Monday, October 27, 2008

The Grand Inquisitor

When I was a senior in High School we read Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in a class that centered on classical literature, and the subject matter was difficult to say the least for 18 year old minds with little real experience of the world. In fact my college lit professor was somewhat aghast to learn that I read that book in High School.

It's most controversial chapter is one called The Grand Inquisitor. (The entire chapter can be read here.) In a nutshell, one of the main characters is telling a story in which Jesus comes to earth and raises a little girl from the dead in the presence of a huge multitude. The Grand Inquisitor of the Jesuits witnesses the resurrection and immediately arrests Jesus and sentences him to death. The bulk of the chapter is a rant by the Inquisitor explaining to Jesus just how badly he screwed it up and why His Church needs to be cleansed of His influence and turned into an institution of true lovingkindness by rejecting Him and accepting the three offers that Satan made as he was tempting Jesus.

As I read the chapter I could not help but think of, not only the clash between Christianity and Socialism, but also the clash between those who want freedom and those who want their needs taken care of. One would almost swear that Dostoevsky was watching the world today as he wrote this chapter.

and they will begin crying unto us: "Feed us, for they who
promised us the fire from heaven have deceived us!" It is then
that we will finish building their tower for them. For they
alone who feed them shall finish it, and we shall feed them
in Thy name, and lying to them that it is in that name. Oh,
never, never, will they learn to feed themselves without our
help! No science will ever give them bread so long as they
remain free, so long as they refuse to lay that freedom at our
feet, and say: "Enslave, but feed us!" That day must come when
men will understand that freedom and daily bread enough to
satisfy all are unthinkable and can never be had together,
as men will never be able to fairly divide the two
among themselves. And they will also learn that they can
never be free, for they are weak, vicious, miserable
nonentities born wicked and rebellious. Thou has promised
to them the bread of life, the bread of heaven; but I ask
Thee again, can that bread ever equal in the sight of the
weak and the vicious, the ever ungrateful human race, their
daily bread on earth?

The Grand Inquisitor displays such arrogance and a condescending attitude toward mankind, as well as toward God

True, they are vicious and rebellious, but we will force them
into obedience, and it is they who will admire us the most.
They will regard us as gods, and feel grateful to those who
have consented to lead the masses and bear their burden
of freedom by ruling over them--so terrible will that freedom at
last appear to men! Then we will tell them that it is in
obedience to Thy will and in Thy name that we rule over them. We
will deceive them once more and lie to them once again--for
never, never more will we allow Thee to come among us. In this
deception we will find our suffering, for we must needs lie
eternally, and never cease to lie!
How does the chapter end? Jesus kisses the Inquisitor and walks away leaving him totally perplexed. The inquisitor hated Jesus because He values free choice and it is that freedom that makes the Inquisitor's vision of Utopia impossible. Is freedom truly valuable enough to wreck the chance for Utopia over? I say yes, especially since that utopia is an empty promise. Like Bernard Marx in Brave New World or Alex in A Clockwork Orange (the brilliant book, not the obscene movie of the same name), most people do hunger for freedom as well as bread, but like Esau selling his birthright for a meal, lost freedom cannot be easily regained. The Grand Inquisitor is wrong for Man does not live by bread alone.


Blogger Pasadena Closet Conservative said...

You're right on, buddy.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Average American said...

Looks like every society has its free-loaders, even back then.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

shoprat: In the end, freedom is the only God given right that allows us to accept or reject the claims of the Biblical Jesus.

Freedom is the only "abstract" worth fighting for, because without it, true love, true caring and a host of other things are impossible.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

"Dostoevsky was watching the world today as he wrote this chapter..."

He was in a way because he was very aware of Marx's "Christianity without Christ" communism.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

Right on, Shoprat. What really gets me are people who come into my posts and argue their points that Republicans are selfish by saying Jesus would want us to spread our wealth around. Good grief! I had two of them on yesterday's post. They simply do not understand that we do spread our wealth around... ourselves! We don't need Obama or anyone else doing it for us, and the Government already gets 20% of our income to "spread around". Their Obama donates a paltry 1% of his income to charity. WOW! Isn't that impressive? Sheesh!

11:02 AM  
Blogger The Practicalist said...

If I took 30% of my daughter's babysitting money to divide between her sisters, how likely would she be to share anything with them. On the other hand, were she to keep it all, I think I would see a greater, and more benevolent, "spreading of the wealth." Furthermore, her sisters would appreciate it, and not expect it.

Great post... again!

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The more I read, the more convinced I am that mankind has not changed in the past 5,000 years. When you read about any ancient society, you see similarities with out own. There was nothing that excited a citizen of Rome quite so much as a dishonest politician, because invariably, the citizens would benefit personally from bribes and special dispensations. Of course, it is also true that much suffering fell upon the citizens of Rome; I wonder if there is a correlation. As usual, a thought provoking essay.

Semper Fi

3:13 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."

-George Bernard Shaw, 'Everybody's Political What's What?' (1944) ch. 30 Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 - 1950)

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my fave stories. Thanks for sharing it. The kiss at the end... as prophetic as the original kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane... ;-)

9:40 AM  

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