The Grand Inquisitor

The Grand Inquisitor: The Role of Religion

The Grand Inquisitor

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

- John Milton

The questions proposed in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor challenge the very essence of human existence. The idea of freedom is examined and described through a bleak, contemptuous perspective. In the Grand Inquisitor, one of humanity's most protected and beloved ideals is illustrated as a destructive force that has plunged mankind into a state of anguish and disorder. From one angle, the story can be perceived as an attack on God and religion but closer examination reveals the opposite conclusion: The Grand Inquisitor is an explanation for the vital necessity of one religious institution.

The context in which the story occurs is shocking: God visits earth in human form, performs a few miracles, and as is promptly locked in a jail cell by a flesh and blood man who proceeds to admonish God for giving mankind free will. The tale is not given to us directly. Ivan tells the story to his brother, Alyosha, with interruptions and elaborations sprinkled throughout. It is clear from the beginning that Alyosha is a religious man while Ivan has adopted a more cynical position. The first exchange that occurs...

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