The Brothers Karamazov. The Issue of Religion Essay Example

In the time of the novel, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the never-ending issue about religion is constantly evaluated. Whether people believe in religion or not, a notable amount of our lives are shaped by religion. Although there are many forms of religion, the most common superior being assessed is God in the novel. However, what if a person does not believe in God and should that person be allowed to voice their reason for their disbelief in God? It is with this scenario that sets up the scene for Ivan’s poem “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov. Throughout the book, there are several biblical references as well as poetry that gives insight as to the characters view on religion. Following the “Book V: Pro and Contra” and Ivan’s poem, “The Grand Inquisitor”, Dostoevsky incorporates the Zosima chapters to refute Ivan’s assertions of the three temptations. To begin, Ivan includes the story of the first temptation of bread in the “Grand Inquisitor”, to prove that faith is insignificant once there is a provider. “Turn them into bread and mankind will run after you like sheep, grateful and obedient, though eternally trembling lest you withdraw your hand and your loaves cease for them.” (pg.252) In other words, Ivan uses sheep to represent humans because similar to sheep, humans have the need to follow the person who can provide for them. By using the words run “after you like sheep”, and “eternally trembling”, Ivan shows how following of Christ is temporary like the provision of loaves but the fear of ceasing food is constant. Thus, Ivan utilizes the Grand Inquisitor to support his claim that although free will is given unto humans, their need for sustenance forces to God resulting in lack of freedom. However, Zosima’s claims are significantly different from that of Ivan’s. On page 294, Zosima states, “The people will perish without the word of God for their souls thirst for his word and for every beautiful perception.” It is within this quote that Zosima’s response arises. He uses the same theme of the provision mentioned by Ivan to show that the needs of the body are not of importance as the needs of the soul. Ivan focuses on food to survive and thus the reason people follow Christ. However, Zosima uses “the word of God” to represent the water that humans thirst for. In response to Ivan’s claim that there is no need for faith if Christ gives freely, by using “the word of God” to represent the water that humans thirst for, Zosima affirms the idea that faith comes from the word of God which is also described as water needed to sustain us.

After this, Ivan then proceeds onto the next temptation of miracles to prove his claim that people need a miracle to believe in God. The Grand Inquisitor claims, “You did not come down because, again, you did not want to enslave man by a miracle and thirsted for faith that is free, and not for the servile raptures of a slave before a power that has left him permanently terrified.”(pg.256) Ivan argues that Christ should have given the people a miracle because most people need to see a miraculous event to have faith. Ivan then continues with the quote, “But you did not know that as soon as man rejects miracles, he will at once reject God as well, for man seeks not so much God as miracles.” (pg.255) A miracle is defined as an unscientific act of spiritual being that is often looked upon as a sign from God. Ivan shows the correlation between miracles and God when he states “ rejects miracles” and “reject God”. Through these quotes, Ivan states his claim that although man needs a supernatural being of worship, and Christ refused to appear as one through a miraculous sign, the existence of God cannot be proven and, therefore, should not be accepted as a supreme being with absolute power. Although Zosima does not include a lot of evidence, his response is still effective because of the analysis it has. Through the quote, “He would perhaps not have believed even death itself and would have kept expecting the dying man to come and fulfill what had been promised.”(pg.283) Father Paissy like everyone else in and out of the monastery believes that Zosima will perform a miracle. The use of the word “promise” in this quote gives the idea that an agreement has been made and will be acted upon. However, a miracle is defined as an unscientific act of spiritual being that is often looked upon as a sign from God, yet is not guaranteed to occur. The rapid decay of Zosima’s body serves as an unpleasant reminder that, in the real world, there are no dazzling miracles, and faith is something that must be achieved without evidence. Furthermore, that is why Christ’s refusal to give a miracle allowed humans to have free will to choose whether to follow Christ. In other words, it is an agreement to Zosima’s claim that people do not need a miracle to have faith.

Following the second temptation, Ivan ends with the last temptation of power to represent the idea that people need to be controlled. The Grand Inquisitor states “Why didst Thou reject that last gift? Hadst Thou accepted that last counsel of the mighty spirit, Thou wouldst have accomplished all that man seeks on earth—that is, someone to worship, someone to keep his conscience, and some means of uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap, for the craving for universal unity is the third and last anguish of men.”(pg.257) The constant use of “someone” in the quote reveals to the audience, that there is no specific requirement for a leader they are looking for as long as he or she can be worshipped, keep the conscience of others and unite everyone. The questions the Grand Inquisitor asks Christ about his refusal of the gift also serves the purpose of questioning Christs character since Christ says he loves everyone but yet denies “the craving for universal unity.” Because of Christ’s refusal of the temptation, the Grand Inquisitor says that since Christ did not take the power, the church is responsible for taking charge in to convince men that in favor of security they want must be acquired by giving up their free will. Therefore, Ivan’s claim is Christ should have taken the power because of man’s need for universal integration. However, Zosima uses the chapter The Mysterious Visitor to counter Ivan’s claim. Zosima stated, “ Everyone will understand your deed,” I said to him, “if not now, they will understand later, for you will have served the truth, not earthly truth, but a higher one…”(pg.307) The use of “understand”, “now” and “later” serves to describe the Grand Inquisitor’s lack of understanding as to why Christ did not accept the power. The “earthly truth” as opposed to “a higher one”, also shows that Zosima believes that Ivan’s claim of man’s need for universal integration is the “earthly truth” or what people of earth think is the reason for Christ’s actions. In other words, Zosima claims that people will understand Christ’s deed later as a sacrifice for man to be able to follow Christ out of their free will and not for security.

While others might say that the Zosima chapters are none other than a biography of his life, this is with fault. However, it is a detailed and adequate response to the claims of Ivan’s poem “The Grand Inquisitor”. Similar to the Elder Zosima, Ivan is concerned with the understanding of the influence of morality in the lives of humans. Despite this similarity, Ivan rejects the existence of God and Christ since he cannot understand the reasons for Christ's refusal of the three temptations. Where Ivan believes that man’s need for sustenance binds them to God resulting in a lack of freedom, Zosima affirms the idea that faith comes from the word of God which is also described as water needed to sustain us. Ivan also claims that people need a miracle to believe in God but Zosima responds with his claim that people do not need a miracle to have faith Finally, Ivan ends with the last temptation of power to represent the idea that people need to be controlled but Zosima counters with his statement that people will understand Christ’s deed later as a sacrifice for man to be able to follow Christ out of their free will and not for security.


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