The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

originally published in the Russian Messenger from 1879-1880

The Brothers Karamazov - A plaidoyer for spirituality.


Fyodor Dostoevsky

A brilliant mind the caliber of Friedrich Nietzsche.

As an author of novels he had different tools at hand than Nietzsche. Perhaps it is more appropriate for an artist to reap on the edge between the known and the unknown. It is certainly better to appeal to a broader audience. Both Nietzsche and Dostoewski predicted decades before the facts what will happen when we have to declare God dead: The atrocities of the 20th century. Ideologies like in Nazi-Germany and Soviet-Russia ursurpating the responsibility of the individual for the question what is right and wrong.

Today we still face the same problem, ideologies are out to lift individual responsibility "only" demanding to be in line with the narrative. That explains the paradoxical situation how virtue signalers can be utmost hateful and appalingly rigid when cancelling others. The question of right or wrong was exchanged by inline with the ideologie's narrative.


The remedy is the same as in 1880: Spirituality.


Bring back the individual responsibilty. It can however does not have to be religion. It might be discussed whether the rational atheist are right in demanding to exclude religion at all. Seeing the point and agreeing as far as dogmatism is involved it is to harsh of a verdict. Reformation is necessary yes, but why discard ancient wisdom? And, there still remains Hume's ought/is problem. We simply can't derive moral values from scientific fact. It is a different realm alltogether. Let's settle on spirituality and the necessity of bringing back values that are inrtinsic to human beings. Truth seems to be a good starter.


The Brothers Karamazov


Most impressive to me is the relevance the novel still has today. The emphasiz on the role of religion in society has probably changed the need for spirituality stayed the same.


Dostoevsky lets the Father Zossima an elder at a monastery declare:


That is my view of the monk, and is it false? Is it too proud? Look at the worldly and all who set themselves up above the people of God; has not God's image and His truth been distorted in them? They have science; but in science there is nothing but what is the object of sense. The spiritual world, the higher part of man's being is rejected altogether, dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with hatred. The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:

"You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don't be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires." That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their wants. They maintain that the world is getting more and more united, more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes distance and sets thoughts flying through the air.

Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima, Book VI , Chapter 3


It appears to me that the isolation of today may not be caused primarily by technological gadgets allthough the influence is indisputable. When the situation was exactly the same in 1880 when there were no smartphones or tablets and internet, not even radio and TV the lack of spirituality seems to be the prime reason for it.



Dostoewski lets the brothers Ivan (the modern progressive) and Alexey (the religious) have discussions about faith:


"Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket."

"That's rebellion," murmered Alyosha, looking down.

Ivan and Alyosha, Book V - Pro and Contra, Chapter 4 - Rebellion.

But hesitation, anxiety, the struggle between belief and disbelief—all that is sometimes such a torment for a conscientious man like yourself, that it's better to hang oneself. . . . I'm leading you alternately between belief and disbelief, and I have my own purpose in doing so. A new method, sir: when you've completely lost faith in me, then you'll immediately start convincing me to my face that I am not a dream but a reality—I know you know; and then my goal will be achieved. And it is a noble goal. I will sow a just a tiny seed of faith in you, and from it an oak will grow—and such an oak that you, sitting in that oak, will want to join 'the desert fathers and the blameless women'; because secretly you want that ver-ry, ver-ry much.

Taunt delivered by the devil that visits Ivan, Book XI - Ivan, Chapter 9 - The Third, and Final, Visit to Smerdyakov.


There was an old sinner in the eighteenth century who declared that, if there was no God, he would have to be invented. S'il n'existait pas Dieu, il faudrait l'inventer. And man has actually invented God. And what's strange, what would be marvelous, is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man. So holy it is, so touching, so wise and so great a credit it does to man. As for me, I've long resolved not to think whether man created God or God man.

Ivan to Alyosha, Book V - Pro and Contra, Chapter 3 - The Brothers Make Friends.


As intersting it is to follow the discussion and all the critique on religion the bottom line is a biologilcal grounded intrinsic need for spirituality in humans. A sense of fairness is built in us by evolution, we are not "blank slates". Wether you call that blueprint of values God or not does not matter. Values like truth and fairness are universally distributed in humans and should find their way back to our consciousness. In meditation it happens by itself thus it seems to be the easiest route to success. The individual wins for his life and society wins at the same time.


At a point in human history when individuals might annihilate the world by pushing a button we should revisit the necessity of moral action.

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If you like to find out more about my take on spirituality go ahead and check out my ebook SPIRITUAL PUNK