Ivan Karamazov and “The Grand Inquisitor”
In understanding “The Grand Inquisitor” and chapters taken from The Brothers Karamazov, the heart of Ivan’s search is a philosophical question: if God is almighty, why would God allow people to suffer? While this line of questioning can be seen as attacking faith by asking why God punishes people, it opens the door to understanding that faith requires willingness. Ivan Karamazov’s rejection of secular and Westernized faith can also be seen as the failed struggle of trying to find a God he can believe in. Ivan says he wants to get to know his estranged brother Alyosha (Dostoevsky, 1993, p. 1), but Ivan is lost and faithless, primarily because Ivan is unwilling to believe in God when he sees so much suffering in the world. Aloysha cuts to the heart of the estrangement between the two of them when he asks Ivan how he can love without having God in his heart (Dostoevsky, 1993, pp. 36-37).
This sense of Ivan’s lack of faith, therefore, explains the balance between the Roman Catholic sense of happiness and well-being and the Protestant sense of individual freedom and dignity: Ivan is trying to find a truth that he is willing to accept. He is trying to come to believe and his struggle is between faith and doubt. The clearest way to understand Ivan’s doubt is to see that he is using logic to examine the evidence of God, but he is doing it in a despairing and skeptical fashion that rejects God because it rejects crimes that are perpetrated by humans. Dostoevsky, clearly, is using Ivan to represent the dismissal of religion and God, especially in terms of how Ivan does not believe that faith can be reasonable or logical.
In many ways Ivan’s story feels like it is preaching or a type of parable. Ivan is putting forth his own principles and beliefs and the only reason that it is not a one-sided argument is because Alyosha is present for the conversation and occasionally interjects. What Ivan presents is not definitive and requires personal reflection from the reader, but there is the clear sense that God cannot exist because an all-powerful being would not allow evil and suffering to exist. The Protestant Church is examined in terms individual freedom and dignity, primarily represented by the idea of people having free will. The Roman Catholic Church is considered in terms of being about happiness and well-being, primarily represented by how people are protected when they submit to authority.
An easy way to see how Ivan explores these concepts involves Christ being focused on how human beings can choose between right and wrong and how the Grand Inquisitor sees righteousness in following a stable path. It is the difference between choosing right from wrong and just blindly submitting to what others say is right. An example of how this is present in the two different faiths is that the Roman Catholic Church remained much more focused on having the word of God handed down from priests, while Protestants challenged the authority of scripture being handed down from the Pope.
Ivan, while refuting God, still seems to present an affinity with the Grand Inquisitor’s views. Ivan bases much of his argument on there being a righteous path. The Grand Inquisitor presents the three ideas of “miracle, mystery, and authority” as ways to restrain or tame free will. Christ is, instead, coming from the Protestant perspective. Ivan represents the Roman Catholic Church as a faith built on submission that then leads to happiness and well-being. The Protestant Church is represented by individual freedom and dignity because Christ believes in forgiveness and sees human beings as able to choose right from wrong in the name of people standing up for their faith, not unlike Martin Luther leading the Protestant Reformation. In Ivan’s construction of these ideas, the Protestant Church is truly about “protest” against the rigid submission of Roman Catholicism, but Ivan seems to favor...
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