Analysis of The Inquisitor's Argument in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
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Analysis of The Inquisitor's Argument in The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoevsky makes a strong case against Jesus in "The Grand Inquisitor": Jesus did not love humanity sufficiently to care for the greater good of the race.
The majority of people, according to the Grand Inquisitor, are weak and "like sheep." Jesus prized freedom of faith above all else, and because he cared more for that freedom than for the happiness of people, the Grand Inquisitor and the Catholic Church, as led by he Inquisitor, reject Jesus. Only the strong, like the Inquisitor, who can "go the forty days and nights in the desert," are capable of attaining the reward of Heaven, while the weak millions, "who are weak but still love Thee... must exist for the sake of the strong." The Inquisitor states that the reason the weak cannot take the narrow road to Heaven is that they are afraid of freedom, that "they can never be free." Trent Reznor of the musical group Nine Inch Nails summarized the Inquisitor's view of humanity in "Happiness In Slavery." In the second verse, Reznor sings, "Slave screams! But he's glad to be chained to that wall!"
The central argument that the Grand Inquisitor makes involves the temptation of Jesus by the Devil in a desert. Satan poses Jesus three temptations, each of which would better the earthly lot of man but decrease his freedom, and Jesus rejects each. First, Satan says, "You must be hungry, turn these stones into bread and feed yourself and the people." Jesus says, "Man does not live by earthly bread alone." Jesus was not just refusing to assuage his hunger: by performing a miracle, he would have lessened man's freedom of faith. Satan was asking the same question, on the behalf of humanity, that Jame...
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...e harmful than any vice ("sin") is "active pity for all the failures and all the weak: Christianity."
An interesting test of the Inquisitor's view of freedom will come on this next election day. Our state senator, and many other people, claim that "we need more restrictive laws help fight crime in our neighborhoods" and that new laws will "assist our law enforcement officials... in their efforts to control the pornography industry." I don't intend to argue the pros or cons of more restrictive pornography laws, but one thing is certain: these laws will limit American’s freedom of speech. Will American’s give up some freedom for a possible payoff in lower crime? I think Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor would be interested in finding out.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Andrew MacAndrew. New York: Bantam, 1981.