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What I Believe

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  461 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Originally published in 1885, What I Believe is part of series of books by novelist Leo Tolstoy that outline his personal interpretation of Christian theology. After a midlife crisis at age 50, he began to believe in the moral teachings of Christianity, while rejecting mysticism and organized religion. He believed that pacifism and poverty were the paths to enlightenment. ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 244 pages
Published 2000 by Adamant Media Corporation (first published 1884)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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Mεδ Rεδħα
"No one will deny that not only killing or tormenting a man but tormenting a dog or killing a hen or calf is a suffering that human nature condemns (I know of farmers who stopped eating meat only because they had been in the case of slaughtering their own cattle). "

"And poutant all our human existence is organized so that each personal enjoyment is bought at the price of human suffering contrary to the nature of the man ..."

"I understood that Jesus does not exhort at all to present the cheek and
Sean Blake
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Man has forgotten that his whole history is but an endeavor to solve the contradictions between his rational and animal nature."

Life-changing. Avoiding the supernatural and mystical elements that have plagued Christian theology since its inception, Tolstoy gives us a literal and philosophical interpretation of the Bible, mainly focusing on Jesus Christ. Existentially inclined, Tolstoy abandons all that is taught in the Church and favours an approach that can be used in one's life every day as
Marcus Lira
Sep 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians and atheists alike.
Shelves: culture
It may seem odd for an atheist to actually like this book, but here's what I believe: It offers some great insight on what it is that makes former unbelievers convert to a religion. Besides, he's more interesting than your average church-going Christian for one simple reason - he's willing to go against the church, being something of a protestant orthodox.

He makes it clear that what drew him to Christianity is not a better explanation of how the world works (so there's no clash between science
Kennedy Ifeh
Nov 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book by Count Leo Tolstoy is the sequel to his bestseller, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’. Co-incidentally, I read this book at the same time that I read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Brothers Karamazov’. Tolstoy’s What I Believe, as small as it is, answers all the questions as raised by Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov; strange to say, few people have made reference to this fact.
The book is based on the integral teachings of Christ; the Sermon on the Mount. Tolstoy drew five commandments out of
Johannes B. Vriend
Sometimes truly genius, sometimes not that good...

There were moment while reading this book (or maybe I should say Listening, because i audiobooked it) that I was entirely in awe of what Tolstoy was saying. He is a master in understanding the human psychology, and the parts in wich he goes deeper into understanding the laws of Christ and why they work, were quite great!
Butt... I, as a person that has been studying Christian theology for years, do not agree with all his interpertations.
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm very glad that I got the chance to read this book, because it showed me things I didn't even know of. Some may say that this is a bunch of lies, but I don't care, when I was reading it, my heart and my mind were accepting all the words.
Robert Fischer
This book straight up blew my mind. It's a major reworking of the message of Christianity, and although I find it generally dismissive of a lot of scripture, the challenging re-presentation of the doctrine of Christ is certainly an interesting and insightful reading of the gospels.
Nick Metel
Apr 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is nothing but the Truth.
Oct 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: purgamentum
Tolstoy was not very honest with this book after a second thinking about it.
Vikas Lather
Oct 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
I would not recommend this book to anyone.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
a truly life changing book. I recommend everyone reading this book.
Carol Apple
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What I Believe is Leo Tolstoy’s follow-up to A Confession in which he describes his profound existential crisis: at age 50 and at the height of his worldly success, Tolstoy became so depressed that he wished to commit suicide. In desperation he turned to the Church of his childhood and discovered the saving power of a true belief in God. Reading A Confession led me to read his final novel Resurrection, which in which an aristocrat has a spiritual awakening of his own and discovers the ...more
Brian Sullivan
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tolstoy narrates a discussion with a Rabbi where the basic teachings of jesus sermon on the mount were found to be in the Talmud. However, the Rabbi said that the Talmud did not offer anything similar to Jesus admonition to turn the other cheak or to not resist him that is wicked.
The Rabbi asked whether Chrisitians obeyed this law – and Tolstoy admits that in his time the Hebews were subject to the opposite.
Jesus words are usually said to be mystical, or impractical ideals, especially in a
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-books
Following "A Confession", Tolstoy here laid out his careful process of finding out the truth of Jesus's teaching. Much to his surprise, these teachings were opposite to what the Church and State have been expounded. Through careful scholarship, and much rumination, Tolstoy arrived at his own doctrine of a committed non-violence pacifistic stance in his Christian faith.

Tolstoy had a lasting and deep influence on Gandhi and the eventual independence of India. One may quibble with the realistic
John Sheehan
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My, my, my how I enjoyed literature by Leo Tolstoy that you can not but help notice each word was truly well researched, though out, and controversial from a religious perspective. Tolstoy's insights are truly mind blowing. What a masterpiece of literature that has the ability to change how you view and understand Christianity.
Karen Chung
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A different side of Tolstoy. He did deep research into the Bible and the basic tenets of Christianity to write this very thought-provoking book. He is convincing when you first read it, but the arguments tend to erode over time, especially considered in the light of Tolstoy's own life choices.
Corey Wozniak
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of those books I can't stop thinking about, years after reading.
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Church interpretation of the truth of The Bible and how they differ. An intimate study on how man may interpret the Christian doctrine. I have always enjoyed the debate and this was such a beautiful read.
Fraser Kinnear
Pretty intersting - Tolstoy is describing his own contrarian interpretation of the New Testament, focusing on five commandments "Be not angry; Do not commit adultery; Take no oaths; Resist not evil; Do not make war."

Probably the most controversial opinion - and the one he opens with - is Tolstoy's belief that Jesus's commandment to resist not evil / turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39-) was to be followed literally, as opposed to a value one aspires to have. In fact, Tolstoy believes that this is
Joseph Sverker
Incredibly interesting read. Tolstoy is, to say the least, very radical in his interpretation of the Gospels. On the other hand, he does a good job att making the teaching of Jesus practical and applied to everyday life and he makes a strong case of not letting the emphasis of Christianity be that of 'the world to come'. In fact, he even argues that there is no such world to come. Instead the 'eternal life' in the New Testament is about the continuation of humankind. This is the reason why he ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, spiritual
Here we get the real germ of the Count's way of life- explanations. Dismissed by one of my twenties-era friends who didn't know any better than to say so as "some pacifist watching a battle someplace" (i.e; War and Peace, Tolstoy himself actually began as a military man, & received his title for his efforts on behalf of the czar. To say he was a pacifist before he actually became one is disingenuous. But anyway...
Like Leo, I believe swearing an oath on behalf of Any government is "taking the
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is some difficult stuff that he requires of us - but when one really steps back and looks at it, it is honestly the doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth that has long been forgotten. This book is idealistic and impractical - but so was Jesus - it is scripture and should be treated as such.
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theo-muggeridge
Do not resist evil or the evil person; that is the gist of it, the gist, that is, of the entire book.
Augustin Sjöberg
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
(Firstly, since it already has been done well enough by others, I'll skip the summation. Secondly, there's a chance that my impressions of this book are confused with those of his Confessions, which I read just before.)

As is the usual criticism, Tolstoy comes across as very honest. I've read a majority of his works, always with the impression of remarkable honesty, but I have never analyzed what makes that impression. This time I was more curious. The following I think constitute that honest
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
As the world sinks deeper into abusive interaction, celebrating, even fetishising, violence, I find I need more and more the solace of the nonviolentists.

When I am feeling self-deprecatory I like to exaggerate that most of my philosophy on anarchism comes from the Crass song Bloody Revolutions. It has a sting of truth, though, as no amount of reading Proudhon, Stirner, or any of the other multitudes of directions in autonomic thought ever expressed the deep message of pacifism in anarchy for me
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this, and there were things about it that I did like, but unlike Tolstoy I'm not going to go the "I like this, I want this to be true, therefore I'm going to MAKE everything fit with my liking of things"-route.

He does have some very interesting points and theological insights, but, it is
a) repetitive,
b) incredibly arrogant, he seems to think that he's the first to have come upon Christian pacifism and withdrawl from earthly judicial systems,
c) he makes things fit his
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as good as The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Go for that one instead. If anything, Tolstoy undertaking translation work made me a bit suspicious because when the existing Biblical translations didn’t give him quite what he was after he went to the sources and tried to sort it out. People do fight about translation and it is art perhaps more than science, but he is motivated to find his flavor of hermeneutics. He’d probably counter that this has always been the case and was a risk as soon as ...more
Jan Goericke
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
"On recalling to mind all the evil that I did myself and that I suffered from others in consequence of the enmity that so often exists between different nations, it is clear to me that the cause was the gross imposition called ‘patriotism’. " L. Tolstoy

[Audio book] This was supposed to be an easy reading before I start the next brain twister. But I, an atheist, learned a lot from this book. Although a bit repetitive and lengthy, it was beautifully written by an extinguished author who late in
Anna Mosca
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A total surprise, so far the best Christian book I’ve read (beside CS Lewis) on faith and the meaning of life according to the laws of Christ. It goes against a lot of main stream christianity (of his time as well as of ours) to discuss what Jesus said and tried to explain to us. A revelation that sound true and truth to me. It gets a bit tedious in the middle but picks up again and ends with a wonderful recap. I highly recommend this book to hear the opinion of one of the. greatest writers of ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book primarily out of curiosity for LT’s faith. For much of the book I was a bit annoyed, as he seemed to be incorrectly reducing Jesus’ life to one single teaching (resist not evil). But by the end, while I still did not agree with his premise, I felt thankful for the conversation and the intensity of his heart and maybe just a little comforted by the fact that such a literary titan was so captivated by Jesus.
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Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; commonly Leo Tolstoy in Anglophone countries) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist fiction. Many consider ...more
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“As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields.” 142 likes
“The doctrine of Christ, which teaches love, humility, and self-denial, had always attracted me. But I
found a contrary law, both in the history of the past and in the present organization of our lives – a law
repugnant to my heart, my conscience, and my reason, but one that flattered my animal instincts. I knew
that if I accepted the doctrine of Christ, I should be forsaken, miserable, persecuted, and sorrowing, as
Christ tells us His followers will be. I knew that if I accepted that law of man, I should have the
approbation of my fellow-men; I should be at peace and in safety; all possible sophisms would be at
hand to quiet my conscience and I should ‘laugh and be merry,’ as Christ says. I felt this, and therefore I
avoided a closer examination of the law of Christ, and tried to comprehend it in a way that should not
prevent my still leading my animal life. But, finding that impossible, I desisted from all attempts at
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