Arguments for the belief and existence of God are, all too often, ontological endeavours that eventually run aground by predominant worldviews or other such complexities. In the history of philosophy, we rarely witness the adoration of a particular belief that comes without the hidden intention of persuading others into accepting, or being persuaded by, an argument for God’s existence. However, in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky provides arguments for both theistic and atheistic views.
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For Dostoevsky it seems that these views are not only comparable in the traditional metaphysical sense, but they are comparable in the existential sense as well. This of course suggests that it is possible to believe in God while at the same time believing that God does not exist, in the strict sense of the word. By contrasting the views of two characters, Dostoevsky advances a number of complex moral and philosophical discussions about the existence of God.
On the one hand, he characterizes Ivan is a metaphysical theist who, at the same time, maintains a view consistent with existential atheism. On the other hand, he characterizes Zosima as both a metaphysical and existential theist. In effect, the novel is an exploration of religious faith. Thus in the following essay I shall maintain that Ivan presents a much stronger position than Zosima, seeing as he accurately depicts the pragmatic reasoning among those who have unjustifiably endured suffering.
In order to substantiate my claim it is only appropriate that I lay out my method of approach for the reader. With this in mind, I shall first offer my interpretation of what views Dostoevsky’s characters represent. Next, I shall explain the arguments presented by Ivan and Zosima, as I understand them.
Following this, will be a discussion on the theoretical and practical advantages and disadvantages of each view. After weighing the theoretical and practical aptitude of each view, I shall determine which one is more likely than the other is. I will argue that the view held by Ivan is much stronger and more likely than the one, which is held by Zosima.
Dostoevsky begins his exploration of religious faith with a conversation between Ivan and his younger brother Alyosha, in a local tavern. Their discussion initially concerns matters of love however it eventually turns to questions about the existence of God. Throughout their conversation, it becomes clear that Ivan operates only on principles of logic, necessitating rational explanations for everything including the existence of God.
For instance, Ivan maintains that he “accept[s] God pure and simple” (Dostoevsky 235). However Ivan also concludes that it is impossible to understand anything about God, because “if God exists and if he indeed created the earth, then…he created it in accordance with Euclidean geometry, and he created human reason with a conception of only three dimensions of space” (Dostoevsky 235).
Ivan maintains that the world is unjust and, therefore, he cannot accept God’s world if it allows the continuation of evils such as the suffering of children. He argues that if that is the price we have to pay harmony to prevail in our society, then the price is too high. This argument stretches to his denial of Christianity as he blend it with the suffering that children sometimes undergo even when they have not committed any sin or for inexplicable reasons.
In addition, his desires to look for solution to the human sufferings that are separate from God strengthen his argument of denying God’s world. It is clear that the condition that human creature pass through which are characterized by torture, suffering, wickedness and even death with the promise of a happy end makes it hard for Ivan to accept God’s world.
Moreover, if the character of God is; just and loving, then why should people who are innocent suffer for no apparent cause? This question to Ivan serves as the genesis of his disconnection with God’s world. For him it contravenes logic for human to live in a world that was created by God who is just and loving, yet they undergo needless suffering and unjust conditions.
Furthermore, Ivan blames God for misery and downfall of humanity through freedom of choice. He argues that the freedom of choice that God gave humanity is less preferred to human stability and peace, and that the source of human happiness is through enslavement. The freedom of choice that humans was given is seen by Ivan as a burden, and an avenue of increasing temptations.
Ideally, the argument of Ivan can be summed up to represent a position implies that everything including environment degradation, nuclear warfare, suicide of mankind and parricide are allowed provided that it can be justified by utility and reason.
Zosima placed the argument that Jesus was crucified and died for the sake of sins that were befalling humanity. As a result, the suffering that humans are experiencing is a responsibility of all humanity. In addition, the suffering that people undergo is not individual triggered with a motive, and that Christianity is not founded on the suffering that innocent people undergo, but on faith.
Again, the choice of Christianity is based on free will and brotherly love. He further maintained that the presence of God’s love improves humanity. Moreover, the sufferings that prevail in the world can only be alleviated by strongly accepting the tenants of Christianity.
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Zosima depicts the God’s world as one with comfort and individuals can get peace and rest if they accept to live in the God’s world. He talks of the God’s world as the “paradise” where the earthly sufferings will be far gone and forgotten. The world that he believes in implies mutual understanding and responsibility and as such, his believe on the earth as an interlinked ecological system is a reality that may guarantee human survival in the world.
Through his teachings on individual responsibility as well as the sanctity of the environment, he creates a picture that the world we live in is our own and that everything that happens is humanity responsibility. The creator cannot be responsible for our suffering that occurs because of humanity actions.
Zosima’s position did not influence Ivan’s argument. This is evident by his rebellious nature until the end, which is expounded by him remaining faithless and navigating through traumatic event without embracing spiritual guidance. He suffers the torture of his guilt after the death of his father, but even with all these anguish and suffering he refuses to accept Christianity and it eventually resulted to him becoming insane.
The justification given by Zosima in relation to the goodness of God’s world did not provide any solution to the opinion, which Ivan maintained, that Christianity is a source of human suffering, and a vessel for the wealthy to take advantage and torture the weak and poor. Ivan constantly wrestle and try to establish the logic behind human suffering and in many a times attempt to rationalize God.
Throughout his entire life, Ivan maintains his pragmatic thinking in relation to the existence of God, in addition he tries to justify that the only way in which human beings can be happy is through enslavement, and that freedom of choice will create a burden among humans since they have a minimal tendency of choosing right from wrong.
Zosima maintains personalise ethics which requires everyone to be responsible of the situation of the world and his fellow-men, as such his position requires everyone to be fully responsible for all men and everything on earth. The demand for “sobornost” by Zosima as opposed to isolation and individualism insists and strengthen the need for brother love as a foundation of communal life. He disputed individual and isolated efforts and championed for overall human solidarity as the source of individual security.
Moreover, he maintained that paradise is embodied in every individual as a state which is potentially spiritual and founded on an attitude of forgiveness and humility. As such, any sin committed by human beings will be forgiven eventually, it is only necessary for an individual to wish, the paradise will be true, and it will dwell in the life of the individual for eternity.
The other proposition that postulates Zosima’s utopian thinking and idealistic position is founded in his assertion that the world can be converted into a earthly paradise. He holds that the paradisiacal nature of God’s creation has been hidden from our naked eyes by prejudices and various misconceptions.
This reality can only be visible if we open our eyes properly. The other concept of idealism and utopian nature concerns the future world. As such, he tries to create a world of harmony as predestined by God. The understanding of the world by Zosima is similar with what other people believe as an ecological system that is interlinked, a faint balance of forces as well as counterforces where the existing factors influence each other.
This forms the other utopian in Zosima’s teachings. Furthermore, Zosima proclaims the second rebirth of mankind in a moment of intuitively-felt, intense union with life, as well as nature. This is evident after his earlier life of dissipation where he engaged in debauchery, drunkenness and daredeviling, but eventually, he managed to start a new life that is Christ centered.
Ivan’s position is much stronger and more pragmatic, in the sense that it is the most likely course of action for individuals who innocently endure suffering. People suffer yet everybody is quiet on looking for solutions that can alleviate human suffering. Seeking of world harmony through Christian faith is not sufficient; this is because it promises a peaceful and comfortable end while individuals have to undergo situations and live in a world that is a “vale tears”, full of suffering, a place of torture and temptations.
Moreover, the argument put forward by Ivan provides an emphatic denial of the suffering that is experienced by innocent people without any justifiable reason.
As such, humanity is characterised by imperfection and has got too much flaws, therefore, it is difficult for it to choose what is right from wrong. Consequently, in the light of this argument the church should be vested with the prerogative to decide on issues that concerns with faith and morality for humanity. In doing so, it means that humanity freedom has been extinguished; nonetheless a different world will emerge that is better and free from evils.
Human beings would use the evils to otherwise impose upon one another. To create a situation like these does not require the use of force since humanity will be willing to sacrifice their freedoms for the sake of peace and stability. As a matter of fact, individuals would preferred less of a Christian or moral lifestyle for a life of depravity and hedonism if they are left with the freedom of choice.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov: Excerpts. New York: The Modern Library, 1995.