It is, in its own way, every bit as challenging as Zealot, but for completely opposite reasons.
Reza Aslan spins out a Jesus who--oddly enough--looks exactly like the zealous warrior-prophet who founded his faith. Tolstoy presents us with something that could not be more radically different. He goes to the core teachings of Jesus, and says, in a very straightforward way: this is what we are meant to do.
No violence. Resistance to injustice, sure, but it must be nonviolent. No retribution. Selflessness. Love for all creatures, as if they were our own children.
All the energies we pour into arguing about doctrinal issues and power struggles and rooting out heresy? Pointless distractions. That energy needs to go into being the human creatures that can legitimately say: we are inhabiting and manifesting the Reign of God.
What he has been casting out, as I have read this book, is the most detailed Christian anarchist manifesto I've ever read.
And it is also the most dangerous.
Oh, it's tempting to look at the Jesus of Reza Aslan, the one who is willing to take up the sword, and say, "Yikes! Threatening! Scary man with a weapon and a furrin' name!" We want to go to FoxNews, and to instapundit, and to townhall.com, where we can angrily rant in the comments section about islamofascism and global jihad.
But the armed and violent Jesus is no threat to our way of life. In fact, Tolstoy would suggest it is no different from our way of life. Christendom, and any form of Christian faith that vacillates and equivocates about the use of force to coerce others? That form of faith poses no threat at all to the status quo. It is already the nature of our world.
But the faith that says: I will not seek power over you, even in opposition? I will not take up the sword, no matter what? This is a frightening, dangerous faith.
It is a direct threat to the entire structure of our society, which rests on power. It does not allow us the swelling heart of pride in the power of our nation, when fighters fly low and in formation. If we did as Tolstoy suggests, we'd be vulnerable. We'd be unprotected. Anyone could harm us.
And it threatens us, personally. It does not permit us our revenge fantasies. It does not allow us to yield to the sugar-sweet yearnings of our pride and our fear, and to arm ourselves so that we might be able to take the life of any who come against us or our families. Again, we are asked to set that aside, and we recoil.
I can't do that. I struggle with it. Imagining it feels terrifying.
It is the kind of faith that cuts deep into the heart of who we are, as a people, as persons.
And that is how you know it is real.