Vitaly Adamenko: The Gospel strictly prohibits violence

Tolstoy Center for Nonviolence

Mar 5, 2017

Russia, Saint Petersburg, February 2017: This is exactly 100 years after the armed uprising of Petrograd soldiers and workers, known as the February revolution, which led to the overthrow of the autocracy and the events that followed from this.

It’s time to pay attention to another event which is directly opposite in its meaning — the non-reciprocation of evil for evil, the non-resistance of evil with violence. How does this manifest in Russia today, in the world, in individuals? Are there examples of non-resistance among our contemporaries? And up until now why have so few people recognized its Christian meaning?

To answer this and other questions we turn to Vitalii Adamenko (1977-2021), the editor of the online library Beyond violence.

The threshold for sensitivity to violence

— Vitaly, your library is very detailed concerning the historical aspects of nonviolence. At the same time, this topic practically doesn’t exist in modern publications and media. Why don’t people concern themselves with the fact that their everyday safety is secured through violence and the threat of violence?

I see this as two points. The first concerns the personality, its inner aspirations and passions. If these aspirations are experienced at an implicit level, there may be little desire for further knowledge. The person is already satisfied at the level they have achieved, no matter where that may be.

The second point is that often we learn a predetermined set of ideas. And if our surroundings are dominated by a loyalty to violent attitudes then we will adopt this view.

— Is that all it includes? What does a person’s ‘sensitivity’ to violence depend on?

I think that this is determined by many factors. It begins in childhood, in one’s upbringing, etc. It’s an aggregation of random incidents. Who knows what would have happened to Chertkov, an opponent of all violence, if he had not been sent by his Protestant mother to like-minded people in England in order to protect him from secular society’s evil influence? There he started to learn the gospel and to wonder if his life was compatible with what he had been learning.

— But what can make someone reconsider their already established views?

The main problem is lack of knowledge. Until you come across some kind of text, situation, living example…. But even then, this can occur ‘tangentially’ to your life, not necessarily perceived and understood.

In addition, striving for nonviolence as a basis for your life can have different goals: the desire to change your own life, the desire to create a ‘new world,’ etc. Most commonly it is a combination of several motives — hence the variety of possible actions.

— How did it develop for you personally? What caused you to understand your role in the mechanism of nonviolence?

It all started with an introduction to Tolstoy’s nonfiction writings from his youth. Later I read others: Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, Koestler, Fromm… — but nobody became as important to me as Tolstoy.

In childhood I was interested in mathematics and physics, so after graduation I studied at the faculty of computer science at the Samara Aerospace University.

At age 12 Vitalii purchased, and read with pleasure, Shipachev’s textbook on higher mathematics.

But the further I went the more I started to feel that my studies conflicted with what I had read: about the need for physical labor, non-participation in government violence and the non-utility of its supposed benefits, etc. Remember that in one of Tolstoy’s letters it says that, if you go to university to avoid enlisting in the army, it would be more honest to become a soldier than to sit on the necks of the working people….

— And what happened next?

I left the university. The incident that led to my departure concerned a non-disclosure agreement about state secrets. I refused to sign it, and explained the meaning of this document to the guys in my course. And although the management tried to convince me to stay, I didn’t see any reason to continue my studies.

At the same time I tried to remove myself from violence in practical ways: I became a stricter vegetarian, restricted my social circle, refrained from watching TV, etc. But after some time I understood that if I were to stop all contact with the outside world, and deprive myself of even formal contact, that there would be a void. I started to search for supporters of nonviolence online and beyond, and that’s how I came to know Aleksey Trushnikov and his library…. Well, the rest you already know.

The spiritual foundations of nonviolence

— In your opinion, is it possible to implement the principle of nonviolence in practice, without a spiritual foundation, without faith?

It’s possible. But it’s important to understand that those who reject violence, reject living by egoism, they lose something. And at some point they ask the question: ‘what am I depriving myself for?’ Faith gives you the spiritual idea, the religious meaning, the foundation for this rejection.

— Does the Gospel prohibit violence?

Absolutely, yes. Nevertheless, every subculture, every collection of people, sets its own boundaries of implementation, starting with how to punish your children, and ending with the acceptability of armed violence.

— Why don’t representatives of even the most active religious groups (for example, Jehovah's Witnesses) go further than refusing military service? Why aren’t there any examples among the Orthodox community — even simply the recognition of their participation in violence, contrary to Christ’s commandment? Why do people not wish to ‘follow the chain’ of violence to its end, to their own daily participation in it?

In general, this is not typical just for Witnesses, but also for Mennonites and other religious movements. It’s typical to consider yourself ‘above’ others who don’t apparently want to be saved. Those others need violence, they need to participate in it. But not us, ‘the chosen ones.’ Such groups often limit themselves to ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’ If they meet with some kind of compulsion, they will involuntarily take part because they do not want to oppose someone else’s will by violence.

However, there are also examples of people genuinely thinking more deeply about their role in the multiplication of violence. Not only verbally but also in actions. For example, the story of Archimandrite Spiridon (Kisliakov), who refused to bless soldiers from the first world war. Or the story of Albert Skarvan, a Slovakian military doctor who refused to serve. Or contemporary American Quakers who refuse to pay taxes that support wars, etc.

But really, there are few known examples. Only by allowing yourself to doubt can you ‘fall out’ of the comfortable nest of traditional views, of religious and secular views, and if you do that, you will certainly lose the voice you had there. In general, when it comes to society’s framework for living, you can only remain within it up to a certain point — that is, until your rejection of violence reaches a certain level. This is commonly followed by withdrawal from people, or isolation of yourself and your views.

— How do you rate the global movement in this area as a whole?

Rather positively. On the one hand, the twentieth century in terms of the number of violent deaths was much higher than previous centuries. But on the other hand it’s hard to deny the humanistic movement that has happened recently.

— Exactly how long has this been happening?

We can say from the Reformation era. That was the start of a gradual understanding concerning the original meaning that had been laid down in Christian teachings.

— Can you say with certainty that your own action — the Beyond violence library — is in line with God’s plan?

Counter question: ‘What is included in God’s plan?’ We can’t say with certainty that even Christ acted (partially or completely) in line with God’s plan. We simply have no proof. God’s plan is unknown to us. I don’t think that the ideas of nonviolence are universal ‘world-wide’ values. Especially if you look to neighboring Muslim countries, where, if the concept of nonviolence exists, then it is extremely unimportant compared to other religions. Or simply to look at nature where there’s one law — survival of the fittest.

But I believe that movement towards a peaceful coexistence, what the library aims at, has meaning in any case. I strive to make what has been accumulated available so that we can progress.

— Progress?

Yes, everyone has their own progress. Some will make noticeable changes in their lives, but for others, just to become acquainted with these materials is already a noticeable step. Everyone has their own progress.

About specific progress

— What is happening now in the world with the movement of Tax Resistance, putting this principle on a legal basis, how realistic is this initiative in your opinion?

I’m sure that its fruition is in the near future. There are already young people who are completing the ACS (alternative civil service) in Switzerland, not paying the so-called ‘war tax.’ There is information about people who refuse to fill out their US tax returns correctly. The movement is slowly gaining force. I think that governments will have to enter into a system of ‘peace tax.’

— What else is happening in the world, linked to the realisation of the principle of the non-reciprocation of evil for evil?

If we are talking about global changes then we can note modern abolitionists, who oppose criminal punishment. This development still has police and courts, but rather than spending time behind bars and paying a fine to the state, the criminal must pay damages to the victim. A number of Scandinavian countries have already implemented this practice. The most notable figure of this movement was Nils Christie, a Norwegian researcher.

— Do you think that you have already completed your own ‘progress’, everything possible in your personal path towards nonviolence?

Here it’s very important to not take on more than you can handle. Don’t overestimate your capabilities, your own energy… Nothing good can come from it if you try to do more than you can.

I see my mission as the development of the Beyond violence library. It’s actually already complete. Today the ‘supply’ even exceeds the demand in society for nonviolence.

— The website is slightly too full of advertisements. Can anything be done about this?

It’s in the plans to move to another website where there are less annoying advertisements. But whether we can do this is still unknown.

— What are your other interests in life?

Soviet rock music, from the mid 80s to the beginning of the 90s… The group ‘Kino’ and what came after. It’s the best period of Russian rock. And now, by the way, if you go to an older rock group’s concert, the audience is looking forward to the older songs over the new ones.

We’ve already talked about higher mathematics, this is also a long-term interest of mine.