The Grand Inquisitor by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 1
The Grand Inquisitor is the name of one chapter within Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” Let me start by saying that “The Brothers Karamazov” is a spiritual must-read. It is one of the finest depictions of fundamental spiritual struggle ever depicted in a novel format, in my opinion. Sure there are a tremendous number of fine books on spirituality but very few in a novel format and very few that cover spirituality in a way that virtually everyone can relate to. If you have your own favorite spiritual novel please leave them in the comment section.
“The Brothers Karamazov” depicts the lives of a few brothers who are each struggling with the deeper questions about life, death and God in their own different ways. It is worth reading if only for the opportunity to see which of the brothers’ positions, opinions and decisions you most identify with. Being a deeply Russian novel it also assumes that the question of religion is a fundamental one to any human being of any real mental capacity who is seeking to be happy and fulfilled. Having been educated in the US I can honestly say that I wasn’t taught this truth; that is, my education gave me the opportunity of considering my life without struggling with the question of religion. I was taught, more or less, that I could consider myself above the question of religion and pursue happiness and fulfillment without it. I am not proposing that this is right or wrong but I did miss out (for a short time during my education) on the struggle with the issues that “The Brothers Karamazov” depict so well.
I do believe that every human who is interested in happiness and fulfillment in life (a type that is lasting and stable) needs to at least consider the questions of religion and God as the characters in “The Brothers Karamazov” do. And these two are not the same question. The question of religion and the question of God are connected, of course, but they are not the same. This is another point that Dostoevsky’s novel makes wonderfully clear.
“The Grand Inquisitor” is so well written and so poignant that it has been isolated from the larger novel and published separately. This is somewhat of a mistake however. “The Grand Inquisitor” covers the question of religion really well but it is the previous chapter, “Rebellion” that is equally important because it covers the question of the existence of God. To read “The Grand Inquisitor” alone is like examining only one side of an ancient coin in order to determine its origin. It can be done but it is much easier to look at the other side as well.
The following series of posts will cover these two chapters and their issues. If you are interested in pre-reading these chapters, the whole book is available on Kindle for 1 Dollar, and of course, it is available in every library. It is also available in PDF on the web for free from Project Gutenburg https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28054/28054-pdf.pdf
Don’t be afraid to jump right to the two chapters, 4 & 5, “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor.” I am betting you will eventually want to return and read the whole book but you can do so later. Chapter 4 & 5 won’t spoil that.
To give you a little background so you can go right to Chapter 4: you will be reading a discussion between 2 of the 3 brothers Karamazov, Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan is a deep thinker and is going through a painful emotional breakdown of sorts that is entirely interior-oriented. He will be explaining his position on God and religion to Alyosha in chapters 4 & 5, respectively. Alyosha is a deeply faithful, gentle, monk-type within the Catholic church who is currently under the guidance of a well-known christian holy man. The third brother, who you won’t meet in chapter 4 or 5, named Dimitri, is a man of intense action without the introspection or the faith and is causing a family crisis that brings the other two brothers together and forces them to open up to the others’ point of view on God and religion.
So in the next post in this series I will discuss Ivan’s position on the existence of God, as per “Rebellion,” and following that I will engage his position on religion as per “The Grand Inquisitor.” I hope you can follow along and see which of Ivan’s points you share and which you have never even been taught to think about intentionally.