Introduction What is freedom? In its most basic sense, freedom is the ability to make a choice,when confronted with numerous options, independent of outside influences. Somemay argue that it is a right bestowed on to us by God as he gave us the abilityto choose and have free will. The concept of”Freedom” is one of the central themes of existentialism.
“Freedom” is closelylinked to the concept of anguish, because our freedom is to a degree, definedby the divergence of our choices and decisions from the guidance given byreligious structure, or by accepted values or knowledge.Many of theexistentialist views on freedom stem from the Kantian notion of freedom. 1With freedom ofwill comes responsibility, for our own choices and actions, and withresponsibility, comes anguish or “burden”.This “burden” offreedom arguably came to greater philosophical attention, in the 19thand 20th centuries, perhaps due to an increasingly secular society,or the rise of alternative doctrines of philosophy and society which questionedtraditional values, for example Darwinism and Marxism, leading us toincreasingly question our surroundings.This “burden of freedom” is aconcept which is explored in depth by Dostoyevsky in his writings.
Dostoyevskyexamined the notion that traditional religious structure and doctrine gives usstability and equanimity by removing this potential burden of freedom and theassociated responsibility. Who was Dostoyevsky?Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a Russian novelist, essay writer andphilosopher, who specialised in short story writing. He lived from the years 1821to 1881.
The Grand Inquisitor is ashort story from part of Dostoyevsky’s book TheBrothers Karamazov. The Brothers Karamazov is often referred to asDostoyevsky’s ‘magnum opus’ or ‘masterpiece’. This 800-page book, comprised of12 short stories, recounts the story of three brothers, Ivan, Alyosha andDmitri, and tells the tale of the death of their father, Fyodor. In The Grand Inquisitor Ivan relates a tale of Christ’s “second coming”,to his brother Alyosha. The tale is setin Seville, during the period of the Spanish Inquisition.Jesus,performs several miracles, including resurrecting a young girl who has died.This brings him to the attention of a “Grand Inquisitor”, who, irritated byJesus’s actions has him arrested. The rest of the tale recounts theconversation the 90-year-old Grand Inquisitor has with Jesus the imprisonedJesus, whilst visiting him.
The Inquisitor explains to Jesus that he is nolonger needed to help and guide humankind, and that his return to earth willonly impede the now crucial role, which is undertaken by the Church. The Grand Inquisitor argues the point toJesus, that in his view, freedom is too much a responsibility for people tobear, and Christ’s reappearance will have a detrimental impact on the citizens becauseeffectively Christ is granting them this freedom. TheGrand Inquisitor criticises Jesus for his decision to reject the threetemptations which were posed to him by the Devil: the temptation to turn stonesinto bread, the temptation to throw himself from the Temple and be saved byangels, and thirdly, the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world.The Grand Inquisitor’s expresses his view that humanity may have been betteroff if Jesus had not declined the temptations, but had given in instead, to thetemptations put before him. He also asks Jesus whether or not he “forgot thatpeace and even death are dearer to man than free choice in the knowledge ofgood and evil? (p. 254).” In saying this, The Grand Inquisitor is highlightinghis own viewpoint, that the people had never wanted the freedom that Jesus hadoffered them, because it is too much of a decision and a responsibility, forthem to make a choice between good and evil.
It is for this very reason, that TheGrand Inquisitor tells Jesus that this burden of freedom has been taken awayfrom them through giving them the structure of religion and the church and definingfor them what it is to be ‘Good’ and what it is to be ‘Evil’. By providing themwith firm instructions for living, this relieves the responsibility and stress ofhaving to invent meaning for themselves, because if they do create it forthemselves, they would, in turn be further troubled with the knowledge of itsinauthenticity. Moreover, The Grand Inquisitor, speaking as a representativefor the church, argues that the church has bestowed on humankind, peace of mindand happiness. This in his view is everything that mankind has ever sought, andit is for this reason that he has taken away their freedom.
The Grandinquisitor furthers his argument by saying that as a result of longstandingreligion, security, and therefore a certain level of relaxation, are providedto the people by relieving them of the burden of freedom and the responsibilityof one’s own choices and actions.The Grand Inquisitor’s main pointthroughout this passage is that people do not want freedom, what they want issecurity and food, things which Jesus was unable to offer, which is the reasonthat he failed, and the church has not. “In the end they will lay their freedom at ourfeet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.”TheGrand Inquisitor believes he can provide this by providing people with thesecurity of the church so that they can be guided in their faith and not haveto worry about thinking for themselves, because he says that people who arehungry are so consumed by the fight to survive that they are unable to thinkabout their faith, something that the Grand Inquisitor says he can help with,which he believes is too much of a burden to bear. He furthers his argument bytelling Jesus that church has managed to provide something that Jesus couldnot, someone to follow.
He states that the”people are more certain than ever before that they are completely free, and atthe same time they themselves have brought us their freedom and obediently laidit at our feet.” (The Brothers Karamazov page251). Through this he means to say that people crave instruction and so willinglysought that order from the church, for when the church provides the answers, itfeels more real and is more satisfying then having the burden of making thatdecision yourself. The GrandInquisitor examines the two different facets of freedom. Being that it is botha gift and, at the same time, a burden. The destinies of those whom are freewilled are at the same time finely balanced and perhaps exhilarating.
Thechoices they make may ultimately lead to either Heaven or Hell. For this reasonthe Grand Inquisitor can see nothing better, with regard to freedom of choice,than the freedom to relinquish it immediately, for fear of making anirretrievable mistake. “Manis tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he canhand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature isborn.”In The GrandInquisitor, Dostoevsky attributes God to be the foundation for human freedom,not a barrier to freedom. God’s love, is what allows us to be ourselves,comparing this to the that of a parent enabling us to flourish, asself-sufficient and free willed beings. Dostoevsky message is that, perhapsthat, paradoxically, it is our reliance on God which liberates us. One of the most famous parts in the story is called Silence and the Kiss. It is at the endof the interaction between The Grand inquisitor and Jesus, after which Jesushas not uttered a word, when he gives the Grand Inquisitor a kiss after he hasmade his piece.
After which The Grand Inquisitor takes Jesus out to an alleyway and sets him free, asking him to never return. Jesus’s silence throughoutthe story, to me, is his answer to The Grand Inquisitor’s interrogation, allthe while he has been arguing against freedom due to the fact that it is, inJesus’ eyes, the Grand Inquisitor’s freedom of choice that has allowed him tofeel this way. I believe Kierkegaard’s theory of anxiety to be relevant tothe question of whether or not freedom is too much of a burden to bare.Kierkegaard, in his text Fear andTrembling, describes anxiety as not the medical definition we know today,but rather the feeling one gets when faced with making a choice.
Not of theoptions that lay before you, only the fear of having to choose, it can bedescribed as a man standing on a cliff, who is not afraid of the height, but heis afraid of the choice that he could make to jump off the cliff. I believethis to be relevant because the feelings of angst and dread that one wouldexperience when making a choice could be considered a burden as a result of thefreedom we have to make that choice. The choice is yours alone and will have anundetermined outcome which is a frightening prospect to some.However, it would be prudent to take into account the ideathat these feelings are necessary, and make us feel more human. It is importantto consider that you cannot have happiness without sadness, and many otheremotions for that matter.
Also, the fact that these emotions that you are facedwith are only a temporary side effect of the moment, and the rewards of makingcertain decisions could greatly outweigh the negative emotions that areexperienced when faced with a choice. If life were to be laid out for you, withno obstacles to overcome and, with reference to the essay title, no burden whatso ever, then it would be meaningless.Jean-Paul Sartre hasalso had something to say on the topic. He said that “Man is condemned to be free; because oncethrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” 1 ‘Existentialism| Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’.