Tolstoy explores the role of religious institutions in obtaining inner-peace, a state his positive characters strive to achieve. We see this struggle in Mary, Natasha and Pierre’s emotional development over the course of War and Peace.
Although religious faith allows Princess Mary to cope with her father’s torment, Mary never finds inner-peace because her soul is incessantly searching for the eternal, which prevents her from accepting the present. Natasha also turns to the church for inner-balance. After her love affair with Anatole, Natasha begins to attend church and pray for forgiveness. Although she grows calmer, it is not religion that brings her temporary tranquility; it is the simplicity and structure of her lifestyle, facilitated by the church, which calms her. Pierre joins the freemasonry in hopes of achieving inner-fulfillment and peace; however, the freemasonry only grants Pierre an ephemeral sense of structure and belonging. In captivity Pierre is isolated from the superfluous distractions of the aristocracy. He learns to live simply and achieves true inner-peace through self-reflection and hard work.
Of these three characters, only Pierre finds inner-balance. Tolstoy demonstrates that religion provides one with structure, acceptance and stability; however, religion does not necessarily facilitate the achievement of inner-balance. As seen in the Russian peasantry and Pierre, inner-peace is achieved through self-reflection, simple living and hard work. You must eliminate life’s unnecessary distractions in order to determine your place in the world. Once you determine who you are and who you would like to be, then you gain purpose, understanding and inner-balance.