"The Grand Inquisitor" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a chapter from the book The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of the greatest writers in history. His masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, is a philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia that covers themes of morality, free will, and God. In this episode, we discuss one of the chapters of this book titled “The Grand Inquisitor.”
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This chapter is a poem that one of the characters Ivan recites for his brother Alexei. In the poem, Jesus Christ returns to Earth during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Amidst the burning bodies, Christ begins performing miracles. The crowd recognizes him and begins worshipping him, but the Grand Inquisitor sees him and orders his guards to take Christ to a dungeon. The rest of the chapter is a one way dialogue between the Grand Inquisitor and Christ.
During the dialogue, the Grand Inquisitor chastizes Christ for denying the three temptations of Satan, and for giving his followers free will. His argument is that, because Christ gave his followers free will, the church now has to show miracle, mystery, and authority to enforce belief in him.
What we get from this dialogue is an understanding that freedom is not easy. It requires responsibility, action, and the ability to think. This is why human beings have willingly surrendered their freedom throughout history. Many find it far more comfortable to live with an authoritarian dictator running your life for you.
It also highlights the temptations we face in our own lives to submit to dictatorial rule, whether that be from governments or by submitting to our own hedonistic desires.
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