Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov excerpt “The Grand Inquisitor”
This excerpt is the most beautiful thing I have read all semester. It challenges my faith in systems that will help people live better lives and also my lack of faith in humanity.
The grand inquisitor made the case that Jesus gave people freedom. He and his church “vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy.” The church was a system that imposed upon people how they should act. I can identify with this situation from my past in the conservative evangelical tradition. It is much like a club; the initiation is accepting Jesus into your heart to forgive all your sins. From there rank is determined by actions, if I read the bible everyday plus 7, but if I smoke after church minus 10. Once you get to 100 points you can become a leader. Beauty and money are also big points. Not all conservative evangelicals are like this; in fact I would say this is conservative evangelicals at their worst. This was my underlying experience, it was never verbalized, but actions speak louder than words. The words that were being spoken were grace, and acceptance. But what wasn’t said was how much the grace and acceptance made you a better Christian was what made you eligible for leadership. The kind of control is much like our secular society; if you want to be successful this is what you will look like. This still allowed for questions though.
The questions that disillusioned me were: Why are there so many poor people and why are there rich Christians? At the time the question was phrased more like how can I get rich while there are so many poor people. This was only a problem because Jesus made it one. If the was a verse that would have solved that dilemma for me I would have been in business school instead of aid work. The second major question was: why is my theology based on 20 verses of the Bible? What would happen if, instead of John 3:16, the verse to memorize was Matthew 25 (the chapter puts serving the poor and destitute as the criteria for entering heaven)?
The Grand Inquisitor was saying that people have given up the freedom that Jesus gave them to be part of the Jesus club and the church set up the Jesus club because they loved humanity. They were scared by the fact that there is no longer any hierarchy. No one but Jesus has the authority to tell me whether smoking is right or wrong (I don’t think Jesus would waste his time with smoking, but I use it as a simple example). I think that we have forgotten that there is no competition for position.
Then there is the kiss. After the Grand Inquisitor’s speech on how Jesus could have saved the world by not leaving room for doubt, Jesus just leaned over and kissed the Grand Inquisitor on the lips. This was Jesus saying that I love you and I will always love you enough to give you the freedom you so despise.
The next big question is what is freedom, and how does Jesus give it to me? Freedom is the ability to choose between two options. Jesus desired that freedom for us so that we will choose him, and also decide what is right and what is wrong by “having only Thy image before him as his guide.” Jesus provided a model of how to live, and then he gave us the freedom to reject it or to choose it. It is also a very incomplete model and one that is more of a life of reliance on him than following steps in a book. Following Jesus is a dialogue, not a to-do list.