Saturday, 22 June 2013

Q57: Myth of Biblical Christianity

From: Teresa Gardiner, Vancouver, British Columbia

Several years ago, I had a vision to help the Doukhobor youth not just to understand the spiritual underpinnings of their culture, but to know how to live from the heart. I've been working on how to present this, ever since. I think The Doukhobor Book of Life (Zhivotnaya Kniga Dukhobortsev) is a good place to start, since it is one of the seminal documents of our people.

I was going to email you this morning to ask you about a couple of the Myths you've written about.

The first is myth #5. I grew up hearing the explanation you give about Jesus just being a man who did good deeds. However, in examining the psalms in the Book of Life, I'm not so sure that this is true. Many of the psalms are very biblical in nature and Jesus is referred to as God, certainly as part of the trinity. Where did your explanation come from?


From: Popular Myths and Fallacies About the Doukhobors, in Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living (2002), pages 379-384.

Myth #5 appears often in Doukhobor conversation. It needs to be evaluated and corrected so as to arrive at a new understanding that describes the Movement more accurately.

Myth No. 5: Doukhobors are Christians and believe in the Bible (as the supernatural, "holy" creation representing God) and Jesus Christ (who is said to have died for our sins and was born from a virgin). For most Doukhobors, these notions are parables of an earlier form of Biblical Christianity. Three hundred years ago many Russian peasants rejected the Church as being exploitative of innocent peoples throughout the mechanism of fear. Instead, they chose the "voice of God within" as being accessible to all and central to their way of thinking. They consider the Bible as a good book. But as with any good book, they say, it must be approached with discretion, judgment, and common sense, not just swallowed whole in an act of blind faith. In fact, most Doukhobors read the Bible as a form of literature, not a sacred script. Jesus Christ is considered to be a good man, a human being who performed good acts. Sin and "salvation through the blood of Christ" are notions foreign to them. Doing good, according to the Doukhobors, is the way of being good, rather than speaking about it. There is an old saying, Bog da Bog, da Bog, no ti ne budi plokh [You may speak of God all you like, but behave yourself.]. Good behaviour is of central importance to the meaning of being Doukhobor.

For a more complete look at the wider meaning of the Doukhobor Movement, see pages 375 - 377 on the explanation of The Spirit Within. Herein, I show how Doukhobor beliefs can be distilled into seven propositions. These seven gems are the result of over 55 years of research and observation. Below I cite the first sentence of each proposition (go to the original source to see the full text).
  1. Because we all have the abode of God within us, it is wrong to kill another human being....
  2. The Bible's many sacred narratives are simple moral allegories....
  3. There are no corporate creeds to adopt except the principle of hard work, kindness towards others and hospitality....
  4. Doukhobors do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ....
  5. Heaven for Doukhobors is synonymous with virtue, while hell is a metaphor for bad deeds....
  6. They do not believe in the existence of a personal self-sustaining supernatural God in heaven....
  7. When applied to individual behaviour, a case can be made that Doukhobor is a humanistic religion....
These seven propositions of the Doukhobor Movement may shock some observers, especially orthodox theologians. However, these views are the collective invention of a group of Russian peasants several centuries back who in their wisdom or by accident rejected the whole structure of churchism. In so doing, they were ahead of their time, so to speak, in laying the groundwork for a real reform within the institution of the church (a reform that is long overdue). In this journey, they are very much in the spirit of Lev N. Tolstoy, the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Unitarians.

More: Questions and Answers, Comments


  1. Yes Koozma, that is all well and good, and an explanation that I concur with.
    All the same it does not address the question the writer posits.
    The Book of Life is purported to provide the essence of Doukhoborism, but in fact contains many references that are directly related to dogma and Christian liturgy that Doukhobors in fact rejected. This is constantly incorporated into present day Doukhobor prayer meetings which for me creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere.
    At the very least the foibles of the Book of Life need to be admitted to and publicized or the same compilation undergo a thorough revision.
    Bob Ewashen

    1. Like the Bible, the Book of Life needs to be looked at critically and metaphorically. Cherry pick your choices and leave the rest on the ground for other creatures to pick up. As an intelligent driver, you are in the driver's seat. Yes, Bob, a thorough revision is needed....

  2. Bill Kanigan, Saskatoon, Sask.24 June 2013 at 06:04

    Hello Koozma.

    Regarding your response to Teresa Gardiner.

    Indeed corrections need to be made about misconceptions by many Doukhobors.
    Proposition #5: It is not a myth that Doukhobors are Christians. In my view, the Doukhobor doctrine 
is based on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
    Proposition #4: ‘Doukhobors do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.’ 
They do believe that Christ is divine and resurrected not in 
body but in spirit in every righteous person.
 Example -- when the Lords Prayer ends with ‘Christ
has risen’, they reply 'In the righteous Christ has a
risen’. You conclude that they do not believe.

    Why place all Doukhobors in the same pot? Some Doukhobors teach one thing, some
 teach something else and therein lies the problem.
 People like Teresa who want to understand and teach are confronted with contradictory views.
    There are 
other learned scholars like you. Why don't all of you get together and present a unified view on what 
is a Doukhobor?
    Kindest peaceful regards, Bill Kanigan

    1. Dear Bill,
      Thanks to you, Teresa, Larry and others for encouraging me to delve deeper into the history and values of the Doukhobor Movement. With the support of my webmaster Andrei Conovaloff, I am presently revising my Chapter IV 'Wisdom of the Ages' from my Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living (2002). The new paper 'Wisdom of the Ages: Unified Doukhobor Beliefs' will also include two short sections 'History of the List of Ten' and 'Future Thoughts'. Thanks for reading my book and being courageous to speak out.

  3. As the Doukhobors rejected the dogma and liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox and attempted to formulate their own belief system, God lives in all, many of these spiritual pioneers had memorized many of the psalms, prayers and hymns from the old and new testament.
    They continued to recite these liturgical pieces, albeit with their own understanding in terms of parable and symbolism. Later on when Bonch-Breuvich was collecting the Living Book, he incorporated all of these old pieces as well, and this led to and still leads to much confusion to those who discover these writings in the Living Book.
    These, in fact, do NOT represent the Doukhobor belief and should be excised unless they are presented with the symbolic explanation. many Doukhobors, of the oral tradition, unfortunately interpreted these writings literally, hence the confusion.

  4. I have been following this dialogue with interest as it is central to my own concepts of the doukhobor belief.
    I thought the following discussion would be of interest to the other readers. It takes place in 1895 as Doukhobors are being transported to Siberia, and visit a Molokan village on the way.
    Since the Bible is discussed as well as pacifism I thought it was pertinent to our discussion and interesting as to how it was viewed in 1895 by the veterans of the Arms Burning.
    As follows:
    We stayed overnight in Dilijan, where most Molokans live. The prisoners’ convoy station was about one verst away from the village, and in the evening, upon the invitation of the Molokans, we attended their sobranije assembly. Despite the fact that we were considered state criminals, the convoy officer by the last name of Grishin, allowed us to go and went there with us without taking along any soldiers. There were three of us: Khudjakov, Taranov and I. When we entered the assembly, there were lots of people, brothers and sisters. In this very sobranije, three young Molokan men, who were selected to do the military service, were saying their good-byes. While saying good-byes almost everyone was crying, particularly women. As we watched this, in the presence of the officer, we started talking with them. Nikolaj Khudjakov was the one who spoke the most on the subject of military service, and he proved to them in various ways from the teaching of Christ that it is illegal and unfair to leave the company of parents, or wives, if they had them, and voluntarily go to serve this bad and murderous cause. When this unexpected question was raised, the whole sobranije assembly got quieter and then completely silent. Almost the whole assembly were looking at us and at the officer sitting next to us, who was wearing his signs of distinction, i.e., the military uniform. And they did not know what to do: whether they should agree with us or oppose us. Their leader started opposing us, he said: “Why, our fathers did this, and God himself allowed Samuel to be a king. This is what the Bible says”. We say in response that the time of the Bible is gone by, and that the Bible is now an obstacle for human reasoning. And how come they did not yet get the teaching of Christ, declared 19 centuries ago? Christ, as the son of the living God, proclaimed the complete freedom and equality of all people, he cancelled all that Biblical history and he substituted it with the New Testament, the Gospel. The Old testament said: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you: Do not resist the evil, but If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” He also cancelled oaths. You know well that he substituted anything that does not bring people unity and love for peace, unity and love, so that people could reach the God’s kingdom within themselves. For this purpose Christ offers the second birth from above from the Holy Spirit. And whoever does not accept this rebirth, will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Consequently all those who believe in Christ by all means need the birth from above, that connects the human with the eternity of being of the Father of the Spirit that has no beginning. And you are going to do the military service, where a man hardens and gets perverted in body and spirit. Don’t you know that during a war, all these people serve as cannon fodder. And this is how they get what is their due – whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword.
    And this is how our conversation ended. We do not know if it brought any positive results, or not, but the officer fully approved our interpretation and understanding and completely agreed with it.

  5. The views of the Bible, the Spirit within, and militarism and violence provides good context to the prevailing philosophy of the Doukhobors in the summer of 1895. It was 118 years to this day that the historic Arms Burning took place in the Caucasus with 7,000 Russian dissidents participating! That is awesome! Exile followed, with some going to Siberia and other locations, while a large group emmigrated to Canada in 1899. Thank you, Larry.