Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Early in the novel, Dmitri declares that God and the devil are at war, and their battlefield is the heart of man. In The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevski sought to depict the battle between God and the devil, good and evil, faith and doubt, in vivid and eminently human terms. In one corner stands Ivan Karamazov, who offers wrenching examples of the senseless cruelty inflicted upon innocent children and uses these examples to cast doubt on the concept that the Christian God is all-good if he is all-powerful. Ivan’s posture of corrosive doubt casts a pall on the other characters, and his denial of the notion of immortality and divine justice encourages Smerdyakov in his conviction that he can kill with impunity.
Significantly, Dostoevski does not try to rebut Ivan’s attack on the righteousness of God’s universe through direct argumentation. Instead, he deploys a series of indirect arguments to present a different view of God’s world and the potential for human goodness latent within it. To begin, he introduces the Russian Orthodox monk Zosima, a kind and compassionate man who preaches a doctrine of active love and personal responsibility for the well-being of others. Not only are Zosima’s teachings presented in an extended conversation recorded by Alyosha, but the monk is also shown at work among the people, putting into practice what he preaches. His active selflessness contrasts distinctly with Ivan’s passive and egocentric peroration....
(The entire section is 313 words.)
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God and Religion
The central theme of the book is the question of God's existence and the role of religion in modern society. At the time he wrote Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky was deeply religious and felt that the only true religion was Russian Orthodoxy. Even so, the question of God's existence bothered him to the day he died. In the novel, he employs the narrative technique of two inset works—an article and a story within the novel—in order to debate religious concerns. The former is Ivan's article on the position of ecclesiastical courts, and the latter is Ivan's philosophical essay featuring the Grand Inquisitor.
With the story of the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan doubts the existence of God. Presented as a debate in which the Grand Inquisitor condemns Christ for propagating the belief that man has the choice between good and evil, the essay reflects on redemption, the conflict between intellect and faith, and the role of evil in Christianity. If one is a Christian, one becomes consumed with questions, such as if God is all-powerful and good, why do children suffer as in Dmitri's nightmare?
Alyosha exemplifies the idea that the answers do not matter. He views a belief in God as a way to spread love. Thus, Alyosha is a man of action, a realist working within the system, while Ivan is paralyzed by doubt and fear.
The questions are not decided by the end of the novel. Still, there are definite...
(The entire section is 596 words.)
This novel arose largely from the material in A Writer's Diary (or The Diary of a Writer, 1876-1877, 1880-1881), where Dostoevsky reveals his philosophical and religious concerns. One of these was the proper relationship of man to God. In the same letter in which he declares that personal immortality and God are the same thing, Dostoevsky asks, "If there is no immortality, I need but live out my appointed day, and let the rest go hang . . . . Why am I to live decently and do good, if I die irrevocably here below?" This troubling thought informs Ivan's philosophy. Near the beginning of the text, in Book Two, aptly entitled "An Unfortunate Gathering," Ivan admits (in the presence of his family, the older Zossima, an acquaintance, and several monks—the meeting is at a monastery; another aspect of Dostoevsky's research involved visits to a monastery to learn more about life in such an establishment) that he has stated openly that morality and even love depend entirely on the fact that "men have believed in immortality." The corollary to this assertion is that, if that faith were destroyed," not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful." When Zossima asks whether Ivan really means what he seems to be saying, the young scholar responds," Yes that was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality."
(The entire section is 1734 words.)