My current literary effort is to re-read The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Of the literary classics I had to read in high school, this one was probably my favorite. However, it’s not light reading, so I have picked it up a number of times since then without much success. This time, I’m about 300 pages in, so maybe I’ll finish it. I’m happy it was assigned in high school, but like so many other books of this caliber, a lot of it was wasted on a 17 year old.
I am, however, at a point in the book that decidedly was not wasted on me when I was a kid. One of the characters, Ivan, spoke about how the young have to wrestle with the great, momentous issues — the existence of God, the meaning of life, etc. Once you’ve aged, it’s apparently easier to focus on the more mundane problems of making things work here on earth. In the book, I am in the middle of Ivan’s lunch conversation with his brother Alyosha: The Grand Inquisitor and the conversation leading up to that conversation. The Grand Inquisitor is a story that Ivan shares with Alyosha about Jesus coming back to earth, briefly, much to the consternation of The Grand Inquisitor at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.
During the conversation leading up to The Grand Inquisitor, Ivan shares some items in a catalog of horror stories he has collected wherein adults torture innocent children. He describes a lord who sets a pack of hunting dogs on an eight year old because the boy accidentally hurt the lord’s favorite hunting dog. He describes rampaging Turks who like to torture children in front of their parents. And, he describes “disciplinarian” parents who beat their daughter half to death, then throw her in the outhouse to cry it out, crying in particular to “sweet, gentle Jesus.” Ivan then goes on to posit that, maybe in the end God’s plan will become evident to all. Everybody will be in harmony and will finally understand why all the pain was necessary. Consequently, all will be forgiven. The mother of the boy killed by the Lord’s hounds will forgive the Lord, etc.
But, Ivan asks Alyosha (his spiritual brother), if Alyosha was creating a world where all could be perfect, but first Alyosha would have to torture the girl and allow her to cry out in the stinking, freezing outhouse to sweet, gentle Jesus, could he possibly use the girl’s tears as the foundation to his master plan? Alyosha allows as how he could not do it.
The subject of original sin comes up somewhere during this discussion. And, I recall reading the book in high school, becoming even more pissed off at the theologians who conjured up original sin as justification for the existence of the suffering of innocents and an excuse for them to go to hell absent proper clerical intervention.
Next up, as I mentioned, is The Grand Inquisitor. Perhaps I will have more to say on that later. But, generally, it tells a story of the Grand Inquisitor lecturing Christ for his refusal of the Devil and his three temptations in the desert – the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to cast Himself from the Temple and be saved by the angels, and the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. By giving people freedom instead of the various types of security offered by these things, Christ has chosen poorly. Fortunately, in the opinion of the Inquisitor, the Church has come along and provided the appropriate types of security. For the moment, it occurs to me that we have recently seen the temptation of people to reject freedom in favor of the illusion of security under “strong” leadership. This is not a new thing. Freedom is hard.
A last concept I’ll mention from the book is Fyodor Karamazov’s statement that he never hated anybody for what they had done to him. He always hated them for something outrageous he himself had done to them. Once he had done something to them of which he was ashamed, he’d make up reasons to hate them and continue to treat them horribly.