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order of life founded on violence by a rational one founded on mutual service and love have always thought. So also thought Christian reformers, as well as the founders of the various theories of European Communism, and so also thought the famous Chinese reformer, Mi-Ti, who proposed to the Government to teach children in the schools not military sciences and exercies, and to give rewards to adults not for military exploits, but to teach children and adults the rules of respect and love, and to distribute prizes and encouragements for exploits of love.
And thus also many Russian religious reformers from the people have thought, whom I have known and of whom I now know many, from Sutaief to the old man who has already submitted a petition to the Emperor five times, begging him to command the canceling of the false religion and the preaching of true Christianity.
People naturally think that Governments who justify their existence by their care of national welfare must, in order to insure this welfare, desire to use that sole means which cannot in any way harm the people, but only produce the most fruitful results. But Governments have not only never and nowhere taken this duty upon themselves, but on the contrary have always and everywhere defended with the greatest jealousy the existing false and outlived religious teaching, and persecuted by every means those who have attempted to transmit to the people the foundations of true religion. And indeed it cannot be otherwise: for Governments to reveal the falsehood of the existing religion and to preach the true one would be like a man chopping the branch on which he is sitting.
But if Governments do not do this, it would seem that it certainly ought to be done by those men of science who, having freed themselves from the deceit of false religion, desire as they say to serve the people who have reared them. But these men, like the Governments, do not do this. Firstly, because they regard it as inexpedient to subject themselves to the unpleasant
nesses and dangers of persecutions by the Governments for revealing the deceit upheld by the Governments, and which, according to the conviction of these men, will disappear of itself; secondly, because, regarding all religions as outlived errors, they have nothing to offer the people in the place of the deceit which they might overthrow.
There remain those great masses of unlearned people under the hypnotic influence of the Church and Government deceit, and who therefore regard the semblance of religion instilled into them as the only true religion, believing that there is not and cannot be any other. These masses are under the continual strenuous influence of hypnotism; generation after generation is born, lives, and dies in that stupefied state in which it is held by the priesthood and Government; and if any become freed from it, they inevitably drop into the scientific school, which denies religion, and their influence becomes as useless and harmful as the influence of their teachers.
So that for some it is disadvantageous, for others it is impossible.
It looks as if there were no issue.
And indeed for irreligious people there is and can be no issue from this position; people who belong to the higher ruling classes, even if they pretend that they are anxious about the welfare of the masses, will never (nor can they, being guided by worldly motives) seriously destroy that stupefaction and enslavement in which these masses live, and which give the higher classes the possibility of ruling over them. In the same way those also who belong to the enslaved, in like manner being guided by worldly motives, cannot desire to render worse their at present difficult position by struggling with the higher classes for the purpose of revealing the false teaching and preaching the true.
Neither have they any reason for doing so, and if they are intelligent men they never will do it.
But this is not so with religious people—those who, however depraved society may be, always by their lives preserve that sacred fire of religion with out which human life could not exist. There are times (such is the present one) when these men are not seen, when, despised and humiliated by every one, they pass their lives obscurely, as with us in Russia, in exile, prisons, penal battalions, but they exist, and on them depends the rational life of mankind. And it is these religious people, however few they may be, who alone can and will sever that enchanted circle in which men are riveted. These men can do this because all those disadvantages and dangers which prevent the worldly man from opposing the existing order of life, not only do not exist for the religious man, but increase his zeal in the struggle with falsehood, and in the profession by word and deed of that which he regards as divine truth. If he belongs to the ruling classes, he will not only not desire to conceal the truth out of regard to his advantageous position, but, on the contrary, having come to abhor these advantages, he will use all the powers of his soul to free himself from these advantages and to preach the truth, as he will no longer have any other object in life than that of serving God. If, on the other hand, he belongs to the enslaved, then, having likewise abandoned the desire common to people of his position, of bettering the conditions of his physical life, such a man will have no other object than the fulfilment of the will of God by revealing falsehood and professing the truth, and no sufferings or threats will any longer compel him to cease to live in accordance with that sole meaning which he has recognized in his life. Both the one and the other will act thus as naturally as the worldly man labors. and undergoes privations for the possession of riches and for satisfying the ruler from whom he expects
advantages. Every religious man acts thus because the human soul enlightened by religion no longer lives merely by the life of this world as irreligious people live, but lives by the eternal, infinite life, for which sufferings and death in this life are as insignificant as the corns on his hand and the fatigue of his limbs are insignificant to a laborer plowing a field.
It is these people who will sever the enchanted circle in which men are now riveted. However few they may be, however low their social position, however weak they may be in education and intellect, these men, as surely as fire ignites the dry prairie, will ignite the whole world, all the hearts of
men dried up from a long period of irreligious life and thirsting for renovation.
Religion is not a faith established once for all in supernatural events, supposed to have taken place at some time or other, or in the necessity of certain prayers and rites; neither is it, as the scientists think, the remains of the superstitions of ancient unenlightenment which in our time have no significance or adaptation to life: Religion is the relation of man to eternal life, to God, in accordance with reason and contemporary knowledge, which alone moves man forward toward the end for which he is intended.
'The human soul is a lamp of God," says a wise Hebrew proverb. Man is a weak, miserable animal until in his soul there burns the fire of God. But when this fire kindles (and it kindles only in a soul illumined by religion) man becomes the most powerful being in the world. And this cannot be otherwise, because then it is no longer his power which works in him, but the power of God.
So this is what religion is, and in what its essence consists.