When I came across the book with the quote below in 2013 it solidified my belief that, for the most part, the church has tragically drifted from the words of Jesus to the words of man. I had been pondering that thought for a couple of years; I didn’t know that it was thoroughly thought out by such a powerful person as Tolstoy.
It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.
Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ’s teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so- called believers.
From “The Kingdom of God is Within You” by Leo Tolstoy 1894
I admit that like my Quaker friends I have always been pretty adverse to creeds and open-ended pledges. I’m fine with agreeing to something with conditions attached, but to do so eternally is troublesome to me to say the least. When I looked at the Nicene Creed with Tolstoy’s words in mind I could understand why it is inserted in almost every weekly church service. The Nicene Creed and the Sermon on the Mount are indeed incompatible with one another. The words above took me down the path to being asked to leave a church as I was disrupting unity that most churches depend on. I simply asked too many questions and said too many disturbing things!
I am currently reading his biography to get a better understanding of his life. It should be an interesting read.