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The Freedom Concept in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Novel the Grand Inquisitor

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Desires within our human existence vary amongst many individuals due to our predisposition and the way we were nurtured. Similar to how minds think alike yet differently, our desires are similar yet different, and we learn a lot about those who share those differences. Our desires are the compass that humans use to achieve happiness. Therefore, happiness is attained individually. Dostoevsky believes that the burden of sacrifice is too much for mankind which disrupts our happiness. How can a human be unhappy while having freedom if the other spectrum is oppression? The sacrifice that Dostoevsky discusses is a personal sacrifice to achieve our desires. This sacrifice is not a sacrifice of the burden, but it’s a sacrifice to attain the truths that our desires guide us to search for. Therefore, the burden of freedom is challenged by humans and sometimes willingly given up in order to attain other freedoms that lead us to certain truths, and inevitably, happiness.

The concept of freedom in The Grand Inquisitor is a theme depicted as a burden for humans to attain happiness. In many examples, Dostoevsky reasons with the reader that humans want to feel protected, and freedom does the opposite by giving too much responsibility to humans which can cause distress. In this way, humans give up freedom to attain happiness and protection. However, freedom may be given up in order to attain a more desirable kind of freedom that makes a person happier than before. Freedom gives humans the opportunity to fulfill their own predisposed or learned desires which will result in happiness. These desires to attain happiness aren’t universal in nature which Dostoevsky fails to acknowledge.

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The Inquisitor puts Christ on trial in the beginning of chapter 5. Christ, according to the Inquisitor, is the defender of freedom which burdens mankind by giving us too much control over our lives. We can become overwhelmed in finding out the truths to life or finding out how to live which are two daunting tasks for even the modern citizen. Therefore, the Inquisitor believes that being given the truths or maxims to live by releases our control over our life which causes a sacrifice to our freedom and in return, we are happy. I believe that the control we may relinquish isn’t in of itself a reason to say that we are happier by sacrificing freedom, since there is more to be gained than what is lost. For example, the Inquisitor says, “He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy” (24). This quote signifies the Church picking up the garbage (freedom) that Christ left to all humans. The Church gives people the themes to live life by and gives them a community to worship in. “People are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet” (24). The “us” means the Church which is another testimony to the argument that humans are happier giving up the freedom to find the truths to live by to the church. Are humans really willing to give up freedom of thought which may make us happier? Entirely not so, because there are certain pleasures in following the church to some as oppose to others. Yes, some people are born into a culture, whether family or not, that going to church is normal. But what is so normal about it? What if some humans go to church to feel welcomed with others in their community by trying to understand the collective study of God together? This inclusionary aspect that the church represents can be viewed as a freedom of loneliness. The Inquisitor would say otherwise in that, “The craving for community of worship is the chief misery of all mankind…for the sake of common worship, they’ve slain each other with the sword” (27). This idea that Dostoevsky includes in his novel is completely subjective, since the desires of mankind push each human to act in his or her way, and generalizing faith believers to those leaders that enacted the Inquisition and Crusades is narrow-minded. Each human is unique in that the combination of predisposition and learned desires separates him or her from other humans. Faith tries to bridge that gap by combining people with similar desires and philosophies that give happiness to each individual. Faith, as a way of thinking and not as an institution, is a personal goal for some and not for others. For example, some individuals aren’t brought up in a family that values faith. These families may value other maxims that may be similar to religion, without the formal inclusion to any particular group. Although these individuals sacrifice freedom of faith, this does not mean this sacrifice makes them anymore less happy, since they may find happiness through the search of life’s meaning without the involvement of the Church. In other words, are those that are living with the absence of faith any more burdened than those who follow the church? Who are we to question these people? By all we know, a person of faith may have sacrificed just as much freedom by following the church as those that follow a different truth or desire pushed by his or her disposition.

Then the Inquisitor challenges Jesus as the one who has burdened mankind. Jesus has done this by denying the temptations given to him by the devil, which could’ve eliminated the freedom that mankind faces today. The first temptation was to turn stones into bread so that Jesus’ hunger may be relinquished. Jesus refused and according to the Inquisitor, “He has given us fire from Heaven” (26). The fire that Jesus has supposedly given us is freedom which we should have in our life. As humans, freedom of choice is the freedom that separates us from the instinctual beasts in the wild. This freedom gives life worth, since we can choose how to live by following philosophies and maxims. If we were given bread, life would have been similar to that of the beasts in nature, since if everything is handed to us, we would not rely on our sense of reason to develop a meaningful, happy life. We reason with the truths we want to live by, and if reason wasn’t developed, we would not be human. Even, we may not have had the potential to be “happy” since our need for anything else but the homeostasis we would’ve been given would be abolished—we would not need or want to fulfil our desires that were given to us by God which were made possible by the freedom he gave us. For example, we have the freedom to live by one truth in life and change to another truth if our disposition allows us to understand more meaning in the latter truth. If our life has more meaning, we are happy which is caused by that freedom of choice.

Jesus then is tempted a second time to cast himself down from the temple, and give humanity a miracle to worship, since he should be saved by the angels of God. The Inquisitor says that Jesus, after refusing, has given mankind a burden to not worship blindly and to “cling only to the free verdict of the heart” (29). This “free verdict” is represented as a leap of faith into the arms of Jesus when one is at his or her most agonizing moments in life. The Inquisitor is skeptical of the power of faith in the absence of truth. However, that’s why religion is called a “faith” since a faith is a leap into the arms of the unknown. Is it then right to say that without Jesus’ refusal of this temptation, that mankind would’ve been handed a miracle which gives us a truth to live by, therefore eliminating our freedom? We would then feel more protected, yet less human. So how can’t mankind be happy with having faith in God, yet not necessary proof of his divinity? Without faith, truths would be certain. There will not be multiple religions, but there would be one and the “right one.” If there is one religion that everyone can believe in because Jesus cast himself off the temple, how can humanity be happy if our truths were shared with everyone; we would not be unique, we would be all the same because there is no wrong and only right, so life would be a straight line for every human. The freedom of faith allows humans to access their inner thoughts and feelings about the world around us. This creates a world of great differences that can appeal to everyone who were nurtured or predisposed to certain desires. Wouldn’t the world be two-dimensional in concept if our desires were all the same? The deadlock for human greatness that may have come from Jesus casting himself off the temple is an unfathomable tragedy that could’ve been our world today.

The last temptation is to worship the devil and everything will be given to Jesus and mankind. This refusal has caused the creations of churches and their need to clean up the mess of freedom left behind from Jesus. As stated earlier, the churches give humans the capacity to sacrifice freedom in order to attain security of thought. If the desires of our disposition are fulfilled by following the church, the sacrifice of the freedom that the Inquisitor mentions isn’t the sole purpose to human happiness. Human happiness within the church is granted by the similar truths it preaches along with the community that share the desire to live these truths. Humans are rational by nature and would not be oppressed by an institution to flee a burden that can be overcome. This burden of freedom may be daunting to undertake, but the desires that we learn to fulfil in our lives make humans happy enough to challenge the possibility of finding more truths that were not conceived before. The desires of our existence are ours to fulfil and God’s to give.


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