to me -- poverty, sickness, and death -- not
dreadful to them, could convince me.  And such deeds I did not see
among the various believers in our circle.  On the contrary, I saw
such deeds done [Footnote: this passage is noteworthy as being one
of the few references made by Tolstoy at this period to the
revolutionary or "Back-to-the-People" movement, in which many young
men and women were risking and sacrificing home, property, and life
itself from motives which had much in common with his own
perception that the upper layers of Society are parasitic and prey
on the vitals of the people who support them. -- A.M.] by people of
our circle who were the most unbelieving, but never by our so-
called believers.

And I understood that the belief of these people was not the
faith I sought, and that their faith is not a real faith but an
epicurean consolation in life.

I understood that that faith may perhaps serve, if not for a
consolation at least for some distraction for a repentant Solomon
on his death-bed, but it cannot serve for the great majority of
mankind, who are called on not to amuse themselves while consuming
the labour of others but to create life.

For all humanity to be able to live, and continue to live
attributing a meaning to life, they, those milliards, must have a
different, a real, knowledge of faith.  Indeed, it was not the fact
that we, with Solomon and Schopenhauer, did not kill ourselves that
convinced me of the existence of faith, but the fact that those
milliards of people have lived and are living, and have borne
Solomon and us on the current of their lives.

And I began to draw near to the believers among the poor,
simple, unlettered folk: pilgrims, monks, sectarians, and peasants. 
The faith of these common people was the same Christian faith as
was professed by the pseudo-believers of our circle.  Among them,
too, I found a great deal of superstition mixed with the Christian
truths; but the difference was that the superstitions of the
believers of our circle were quite unnecessary to them and were not
in conformity with their lives, being merely a kind of epicurean
diversion; but the superstitions of the believers among the
labouring masses conformed so with their lives that it was
impossible to imagine them to oneself without those superstitions,
which were a necessary condition of their life.  the whole life of
believers in our circle was a contradiction of their faith, but the
whole life of the working-folk believers was a confirmation of the
meaning of life which their faith gave them.  And I began to look
well into the life and faith of these people, and the more I
considered it the more I became convinced that they have a real
faith which is a necessity to them and alone gives their life a
meaning and makes it possible for them to live.  In contrast with
what I had seen in our circle -- where life without faith is
possible and where hardly one in a thousand acknowledges himself to
be a believer -- among them there is hardly one unbeliever in a
thousand.  In contrast with what I had seen in our circle, where
the whole of life is passed in idleness, amusement, and
dissatisfaction, I saw that the whole life of these people was
passed in heavy labour, and that they were content with life.  In
contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose
fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings,
these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or
opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. 
In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we
understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact
that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they
approach death and suffering with tranquillity and in most cases
gladly.  In contrast to the fact that a tranquil death, a death
without horror and despair, is a very rare exception in our circle,
a troubled, rebellious, and unhappy death is the rarest exception
among the people.  and such people, lacking all that for us and for
Solomon is the only good of life and yet experiencing the greatest
happiness, are a great multitude.  I looked more widely around me. 
I considered the life of the enormous mass of the people in the
past and the present.  And of such people, understanding the
meaning of life and able to live and to die, I saw not two or
three, or tens, but hundreds, thousands, and millions.  and they
all -- endlessly different in their manners, minds, education, and
position, as they were -- all alike, in complete contrast to my
ignorance, knew the meaning of life and death, laboured quietly,
endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing
therein not vanity but good.

And I learnt to love these people.  The more I came to know
their life, the life of those who are living and of others who are
dead of whom I read and heard, the more I loved them and the easier
it became for me to live.  So I went on for about two years, and a
change took place in me which had long been preparing and the
promise of which had always been in me.  It came about that the
life of our circle, the rich and learned, not merely became
distasteful to me, but lost all meaning in my eyes.  All our
actions, discussions, science and art, presented itself to me in a
new light.  I understood that it is all merely self-indulgence, and
the to find a meaning in it is impossible; while the life of the
whole labouring people, the whole of mankind who produce life,
appeared to me in its true significance.  I understood that *that*
is life itself, and that the meaning given to that life is true:
and I accepted it.