Leo Tolstoy, in his great Christian-Anarchist work “The Kingdom of God is Within You,” pays homage to Adin Ballou, an American preacher who was a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison, the great American Abolitionist. Ballou devoted 50 years of his life advocating for the doctrine of non-resistance.
The following is a version of the Catechism of Non-Resistance that Ballou created for his followers. The last paragraph is especially moving:
Q. Whence is the word “non-resistance” derived?
A. From the command, “Resist not evil.” (M. v. 39.)
Q. What does this word express?
A. It expresses a lofty Christian virtue enjoined on us by Christ.
Q. Ought the word “non-resistance” to be taken in its widest sense–that is to say, as intending that we should not offer any resistance of any kind to evil?
A. No; it ought to be taken in the exact sense of our Saviour’s teaching–that is, not repaying evil for evil. We ought to oppose evil by every righteous means in our power, but not by evil.
Q. What is there to show that Christ enjoined non-resistance in that sense?
A. It is shown by the words he uttered at the same time. He said: “Ye have heard, it was said of old, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you Resist not evil. But if one smites thee on the right cheek, turn him the other also; and if one will go to law with thee to take thy coat from thee, give him thy cloak also.”
Q. Of whom was he speaking in the words, “Ye have heard it was said of old”?
A. Of the patriarchs and the prophets, contained in the Old Testament, which the Hebrews ordinarily call the Law and the Prophets.
Q. What utterances did Christ refer to in the words, “It was said of old”?
A. The utterances of Noah, Moses, and the other prophets, in which they admit the right of doing bodily harm to those who inflict harm, so as to punish and prevent evil deeds.
Q. Quote such utterances.
A. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”–GEN. ix. 6.
“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death…And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” –Ex. xxi. 12 and 23-25.
“He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor, as he hath done, so shall it be done unto him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”–LEV. xxiv. 17, 19, 20.
“Then the judges shall make diligent inquisition; and behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother, then shall ye do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother…And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”–DEUT. xix. 18, 21.
Noah, Moses, and the Prophets taught that he who kills, maims, or injures his neighbors does evil. To resist such evil, and to prevent it, the evil doer must be punished with death, or maiming, or some physical injury. Wrong must be opposed by wrong, murder by murder, injury by injury, evil by evil. Thus taught Noah, Moses, and the Prophets. But Christ rejects all this. “I say unto you,” is written in the Gospel, “resist not evil,” do not oppose injury with injury, but rather bear repeated injury from the evil doer. What was permitted is forbidden. When we understand what kind of resistance they taught, we know exactly what resistance Christ forbade.
Q. Then the ancients allowed the resistance of injury by injury?
A. Yes. But Jesus forbids it. The Christian has in no case the right to put to death his neighbor who has done him evil, or to do him injury in return.
Q. May he kill or maim him in self-defense?
Q. May he go with a complaint to the judge that he who has wronged him may be punished?
A. No. What he does through others, he is in reality doing himself.
Q. Can he fight in conflict with foreign enemies or disturbers of the peace?
A. Certainly not. He cannot take any part in war or in preparations for war. He cannot make use of a deadly weapon. He cannot oppose injury to injury, whether he is alone or with others, either in person or through other people.
Q. Can he voluntarily vote or furnish soldiers for the government?
A. He can do nothing of that kind if he wishes to be faithful to Christ’s law.
Q. Can he voluntarily give money to aid a government resting on military force, capital punishment, and violence in general?
A. No, unless the money is destined for some special object, right in itself, and good both in aim and means.
Q. Can he pay taxes to such a government?
A. No; he ought not voluntarily to pay taxes, but he ought not to resist the collecting of taxes. A tax is levied by the government, and is exacted independently of the will of the subject. It is impossible to resist it without having recourse to violence of some kind. Since the Christian cannot employ violence, he is obliged to offer his property at once to the loss by violence inflicted on it by the authorities.
Q. Can a Christian give a vote at elections, or take part in government or law business?
A. No; participation in election, government, or law business is participation in government by force.
Q. Wherein lies the chief significance of the doctrine of non-resistance?
A. In the fact that it alone allows of the possibility of eradicating evil from one’s own heart, and also from one’s neighbor’s. This doctrine forbids doing that whereby evil has endured for ages and multiplied in the world. He who attacks another and injures him, kindles in the other a feeling of hatred, the root of every evil. To injure another because he has injured us, even with the aim of overcoming evil, is doubling the harm for him and for oneself; it is begetting, or at least setting free and inciting, that evil spirit which we should wish to drive out. Satan can never be driven out by Satan. Error can never be corrected by error, and evil cannot be vanquished by evil.
True non-resistance is the only real resistance to evil. It is crushing the serpent’s head. It destroys and in the end extirpates the evil feeling.
Q. But if that is the true meaning of the rule of non- resistance, can it always put into practice?
A. It can be put into practice like every virtue enjoined by the law of God. A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true life. Trying to save his life he loses it. Besides, generally speaking, where non-resistance costs the sacrifice of a single life or of some material welfare, resistance costs a thousand such sacrifices.
Non-resistance is Salvation; Resistance is Ruin.
It is incomparably less dangerous to act justly than unjustly, to submit to injuries than to resist them with violence, less dangerous even in one’s relations to the present life. If all men refused to resist evil by evil our world would be happy.
Q. But so long as only a few act thus, what will happen to them?
A. If only one man acted thus, and all the rest agreed to crucify him, would it not be nobler for him to die in the glory of non-resisting love, praying for his enemies, than to live to wear the crown of Caesar stained with the blood of the slain? However, one man, or a thousand men, firmly resolved not to oppose evil by evil are far more free from danger by violence than those who resort to violence, whether among civilized or savage neighbors. The robber, the murderer, and the cheat will leave them in peace, sooner than those who oppose them with arms, and those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword, but those who seek after peace, and behave kindly and harmlessly, forgiving and forgetting injuries, for the most part enjoy peace, or, if they die, they die blessed. In this way, if all kept the ordinance of non-resistance, there would obviously be no evil nor crime. If the majority acted thus they would establish the rule of love and good will even over evil doers, never opposing evil with evil, and never resorting to force. If there were a moderately large minority of such men, they would exercise such a salutary moral influence on society that every cruel punishment would be abolished, and violence and feud would be replaced by peace and love. Even if there were only a small minority of them, they would rarely experience anything worse than the world’s contempt, and meantime the world, though unconscious of it, and not grateful for it, would be continually becoming wiser and better for their unseen action on it. And if in the worst case some members of the minority were persecuted to death, in dying for the truth they would have left behind them their doctrine, sanctified by the blood of their martyrdom. Peace, then, to all who seek peace, and may overruling love be the imperishable heritage of every soul who obeys willingly Christ’s word, “Resist not evil.”