Senior Seminar: Dr. Leininger
29 February, 2008
Faithful Free Will
Voltaire’s Candide and Dostoevsky’s story of the Grand Inquisitor present the reality of human suffering and feature characters who, like all human beings, attempt to justify and hopefully alleviate that suffering. Through the satirical and non-complex characters in Candide, Voltaire shows that each one has his or her own view of reality and that true reality is the ability to recognize inadequacies of human conventions. He illustrates that suffering is inevitable. In the story of the Grand Inquisitor from his book, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky presents the Inquisitor as a man who believes he sees reality beyond simple human understanding. He desires to alleviate all suffering by creating the ultimate human convention—controlling, religious autocracy. In this way, both stories explore the conflict between free will and blind faith, implicitly concluding that a balance of the human will and thoughtful faith can determine the effects of pain that we suffer.
Many times throughout his book, Voltaire’s’ characters acknowledge the painful human condition and mention its inevitability. As Candide continually experiences a series of violent, depressing, and impossible events, he is influenced by an eternal optimist, Pangloss, and a troubled character, Martin. Candide is on a journey to find the balance between submitting his will completely to the opinions and actions of others, and taking control of his own life through faith.
Pangloss’s influence instructs Candide to submit to the fate that all will be well, that all events happen for a reason, so that reason must be good. Under these assumptions Candide says, “There is no effect without a cause […] all events are linked by the chain of necessity and arranged for the best” (Voltaire 6). That “cause” that Pangloss and Candide depend upon may be God, some power whose trustworthy plan should not be questioned just because of suffering.
Martin has an opposing influence over Candide. He has resigned to the awful nature of humanity and its unchanging quality. Martin says, “…as I survey this globe, or globule rather, I think that God has abandoned it to some evil spirit…” (Voltaire 43-44). He speaks of the earth as a “globule” as if it is a meaningless hunk of mass. Martin is deeply stuck in his pessimism, feeling the world doomed to evil and destruction. Candide asks Martin if “men have always massacred one another as they do? That they have always been liars, traitors, ingrates, thieves […] hypocrites, and fools? (46). When Martin replies that they have, that it is their nature just like animals, Candide says that there is a difference between the two, “because freedom of the will…” (46). Rather than see any meaning or reason for this, he attributes it to nature. However, Candide, though easily influenced, senses that there is something more, free will, which exists between the contrasting worlds that both of his mentors have presented to him.
In the end, Candide achieves a balance by accepting that he must exist between spiritual faith and capriciousness through free will, when he says, “we must cultivate our garden” (74). One must take control enough to recognize the dangers of living in blind faith to spurious happiness and of living in overpowering hopelessness. It is not enough to attribute cause and effect to a higher will, or to sink into despair of meaninglessness. Voltaire illustrates this balance by giving precedence to freedom of the will and thoughtful faith. He must create his own reality.
In Dostoevsky’s story of the Grand Inquisitor, Jesus returns to the people during the Spanish Inquisition. His presence threatens the domineering progress of the Church and He is imprisoned by the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor characterizes all that disagrees with free will. He believes human beings incapable of making decisions, living in peace, or creating a faithful life without powerful imposition. He argues that the freedom that Christ faithfully gave to human beings only destroys them because they have no capability of handling personal power. He says “Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves” (Dostoevsky 34). The Grand Inquisitor, here, argues not only against freedom of faith, but freedom of “science,” or education. He sees the tendency for human beings to behave like sheep and so finds his tyrannical approach to be the most effective way of saving humans from themselves.
The Grand Inquisitor appears to embody all the dangers of both Candide’s influential mentors. He is similar to Panlgoss in that he advocates the human being’s need to submit to the powers-at-be with blind faith. He resembles Martin because he feels the world is arbitrarily doomed to chaos. The only way he can imagine avoiding chaos and creating order is for him to take the power that Christ rejected, deny people their freedom, and tell them how to live. Only then will human beings be content and will peaceful existence be possible. When he took this power, he claims that, “men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering was at last lifted from their hearts” (32). The Grand Inquisitor, who is in essence, no better than confused, fearful human beings he wishes to save, justifies his oppressive action by claiming he is providing happiness. There are indications that he knows his method is not the truth. For instance, he says, “Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us” (34). The Grand Inquisitor knows that his actions do not align with the religion under whose guise he claims truth. He will have “to persuade,” and therefore alter all that Christ represents.
This extreme character creates a reality that from a Christian perspective seems obviously misconstrued. The Grand Inquisitor preaches the voice of the nonbeliever and of the power-seeker, who feels justified by the inevitable suffering that makes up the human condition. When Jesus kisses the Grand Inquisitor, it is implied that it troubles the cynical man. He is not satisfied with the path of power that he has chosen, knowing it does not match the truth of Christ, which he cannot accept.
Both of these texts call us, the readers, to ask questions about the meaning and nature of suffering. Why to human beings suffer? Will the suffering ever go away? Do we have the power to lessen suffering? Both texts examine the fashions in which characters attempt to answer these questions. They all discover that pain is inevitable and that the will of humanity surely contributes to that pain. But if we begin to doubt the freedom that God has entrusted to us, we may begin to look like Pangloss, who accepts suffering as fate, or the Inquisitor, who feels humans cannot fight suffering themselves. In these states of mind, we would doom ourselves to a vicious cycle of persecuting those who are less powerful, disenfranchised, or different. In this way, we cannot depend upon a God to do it all because the suffering will be accepted and continue.
The Christ gave humanity freedom and with that freedom comes responsibility. We do not have complete power over the world and its events, but we have been given freedom to choose how we view and respond to reality. Both Voltaire and Dostoevsky present us with characters that skew the world to fit a reality that suits them. We often attribute our realities and convictions to a God, neglecting the fact that they might be incompatible to the true message of our faith. Dostoevsky’s Christ kisses The Grand Inquisitor on the cheek, returning to him the responsibility of his own freedom (37), saying to him, in this action, the same message that Candide gives to us, “we must cultivate our own garden” (75)
Dostoevsky. Fyodor. “The Grand Inquisitor.” Brothers Karamazov.
Voltaire. Candide. Trans. Robert M. Adams. 2nd ed. New York: Norton and Company, 1996.