The Kingdom of God Is Within You: Christianity Not as a Mystic Religion But as a New Theory of Life [NOOK Book]

Overview

Initially banned in his home country The Kingdom of God Is Within You is Leo Tolstoy's great non-fictional work. The zenith of Tolstoy's thirty years of Christian thinking, it sets out a plan for a new society guided by a literal Christian interpretation. Christ conceived of a society based on love, compassion and tolerance, and Tolstoy believed this was incompatible with violence. Tolstoy's response is the principle of nonresistance in the face of violence, and that the wars that governments wage were at odds ...

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The Kingdom of God Is Within You: Christianity Not as a Mystic Religion But as a New Theory of Life

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Overview

Initially banned in his home country The Kingdom of God Is Within You is Leo Tolstoy's great non-fictional work. The zenith of Tolstoy's thirty years of Christian thinking, it sets out a plan for a new society guided by a literal Christian interpretation. Christ conceived of a society based on love, compassion and tolerance, and Tolstoy believed this was incompatible with violence. Tolstoy's response is the principle of nonresistance in the face of violence, and that the wars that governments wage were at odds with Christian ideals. He believed we should not be limiting the scope of God's commandments, writing "how can you kill people, when it is written in God's commandment: 'Thou shalt not murder'?" Mahatma Gandhi wrote that The Kingdom of God Is Within You "overwhelmed" and "left an abiding impression" on him, listing it as one of three modern works most influential on his life and philosophy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781775413875
  • Publisher: The Floating Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,241,919
  • File size: 373 KB

Meet the Author

Leo Tolstoy
One of the great masters of the 19th-century novel, Tolstoy created a sweeping epic in War and Peace which folds together huge events in history and politics with the emotional lives of individuals. But it was his deeply spiritual outlook that made him an icon.

Biography

Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 9, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tula Province, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 20, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Astapovo, Russia

Introduction

Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom Of God Is Within You is one of the most provocative anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian pieces of literature ever written. In it, the author of War and Peace - the most famous war novel of all time - sets forth his final and definitive understanding of the cause and cure for all human strife. Here also, in the context of a sincere and scathing account of what is living and dead in modern Christianity, Tolstoy presents a view of history and society in times of both war and peace that overcomes widely recognized theoretical contradictions implicit in his monumental early novel. At the focal point of the weighty themes treated in The Kingdom Of God Is Within You is the doctrine of radical non-violence that Tolstoy understands Jesus to have articulated in the Sermon on the Mount's injunction against responding to evil with evil. Though the treatise was banned upon completion in 1893 by the highly repressive Russian regime governing Tolstoy's homeland, this quickly translated and widely disseminated work was destined to become the most powerful and influential of his major late period writings - inspiring Gandhi's belief in the power of non-violence as a political tactic and thereby catalyzing the people's movement that decisively terminated the era of great colonial empires.

Tolstoy was born into Russian nobility in 1828, and as a youth he was not at all religiously inclined. While following his brother to frontier military adventures in the Caucasus, he began writing and publishing lengthy autobiographical essays. These were quickly recognized as the work of a formidable literary talent by such venerable eldercontemporaries as Russian novelist, Ivan Turgenev. Tolstoy soon gained further notoriety as the author of vivid and moving articles based on his experiences in the Crimean War. In 1862, he married and settled into a period of domestic tranquility and splendor on his beautiful family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, which was highly conducive to the blossoming of his literary potential. During the next fifteen years he wrote what are generally acknowledged as two of the world's greatest novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But the living-legend status which these works earned him did little to satisfy Tolstoy's perpetually agitated soul. Following a religious awakening described in his Confession, the focus of his intellectual energies became public opposition to the brutality and repression of the czar and the Russian ruling class. This expressed itself in a stream of incendiary letters, articles, essays, and books that emphasized the incompatibility of Russia's hierarchical church, state, and social apparatus with the ideal of a truly religious and moral life. Tolstoy battled against the state, the church, his family, and himself in a thirty-year effort to bring them all into line with the religious and moral teachings that he expounded with vigor and venom. Untouchable by the state because of his enormous popularity, he was punished vicariously through the persecution of his friends, associates, and followers. He was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church in 1901, but this ironically further elevated his popular standing and brought outrage upon the church. Toward the end of his long and productive life he corresponded directly with Gandhi and thus had personal contact with the man who would carry his torch from the pages of suppressed Russian literature to the front lines of the growing global battle against imperialism and institutionalized discrimination. He died, famously, at the Astapova train station in 1910, only days after gathering the nerve to abandon his family and wealth and take up the path of a wandering ascetic - a path that he had agonized over not pursuing for decades. His death signified to many contemporaries the end of both a literary and a historical era. In less than a decade, World War I and the Russian Revolution would vindicate Tolstoy's direst predictions for mankind while marking an irreparable breach with the reality to which he had belonged.

Much has been written about Tolstoy's life and works, the great majority of attention understandably falling upon the two monumental novels that preceded his religious period. But what is often insufficiently emphasized is that Tolstoy's great early fiction and his later religious non-fiction are both animated by his obsession with the same fundamental themes: the nature of history, the causes of war, and the meaning of human life and suffering. In his first epic novel, War and Peace, his train of thought on these topics is evolving along a path that does not reach its conclusion until his later writings - a conclusion that is perhaps nowhere more clearly articulated than in the present book, The Kingdom Of God Is Within You. In this brief introduction it will be useful to provide some background information on the intellectual struggle that led Tolstoy to the position set forth in this book and to indicate how that position addresses a central tension in his earlier thought and work.

Commentators and critics have often pointed out that in spite of its unquestioned greatness as a work of epic literature, War and Peace is riven by an ambiguous, contradictory, and perhaps even incoherent theory of how history functions. Lengthy theoretical discussions of the nature of history are incorporated into the novel itself, and Tolstoy, sensitive to criticism of the tension between his theory of history and his actual portrayal of the events surrounding Napoleon's failed 1812 invasion of Russia, later appended further discussions of history to the work. But what is rightly pointed out as a tension at the heart of War and Peace is perhaps not so much a sign of flaws in Tolstoy's thought as it is an indication that he is grappling with one of the most important and intractable dilemmas of human history: the problem of the cause of war. For Tolstoy, this problem is ultimately inseparable from the perennial philosophical and religious problem of free will. Is the responsibility for war and all its concomitant horrors to be laid at the feet of the human beings who promote and participate in it? Or is war in reality an uncontrollable and unavoidable accompaniment to human existence, breaking out and receding with a rhythm all its own? Before Tolstoy's religious awakening, he wants to answer both these questions affirmatively. In War and Peace he ridicules the generals who believe they have an influence over the mysteriously self-unfolding chaos of the battlefield - something with which he was personally well acquainted. Yet he also strives to portray those in authority as culpable for the evils that their actions bring upon the societies involved. And, though mutually incompatible, these are both natural ways to want to understand war and allocate responsibility for it. No one could doubt that there are infinite numbers of minuscule events in the life of each person engaged in a war - events which may as easily lead him to one place on the battlefield or another, to one place at the negotiating table or another, to one state of mind in a decisive moment or another. On such unseen, unimagined, and therefore uncontrollable events the course of history obviously often turns. Yet it is impossible not to want to hold monsters atop the political hierarchy responsible for seeking their own glorification in the opportunity to bring a reign of death and destruction down upon their nation's soldiers and civilians. In War and Peace there is a masterful intertwining of macro and micro perspectives on human history as it unfolds in a world historical war, but the deep conflict between the belief in free will and the belief in some form of predetermination of all human events seems incompletely acknowledged by Tolstoy.

In The Kingdom Of God Is Within You, however, this conflict is fully recognized and Tolstoy's definitive solution is clearly articulated. To follow Tolstoy's thinking here we must note that he has stepped back from his position in War and Peace and evolved a theory on the workings of human history that is more abstract and all-encompassing than his earlier one. Under this theory, war and peace are simply alternating manifestations of a single constellation of social, political, and cultural forces. It could be said that for the later Tolstoy, given the dynamic underlying forces at work in contemporary societies, men and nations are always in a state of war with one another: Sometimes this conflict happens to be openly declared and to involve widespread-physical violence what we commonly term "war" and sometimes it is undeclared and involves coercion, intimidation, and only isolated instances of physical violence a condition misleadingly labeled "peace". This is all the consequence of individuals in a society acting primarily in pursuit of selfish material gratification - what Tolstoy, implicitly invoking St. Paul's contrast between fleshly and spiritual aspects of human nature, calls the life of the "flesh" or of the "animal." In pursuit of satisfaction of the desires of the flesh, each man always seeks advantage over his fellows, each state always seeks advantage over its neighbors. And if an individual or nation seeks as much as it can physically secure and another seeks the same, conflict is inevitable, and ultimately the victor will be decided on the basis of actual or perceived superiority of physical force. For Tolstoy, all modern societies are governed by the universal pursuit of materialistic objectives, and thus, according to him, physical force turns out to be the ultimate basis of order in the entire world.

Furthermore, all modern societies, in Tolstoy's view, contain social hierarchies in which wealth and power are blatantly inequitably distributed and injustice is rampant. This is as much the case in republican France and America as it is in Imperial Russia. What legitimates the power of the few over the many differs from one country to another and legitimating ideologies change over time, but the basic condition - the fact that the threat of force backs up institutionalized inequality and injustice across the so-called "civilized" world - remains always the same. Regardless of whether they live under monarchies, aristocracies, or democracies, people obey the laws, according to Tolstoy, not out of respect for them, but out of fear of being punished for disobeying them. Thus he sees social-contract theories such as those promoted by Locke and Rousseau as disingenuous charades - like the earlier theory of the divine right of kings - that rationalize an immoral and unjust status quo while disguising the fact that it is truly maintained by force alone.

Under the spell of material desire, every individual unknowingly supports the combative and inequitable status quo and therefore is instrumental to his or her own domination. Tolstoy sees this situation most clearly expressed in the phenomenon of universal military service which was enacted in Russia during his lifetime. If everyone serves in and supports the army - the power of which is always implicitly behind the police and government - then everyone becomes complicit in the actions of the army and in the social dynamic that it protects. It is this situation that makes the masses so prone to nationalism, which is likewise rooted in the logic of abject surrender to physical needs and earthly seductions. This logic, for Tolstoy, is also the logic of a world governed by ironclad laws of cause and effect. The ambiguity of his position in War and Peace on the problem of free will versus predetermination is now dispelled: In a world governed by man's darker tendencies, it is fate that reigns supreme. Like automatons, everyone claws after his or her selfish advantage, and neighbor inevitably clashes with neighbor. Through this struggle, each citizen unwittingly and unavoidably conspires to produce the horrors of war and the injustices of peace, and so shares responsibility for them with the dictator and the general.

It is a grim picture of modern societies that Tolstoy paints in The Kingdom Of God Is Within You. Moreover, it is one that few people are likely to understand because members of the classes that benefit from the current situation devote enormous resources to suppressing the idea that their society could function in any other way. This is done particularly effectively through state-sponsored education and lifelong church indoctrination into a status quo supporting perversion of Christianity. Nonetheless, Tolstoy believes that mere awareness of an alternative way of life - the life of the spirit - provides the opportunity for free will and moral improvement to enter into the human equation. He is convinced that the individual, simply by listening to his conscience, can overcome the "hypnotized" and "stupefied" mindset that church and state brainwashing imposes upon him. Tolstoy claims that everyone already knows that today's societies are violent and immoral, but because the obstacles to altering those societies seem so overwhelming, people adjust to living in denial of the contradiction between their consciences and their lives. Under Tolstoy's interpretation of the Gospels, however, Jesus taught a simple and clear path to life in the truth, "divine" rather than "animal" life. And everyone who has been exposed to the Gospels has some familiarity with this teaching, though it has long been obscured by worldly oriented accretions.

The teaching of Jesus that Tolstoy singles out for most attention is the prohibition against responding to evil with evil Matthew 5:39. It is the temptation to use force against those whom one perceives as evil that pulls virtually every human being from the path to spiritual perfection into the pit of perpetual aggression. Though flawed human beings lack the ability to achieve complete success in their struggles against this temptation, they have the freedom, even in the pit, to recognize the truth of Jesus' teaching on non-violence. And this recognition conveys the power to exercise free will in order to turn away from the life of the flesh and toward the life of the spirit - the life governed not by a universal aspiration for power over others but by the love and compassion felt by each for all. Thus, for the later Tolstoy, free will is possible, but only if one uses one's freedom to think and act in accordance with God's truth and His vision of how men should treat one another.

Such behavior on the part of one individual may not seem likely to change an entire society, but it has more power than most people suspect. Accordingly, it is greatly feared by those in authority. Gandhi's success in implementing Tolstoy's theory of non-violence demonstrates that such fear is warranted. If enough individuals took the inner path to spiritual awakening to the truth of Jesus' message of non-violence and then acted upon it by withdrawing their support from the reigning system of domination, according to Tolstoy, that system would crumble and the Kingdom of God that each person has the capacity to find in the divine spark in his or her soul would break forth upon the earth.

Whether Jesus really taught the doctrine of non-violence - or ever even existed - is a matter of no importance to Tolstoy, for what he holds to be of religious significance in Christianity is solely the truth of what Jesus is reported to have taught. This teaching does not derive its authority from the divinity of its teacher. Rather, it has inherent religious authority because it is the truth, and if one lives one's life in accordance with it, one knows it to be true because one experiences a genuinely religious life. It is as though, for Tolstoy, the doctrine of non-violence opens a doorway to an archetypal worldview that under the right circumstances may be discovered by anyone and that, once consciously discovered and deeply experienced, cannot be denied.

There is great meaning in the ideas of The Kingdom Of God Is Within You for mankind at the present moment. Our societies are riddled with violence and suffering, the globe is littered with wars and war-ravaged countries. Like the Tolstoy of War and Peace, we tend to view such things as beyond our control, the responsibility of presidents, generals, armies, or fate. But the later Tolstoy found this way of thinking to be a defense mechanism and a form of denial, shielding each and every one of us from recognition of our own essential complicity in the horrors of a world order that we perpetuate through our continued participation in it. Leaders and elites may be to blame for a great deal of what is inhumane in the modern world, but that is a matter for them to resolve with their own consciences. Tolstoy's late philosophy can make us uncomfortable because it points a finger in the direction of each of us and asks: "Do you recognize and accept your own responsibility for the current evils of your society and your world? Are you now prepared to do what your heart knows is required in order to begin putting an end to man's inhumanity to man?" If, knowing the truth, you fail to do what it requires of you, responsibility for the continuing inhumanity of the world is also yours. For, as Tolstoy's final quotation from the Bible emphasizes, the coming of the kingdom of God is not primarily a historical event to be awaited, it is an inward obligation to be fulfilled:

"The kingdom of God cometh not with outward show; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17: 20, 21.

David Taffel is the author of Nietzsche Unbound: The Struggle for Spirit in the Age of Science and managing editor of The Conversationalist, a global news and culture website. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Graduate Faculty of the New School University where his dissertation was awarded the Hans Jonas Memorial Prize for Philosophy.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Not resisting evil with evil

    The overall theme of the book is that Christians should not resist evil by using evil (aka force). Thus, military service, judges, jails, taxes, etc. are all aspects of society that Christians should shun.

    This message contrasts with my going-in assumptions. I've assumed the New Testament's "turn the other cheek" message was intended for personal behavior and didn't interpret it as being totally applicable for society as a whole. Thus, I've always assumed that while I should be quick to forgive, that government has the responsibility for holding lawbreakers accountable. While I still think that way, the book did challenge me to think this over.

    Another interesting aspect to the book is that Tolstoy embraces the Sermon on the Mount as the crux of the New Testament. Though he embraces these particular teachings, he doesn't believe in heaven and hell; and that Christ's death on the cross was needed so that He could take our punishment in our stead. In short, he believed only parts of the Bible.

    One last item of interest... Tolstoy also made the case that Christianity is a natural evolution for humans. Humans started out only caring for themselves, their families, then their tribes and towns, and then their nation. Christianity is the natural next phase because it will help people to care for all mankind. The fact that Jesus may have actually walked the face of the earth, may have been the Son of God, and may have made eternity in heaven possible were, according to Tolstoy, not the real reasons for the advent of Christianity. I think Tolstoy missed the obvious.

    I'm glad I read this book. This book influenced Ghandi and I believe wise to study different view points. I believe those who read this book will find the experience a "rounding" one.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2005

    This book changed my life

    After reading this book, it became clear to me: Jesus doesn't want us killing one another, not for any reason, not for any purpose, not ever. I applied for discharge from the Army as a Conscientious Objector soon afterwards. Don't expect the book to be pure literary genius, but do expect to find your heart touched - or perhaps (as it was in my case), pierced.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Profound and moving essay by a genius on justice

    I have read two of Tolstoy's other masterpieces in "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina." For all the brilliant prose in these two works of penultimate genius, to really understand the heart of the novelist writing about his society, these essays lend powerful insight. The essays begin as Tolstoy rides a train with soldiers sent to beat Russian peasants who have lodged a complaint against a rich landowner bent upon cutting down a forest, with which serfs had always enjoyed common rights, for the profit in the timber. After a judge's unjust verdict in favor of the landowner, after the serfs send packing the men who appeared to cut their timber, the landowner requests government troops to enforce the unjust verdict by beating the serfs to death with rods packed onboard the train. Tolstoy examines this great chain of injustice from the rich landowner's arrogance and greed, to the government judge's feeble acquiesence to power, to the soldiers' blind obedience to administer the famished serfs' inhumane punishment and asks why any of this must play out as it does. How often has this great chain of injustice perpetuated itself upon humanity? Does this chain not define and insitutionalize the greatest instances of inhumanity in the course of history? Tolstoy asks earnestly why each of the players in the administration of this injustice just doesn't try to make a true "moral effort." Why doesn't the rich landowner recognize his own arrogance and greed and duty to the serfs? Why doesn't the government intercede and stand up to the landowner's will to power? Why don't the soldiers refuse to administer mindlessly this injustice? Why must famished, diseased and half-dead peasants be beaten to death as they simply try to survive? Who wins in this oft repeated scenario? Not a dead soul. Tolstoy's argument is that we have the ethical wherewithal at every level to stand-up to such injustice and he makes the argument as a wealthy Russian landowner, former soldier and provincial adminsitrator with great influence upon the tsar. In other words he is fully qualified by virtue of experience to argue this case and he makes it with a profundity and simplicity which is inspiring. "There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is to recognize and profess the truth." Tolstoy's thesis is that the Power to do this exists within every person and that it is the divine responsibility of each of us to exercise this power for the good and happiness of humanity. Tolstoy sees a threefold relationship of man to truth: "Some truths have been so assimilated by them that they become the unconscious basis of action, others are just only on the point of being revealed and a third class, though not yet assimilated by him, have been revealed to him with sufficient clearness to force him to decide either to recognize them or refuse to recognize them." Tolstoy urges mankind simply to make a moral effort and he advises that the happiness open to mankind is available only if and when we do so. Why don't we make more of a moral effort? There is great wisdom in this work which I urge you, despite the daunting title, to read as it is wisdom from a century and a half ago, that no generation of humanity may need more than our own right now.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2009

    The Kingdom of God is Within You

    The book challenges the Christian to think about her/his participation in and support of a government whose policies are not always consistent with Christian values. I highly recommend the book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Amazing grace

    Discover a great artist's personal view of what Christianity should be.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2012

    Maplenight

    Tries to stop the blood coming from her wound before slashing dontlives throat back and running off.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2011

    recommend

    This is a great book. A different look at Christanity.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2012

    SIENNAPAW

    HELP IM LOCKED OUT OF MOST BOOKS!!!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    Wher are they!

    I will fight tooth and claw to rescue our kits! Burningstar

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    Riverpaw

    You donrt have to like hom

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    Kit

    "Get away from me." She started kicking

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    Kit

    SHE Growls

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    Lightningpaw to Moonscar

    "You cant tell them what to do!" She said.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    Kit

    So....dont you go tp starclan Amerkit

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2012

    DontLive

    Slits maplenights throat.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted October 3, 2011

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    Posted September 14, 2009

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    Posted December 21, 2010

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    Posted January 23, 2010

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