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Reading The Brothers Karamazov

I recently finished reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, a book that struck me and made me think about it for quite some time. Although the book was written in 1880, it doesn’t appear outdated or old-fashioned. The discussion about values, where they come from, believe and faith are probably even more important today in a mostly atheistic society based on christian values.

I am in favour of many of the proposed ideas, values and ideals in the book, notably the importance of forgiveness, love and guilt. I can also understand the idea of suffering leading to transformation and eventual redemption.

Dostoevsky makes the case that one can only truly adhere to and live these values by believing and having faith in God. Ivan, one of the brothers and a moral person but doubting the existence of god (and anything he can’t explain), is unable to recognise and accept love and ends up in great despair and with brain fever.

Reading this book made me wonder where my believe in these values comes from and if I am in similar danger as Ivan ending up with brain fever and despair by being an atheist. How, as an atheist, can you say the “everything is permitted” way of live is wrong? Where does your faith in human beings come from? This lead to more reading and searches in the internet. But these questions are complex and it will take me a lot of time to figure out answers for myself.

For me, the book was full of new views, insights and lots of questions. For example, to Ivan, the suffering of humans, especially children is unjust and one of the reasons he denounces god. This is an argument I’ve probably used myself a few times to justify my disbelieve in god. But maybe this is just a portrait of god and a partial denunciation of free will and our own responsibility. There’s the chapter of “The Grand Inquisitor”, an incredibly interesting one about freedom and free will discussing the temptation of christ. In short, God has given mankind free will, the ability to choose evil or good. And a lot of the suffering happening to humans is because mankind doesn’t use free will to do good. Even though free will is a burden, it is a necessity for humans to evolve.

While Dostoevsky clearly promotes faith and religious believes, he nevertheless criticises religion as an institution and the roman catholic church specifically. There are many characters in the book which are part of the church, but do not adhere to the values proclaimed.

This probably goes into the top 10 books I’ve ever read, but it was also one of the longest. Although it was relatively straight forward to go through, I had to re-read some passages multiple times to fully understand it. If you have some time, this is a must read.