The legend of “The Grand Inquisitor” in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov incites many of my disturbing questions about religion. When the two long-separated brothers appeared to tackle their most hidden motives, I was partly one with the older brother Ivan in interrogating the teachings of religion, especially in portraying the Cardinal as a major reason to condemn religion for the futility of stopping sadomasochistic relationships among human beings. On the other hand, a part of me helplessly comprises the devotion of the younger Alyosha, whose Christian virtues of meekness, hope and humility make him willingly agree to the mysteries of religion rather than the reasonable explanation of it. Reading the legend, I came to think: what is ideal for us humans, the best things based on our human necessities and desires, or spiritual beliefs promoting human freedom but guaranteeing human failures and desperation? It seems to me that the Cardinal is this world’s highest judge who appropriates religion to the humanity’s desires and needs. The Cardinal sees happiness as the ultimate goal of individuals, and is critical of God for challenging instead of comforting humans. Jesus Christ is his quiet respondent, and his return to this world is aimed at discovering what religious system has created for his dogmas. As it is, Jesus does not counter-argue the Grand Inquisitor’s criticisms of religion. The Grand Inquisitor’s regard for freedom as a human burden jolts me out of complacency. Indeed, it seems humans are condemned to be free. As may be gleaned from the average Filipino’s definition of democracy, freedom is doing something at one’s full liberty. As the case has turned dismal, we are worse than free. Freedom, although a gift from God, has surpassed our capacity to optimize it. It demands so much, as in our ability to decide what is good and evil, to obey or disobey God, to resist or succumb to temptations of all sorts, from material to religious. The legend has shown that freedom is too much to afford because humans may be segregated into those who can effectively handle this gift from God, and those who cannot. By presenting the positive and the negative sides of freedom, “The Grand Inquisitor” has challenged me into finding out the point at which God’s will and free will meet.
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