Religion And Faith In Tolstoy’s ‘the Forged Coupon’ And Dostoevsky’s ‘the Grand Inquisitor’
The works of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky have prompted a continuous comparative criticism that delves into the different themes they have demonstrated in their different literary pieces. The reasons for constant comparison are extensive, including fostering a better understanding of their work and presenting the distinctive condition of providing the perspectives of the two great authors. They shared physical proximity, specifically geographically and temporally.
This would become evident how the theme of religion and faith has been depicted in Tolstoy’s ‘the Forged Coupon’ And Dostoevsky’s ‘the Grand Inquisitor.’ In ‘the Forged Coupon,’ Tolstoy considers faith a pure value while religion is a man-made thing invented to control human beings while accumulating wealth and power. Therefore, Tolstoy rejected the hypocrisy in organized religion in this work and asserted that the Gospel provides the right values by which human beings should live. In ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’ Dostoevsky approaches faith and religion with logic and reasoning to examine the possibility of God. He asserts that the meaning that human beings have put in the name of God and the product which the religion has come from their creation of God is primarily a way in which human beings strive for a common objective experience with other human beings during a subjective life. Notably, Tolstoy’s ‘the Forged Coupon’ And Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor depict how distinct religion and faith are, especially through the objectives they tend to be focused on attaining.
The Theme Of Religion And Faith In Tolstoy’s ‘the Forged Coupon’ And Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor’
In these literary pieces, the two authors depict the hypocritical nature of religion that is primarily focused on attaining the objectives of respective leaders. Tolstoy acknowledged that the despotic Greek Church is characterized by cumbrous ritual and dogma. This orthodox state religion prompted that author towards his impassioned protests against it that he even separated from the core of Christianity. This depiction of his perspective of religious leaders is depicted through Smokovnikov’s argument with Father Michael when he asserted, “Oh, cease your pretense to be religious! Oh, stop all this humbug of religion! As if I did not know that you believe neither in God nor Devil” (Tolstoy, 2011). This was a declaration that many freethinkers had towards what they understood as the main goal of religion: not to teach what has been written in the scriptures. Father Micheal was aware that he became very hurt by these words. Michael Vendesky was another character who had inner battles to believe in the creed that he learned and preached from the pulpit. When Maria informed Vendensky of what young Smokovnikov had done, he chose this to be an opportunity to demonstrate that failure to adhere to the pulpit teachings would only bring forth repercussions. As the story articulates, “Since that time the priest had decided to pay special attention to Smokovnikov’s son; and, finding him as indifferent to religious matters as his father was, he began to persecute him, and even brought about his failure in examinations” (Tolstoy, 2011). Despite his motive, he remained aware that he was doing this to avenge the proud atheist, Smokovnikov. Religious leaders in the book were working to give human beings being forced to believe in things they individually found hard to believe, illustrating the individuality of religious leaders.
A similar individual objective from religion is evident in Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor understood that the public needed to have a general belief in something. Due to the general uncertainties among these people, creating a God-like feature is to be created in human minds. Instantly, the Grand Inquisitor seized an opportunity for control as the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor told the prisoner on the undoubted submission of people to enslavement in exchange for being fed. The Cardinal asserts, “Christ has promised “heavenly bread,” but can this “compare with earthly bread?” What will become of those millions who do not have the strength to forego earthly bread for heavenly bread? The weak, the Cardinal says, are very dear to the Church. Though they are “depraved,” they will eventually become “obedient” (Dostoyevsky, 1879). The Cardinal uses the masses’ desperation, especially the poor, to align with this religious path. He tells Christ that he will be using the physical hunger these individuals have as a way of demanding their loyalty and devotion. He also emphasizes that the immediate nature of physical suffering is more palpable than any imagined form of spiritual suffering. The Cardinal is hence able to give the desperate people the idea of God, which is the institutional power of the Church that wishes for self-preservation and no focus on welcoming the Second Coming. To the Cardinal, the Second coming or rather the Savior’s reemergence was interference, and hence they will not work towards ensuring the believers are prepared for it. This preparation would mean emancipating the masses on how to live accordingly.
Notably, the two authors acknowledged that the right kind of faith existed at a higher form, which primarily battled with human beings’ consciousness. The authors wanted to depict a different kind of belief focused on upholding God’s teachings through their human deeds. In “The Grand Inquisitor,” the main character, the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor, relays his perspectives in faith and religion towards Jesus Christ. While he considered the latter an interference, Jesus Christ depicted an alternative view by not speaking a word. Rather. At the same time, the conversation ended; Christ kissed the Grand Inquisitor on the lips. This is seen in the line, “He [the Grand Inquisitor] saw that the Prisoner [Christ] had listened intently and quietly all the time, looking gently in his face and not wishing to reply. However bitter and terrible, the old man longed for Him to say something. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer.” (Dostoyevsky, 1879). this one kiss signified the view of Christ in faith. While the Cardinal felt no compassion towards the desperate population, Christ exemplified his faith in every person through the unconditional love kiss. Jesus showed that there was no need for controlling the masses, considering that human beings have very strong minds that could decide to make conscious right minds guided by the basic emotion of love. It becomes evident through the single kiss that Jesus Christ had immense faith in mankind and the power of love.
The same kind of approach to faith is evident in Tolstoy’s novel, where he insists on the Gospel guiding human beings on how they should live. It is prudent to note that the Gospel has always been considered the direct teachings of Jesus Christ. Mariya Semenovna demonstrated various values depicted in the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount on how she interacted with others, such as her neighbors and the serial killer Stepan. One value is compassion between Mahkin; the criminal turned judge, and Stepan, the convicted murderer that is now ascetic. The conversation encompassed the lines ‘How is it that I am your brother, and yet I send you to hard labor?’ ‘is from a lack of understanding,’; ‘What exactly do I fail to understand?’; ‘If you judge, you do not understand’ (Tolstoy, 2011) is one that shows the lack of compassion from Mahin. He will not see people as pawns that need to be won over, taken advantage of and finally be discarded. Mariya hence brings back Stepan’s lack of understanding to light. While he killed her, which is after killing her entire family and many others, she asserted during her final breath, ‘You are destroying other souls as well as your own.’ This would consciously and deeply disturb him that he eventually turned himself to the police, and a change in him ensued. As the story proceeded, a kind of faith was depicted, which believed in the power of forgiveness and mercy and not money.
Conclusively, the theme of religion and faith in Tolstoy’s ‘the Forged Coupon’ And Dostoevsky’s ‘the Grand Inquisitor.’ They have been depicted to show how distinctive they are, specifically their end goal. Therefore, it becomes evident how religion is focused on attaining the individual objectives of the leaders that have put themselves in that position. Conversely, a high form of faith that believes in humanity is recommended since it focuses on the right values that make human beings humane.
Dostoyevsky, F. (1879). The Grand Inquisitor. Retrieved from http://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/courses/phil100/11.%20Dostoevsky.pdf
Tolstoy, L. (2011). The Forged Coupon: And Other Stories. The Floating Press.