Category Archives: religion

The Banality of Evil in Concord

My latest at Eclectica.org. v21n3_artwork

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THE BURNING BUSH

I grew up in Fort Lee, then still a small town in northern New Jersey. Apart from its original site as headquarters for a routed American Revolutionary force, its main claims to fame were two: It was the original home of the movie industry in the early decades of the twentieth century, and it holds up the western end of the George Washington Bridge. In the 1940s and ’50s it consisted of about 2,000 people and might have been located in Ohio or Indiana instead of just across the river from one of the largest cities in the world. Today it houses many tens of thousands, including large immigrant populations, most notably Koreans.

In my childhood much of the town was still undeveloped land, the largest tract of which was a couple hundred acres of woodland known as the Great North Woods. Boy Scout troops could camp there without any sign of their being just a short walk to civilization. The Woods abounded in what to me was exotic flora and fauna: tadpoles and rare birds – rare at least for that part of the world. It was also the place I went when I wanted to take pond samples to look at under my toy microscope. In a single drop of water I discovered a world even more densely populated by paramecia and other microscopic wildlife than was the woodland itself by their larger relatives.

Most of my time was spent in the local Catholic school. My explorations occurred after 3:00 p.m. and on weekends, and those were usually in areas closer by than the Woods: a few acres of untouched land where garter snakes abounded in July and August, sunning themselves on the reeds in a small pond. My friends and I tried without success to shoot them with bows and arrows. There were also the immense oaks next to the town athletic field (now a parking lot solemnly blessed by one of the local curates, I’m told). We could climb to dizzying heights in those trees before they were pulled down to make room for a strip mall on Main Street. We could also explore the overgrown trolley route that once ran from north of town to a ferry on the Hudson across from 125th Street in Manhattan a couple hundred feet below the skyscraping Palisades. We gathered wild cherries in summer, caught poison ivy searching for baseballs in the big vacant lot we used for our daily game, and in winter discovered frozen carcasses of dogs and cats in the melting snow.

But it was the Great North Woods that most held my imagination, as much by its name as by the reality. It was the only place I could go where I was unlikely to see, never mind confront, another human being. There was a rumor, perhaps more than that, of a murder having been committed there, or perhaps just a body dumped. In those days Fort Lee was run by a police force indistinguishable from the Italian mafia. Police chiefs who failed to cooperate were found dead, officially suicides, their service revolver lying beside them. A widow of one such lived in an apartment across from our building – “lived” only in the strictest sense because she had tried unsuccessfully to end her own life and was permanently paralyzed.

Then there was the Great Fire. I don’t recall anyone referring to it as such, but I don’t think the name is an exaggeration. I don’t know how it started or how long it lasted, but it was unlike any fire I’ve come close to since, not just because of its extent over hundreds of acres but because it became at some point invisible. After devastating everything above ground it continued to burn beneath the surface, at least in the Great North Woods. The ground smoked like the cone of an active volcano or the roof of hell. Only occasionally did it show itself by a sudden outburst of flame. I had seen it consume the frame of a new house on the periphery of the Woods, one moment looking perfectly alright, the next flaring up in tall flames until nothing was left. But that had taken place far from where I was walking that afternoon. I couldn’t feel the heat through my leather-soled shoes, but plumes of smoke were visible all around me.

I should point out that my religious experience, though rigorously Roman Catholic, had started early on my mother’s lap with what I later realized was a Protestant emphasis. She had read me all the nursery rimes as well as “Tom Thumb” and much else from a collection of volumes called Journeys through Bookland. But she also read me Old Testament stories, all of Genesis and Exodus. I knew as well as I knew “Cinderella” or “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but took much more to heart, the story of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son Isaac, Jacob’s pretending to be his brother Esau so as to cheat him out of his inheritance, even Sarah’s laughing at the two angels who told her she was going to conceive a child at the age of ninety, though I had no clue yet how children were conceived. And the account of the Jews’ exile in Egypt, the plagues visited on the Pharaoh and his people for his delay in freeing them (especially the slaughter of the first-born), the long trek across the desert to the Promised Land and Moses’s acceptance of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, all this was as familiar and as memorable as the Gospel stories I would later hear on an almost daily basis. I have since marveled how little of this  Old Testament lore most Catholics and even the average Jew I have known is familiar with. I assumed these tales were basic stuff for any  Jewish boy or girl. It was only much later, when I learned something about Protestantism (heresy pure and simple in our history books) that I discovered the importance Protestants placed on the Old Testament.

All the vegetation had been leveled by the fire that had swept through the Woods several days earlier. The landscape was as barren as the mountains of the moon, except that on the moon there is no smoke and no remnants of burnt trees. But one small bit of flora did remain in the midst of gray devastation, miraculously untouched, a short bushy thing with its foliage still intact. I stopped my trek to wonder at it. And almost as soon as I did it burst into flame as if it had only been waiting for me to show up to do so. It didn’t burn bottom to top as would be expected given the source of the fire in the ground beneath. It ignited all at once like an exploding firework, and almost as quickly as a skyrocket bursts and quickly disappears the tree disintegrated into a piece of char-wood in a matter of seconds.

I was too literal-minded to associate this burning bush/tree with the one through which Yahweh spoke to Moses on Sinai. I was no Moses. If I identified with anyone in the Bible it was with one of the minor characters no one names their children after. But what I had just witnessed was biblical in its drama. By that point in my education I knew miracles were more or less common place, at least for believing Catholics, but despite the preservation of this tree in the midst of burnt-out wilderness and its spectacular immolation in front of my eyes, I knew what I had seen did not qualify as a miracle. No one had been cured of a terminal disease, no supernatural being had appeared. And so I went home, had dinner and began to memorize the capitals of all the South American nations and the next three questions in the Baltimore catechism where it was understood that real miracles could occur because for the God who made me to “love, honor and serve him in this life and to be happy with Him in the next” “nothing is hard or impossible.”

These catechism lessons may not have accounted for the burning bush in the Great North Woods, but they didn’t need to. I lived happily in the natural, not the supernatural, world. Here the ordinary – not just burning bushes but love (I had been in love since I was seven), snow falling at night through the dim glow of street lamps (“Lord, I love the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth”), the exquisite plumage and impossible levitations of hummingbirds that visited the overgrown gully where those trolleys once rain, these and so much else of this material world were all the miracles I needed.

The Face of Evil: Terrorism as Witchcraft

Terrorism is a reality, if by “terrorism” we mean an act of violence directed at civilians for a political, social or religious purpose to free one’s land of an oppressive or occupying power, to intimidate or drive away an unwelcome minority, to expel an objectionable religious group.

But terrorism is a tactic, not a goal, and certainly not something that exists on its own. It’s the means by which people with a grievance who don’t have the wherewithal to wage outright war can engage its enemy in a violent way. It’s also the choice of governments when they want to intimidate and demoralize a weak adversary. An F-15 is as much an instrument of terror as is a suicide bomber’s belt of explosives.

Terrorism or “terror,” though, has in the last few decades become more than just a word designating a particular kind of violence. It has taken on a much bigger, substantive meaning, just as “evil” came to mean something that exists on it own like a nation-state or an army. We now take up arms against terrorism in much the same way some people believe they are fighting “evil.” It’s our modern equivalent of the Devil or his agents.

There used to be a phenomenon that was seen and treated in much the same way we deal with terrorism today. It was called witchcraft. From the early fifteen to the mid-seventeenth centuries a large number of women – almost always women – inspired fear in the population of Europe. They were believed to be dealing in matters of the occult, had in fact signed a pact with the Devil and consorted with him regularly, sometimes in mass orgies. Almost anyone could find herself accused of witchcraft for unauthorized healing (such women had preserved a knowledge of beneficial herbs from pre-Christian days), for putting a curse on a neighbor or a neighbor’s child, even for being too ugly…or too pretty.

Kill them all, was the response of the authorities, especially the religious ones, Catholic and Protestant alike, the usual punishment being burning at the stake. A similar response is advocated today for all terrorists by politicians of every stripe and carried out by both liberal and conservative heads of state both here in the US and abroad.

No one knows how many women were killed simply for providing bella donna to ease the pain of someone in pain or for incurring the ire of a jealous neighbor. Such was the fear people had of witchcraft that they allowed the authorities the most extreme measures to deal with it, forgoing what today we would consider any right of due process should they be similarly accused, never mind freedom from religious persecution. Anyone could be denounced as a witch, and no doubt objecting to harsh measures taken against women so designated could make you liable to the same charge. Bishops bragged about how many women they had executed in one day – sometimes hundreds.

This was a fever that went on for two centuries in both northern and southern Europe as well as in the American colonies, Salem, Massachusetts being the most notorious. Ironically, it died out in Spain under the Inquisition before it did in the north, probably because they already had so many heretics and other malefactors to deal with. When it ended, it did so remarkably swiftly in the mid-seventeen hundreds, more or less at the same time the beginnings of modern science was being born. It continues today, though, in many parts of the world – India and Africa, to name two. A woman there can be denounced for having caused the death of someone’s child or other relative through occult means or for just about any other ill fortune that visits someone in her village. And the result is the same: a horrible death, though these days carried out by neighbors rather than by an established religion.

We like to think we have progressed beyond a mentality that believes an ordinary-looking woman can ride a broom at night to have a rendezvous with the Prince of Darkness. But human nature has been remarkably consistent throughout recorded history. Before we cheer on the next drone strike or look the other way when a Muslim neighbor is hauled off to prison without benefit of the law we believe will protect us from such treatment, we should think again. To rephrase words spoken with  remorse after the last great witch hunt of our civilization, the Nazi era: If we say nothing when they come for Muslims or undocumented immigrants and torture and imprison them without a public outcry, the witch-hunters may end up coming for us as well.

 

Secular Sainthood Is a Bad Idea

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has come and gone. The “I have a dream” speech was played and replayed as if it were on an MP3 player’s endless loop setting. The more adventurous media aired some of his other, more ecumenical orations in opposition to the Vietnam war or the evils of unleashed capitalism. To the best of my knowledge, no miracles were attributed to Dr. King, but his birthday was celebrated in a fashion very much like that of a Christian saint.

I suspect this kind of memorial would displease him greatly. If he was half the man we make him out to be he would be appalled that the result of his life’s work has come to focus so much on him instead of on what he stood and died for. No doubt he had his weaknesses, possibly even one for public adulation, but he cared too much about the goals he had for his nation to want any serious distraction from them in the way of personality cult or hagiography.

But personality, real and imagined, rather than what they said and did, is what we prefer to focus on in our great social and religious figures. How much of Christianity is devoted to worship of the man – or god-man – Jesus rather than to his words? The itinerant rabbi who may or may not have believed he was the Messiah but preached a precious, perennial message of hope and love with deep Jewish roots going back to the prophet Isaiah was turned into a Greek deity through whom and only through whom we must seek to save ourselves from eternal hellfire. Protestants believe they can achieve this by a deep act of faith accepting a still-living Jesus as their personal savior. Roman Catholics believe they can only do so by obeying the precepts and availing themselves of the sacraments of what they consider the one true church.

There seems to be no cognitive dissonance for either Protestants or Catholics to have a deep and abiding faith in this Jesus and then go and behave in ways that would surely have appalled him. Catholic soldiers can receive what they believe to be the flesh of God into their bodies and then slaughter men, women and children not just with impunity but with divine approbation. Protestants, themselves no slouches when it comes to slaughter, can tease out of the gospels assurance that their material prosperity is promised, indeed guaranteed, by those same gospels.

It’s as if we would rather have the vessel than the contents, rather the man or superman constructed out of our own personal desires and imaginations than deal with the truths he espoused and the imperatives that flow from them. Jesus knew enough about human nature to predict we would react this way when he said that few in any generation would hear his message. Dr. King was perhaps more hopeful, or at least he spoke and acted as if he was, insisting we could find justice in this life if we wanted to. But the message was not the man in either King’s or in Jesus’s case. The message is neither enhanced nor diminished by the virtues or foibles of the messenger, though it’s only human nature to see it as being so. And the message is certainly not identical with the man or woman him/herself, especially when a cult of the person results in distraction from the content of the message.

It does not take a divinity or even a saint to speak truth – if Einstein had been a total reprobate, a moral slug, instead of the compassionate man he was, would his Theory of Relativity be less valid? – but it does take an open mind and an open heart to hear that truth and something more as well to act on it.

The Enemy Amongst Us

According to experts, there are 134 million demons or evil spirits in the world.

I learned this from a television newscast. I live on the top floor of a building in Brooklyn that faces south, and I pick up several New Jersey and even Philadelphia stations. This particular broadcast was coming from south Jersey.

The anchorperson, an attractive blonde, went on to recount in her detached anchorperson voice that the reigning pope (John Paul at the time), both in his former capacity of bishop of Cracow and as pontiff, performed and was Demonscontinuing to perform exorcisms.

Then she broke for a commercial.

I immediately began to wonder about that figure 134 million. It seemed seriously inadequate, especially if you allow for all the guardian angels and other benevolent spirits flying about or attending to the divine throne in heaven. There are about 6 billion people in the world. That means that to have some sort of evil influence on each one of them, every demon would have to service about 45 people. I used to work for a big-city welfare department. I also counseled drug addicts. So, I have some idea of the maximum caseload a professional can competently handle. Fotry-five seems to be right on the edge.

Of course on any caseload there are always some clients who require only the minimum of attention. For demons, these would be the Hitlers and Stalins of the world and their small-time counterparts. Also, the Christian Right, hardline Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews, not to mention the hundreds of millions of ardent Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists and other godly folks, would be among the harder spiritual nuts to crack and might reasonably be put on a back burner.

That leaves us with a core constituency of perhaps twenty to twenty-five souls ripe for each demon’s picking. Not a number beyond the ability of any well-trained professional, especially when you consider that a demon, being immaterial, can go at it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with no time off for paid holidays, sick leave or vacation.

This particular television station, by the way, was the same that used to flog a videocassette about the sins of the flesh committed by our then-sitting president. The commercial pulled no punches and spared no delicate civic sentiments. Bill Clinton was depicted as the willing slave of the Devil.

Since it was “experts” who came up with the number 134 million for the demons at large in the world, I didn’t question it initially. But then I got to thinking: Why 134 million and not 135 million? Or some other number entirely?

Until I remembered that at the beginning of the current era (A.D./C.E.) well-educated people took for granted the existence of demons and other various good and evil spirits. In fact, the experts of that day knew the names and rankings for each species, so to speak—Dominions, Powers, Thrones, etc. Each kind of spirit had a job to do for good or ill. Paul the Apostle and other intelligent men and women, Christian, Jew and pagan, never questioned their existence.

It was an age that prided itself on its science as much as we do our own, and had pretty much figured out how everything worked and where everything’s place was in the cosmos. Ptolemy, for instance, devised an ingenious and mathematically precise set of formulae to describe the workings of the universe based upon the obvious fact that the sun revolved around the earth, as did everything else in the heavens. Why shouldn’t the theologians and philosophers be able to classify the varieties of spirits and, with a little help from holy writings, calculate precisely how many there were?

The pope, as a modern man, uses aircraft, television and even public relations people to help him get across his message. The Ayatollah Khomeini preached his revolutionary call via audio cassette during his exile in heathen France before boarding a jet to assume civil power in Iran. And of course the most hardcore religious terrorists use weapons of a distinctly modern cast when they want to blow up a building or take out an abortionist.

So, I suppose it should have come as no surprise to find that well-groomed anchorwoman being able to precisely pinpoint the number of devils, minor and major, plying their trade. Nor should it have been a shock to find that commercial airing about Bill Clinton. Putting one and one together, it all began to make sense: 134 million evil spirits loose in the world; a degenerate in the White House; the pope (recently sainted John Paul) feeling obliged to personally cast out devils in his spare time. The planet is going to hell in a handbasket, and the bulk of us are worried about ephemeral matters like health care and climate change!

Thank God there are still people of faith as well as science keeping abreast of what is taking place in the invisible world. While physicists argue about how many quarks can dance on the head of a proton, god-fearing folks are passing along the much more important spirit count provided by the world’s front-rank demonologists, with special emphasis on those ensconced inside the Beltway.

Check these people out on your own local stations. Neglecting to do so would not only be unscientific but could be dangerous to your spiritual health.

 

THE QUALITY OF MERCY

The other day I heard an interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper, currently on tour for the English edition of his book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life (Pope Francis has himself just published a book called The Church of Mercy, mercy apparently being the theological flavor of the season). But I suspect the real reason the cardinal rated an interview on my local public radio station is because he’s Kardinaal_III_Danneels_en_Kasperknown as “the pope’s theologian,” much as Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) was known as “the pope’s [recently sainted Pope John Paul’s] Rottweiler.” Having Kasper in studio must have seemed like the next best thing to having the pope himself there and a golden opportunity to pick the cardinal’s brains about the course of Roman Catholicism under Francis’s papacy.

But first the host Brian Lehrer, a gentle but intelligent interviewer, questioned Kasper about the meaning of the word mercy and the reason for its being so high up on the new pope’s agenda. The cardinal happily distinguished mercy from compassion (active versus passive), mercy from justice (complementary), the biblical origins of the virtue (Sermon on the Mount, among others). After several minutes of Q&A, though, little light had been shed on the subject either for the host (who is Jewish) or for me or, presumably, for other listeners to the program. But Lehrer had not denied Kasper his ten minutes for flogging the book, which was after all his immediate reason for appearing on the show or, for that matter, his being in the US in the first place.

Lehrer then moved on to the questions he, and much of his audience Catholic and non-Catholic alike, wanted answers to: Did the pope’s emphasis on mercy and understanding mean there would be any change to the church’s position on birth control or homosexuality or divorced and/or remarried Catholics receiving the Eucharist, etc.? To all of which Kasper replied in diplomatic and noncommittal terms. He said Catholics are already making up their own minds about birth control, though he reminded us the church is not against all kinds (presumably he was referring to the “rhythm” method). And in the case of Catholics who have divorced and remarried, that choice is their own responsibility.

If you’re one of those Catholics, ex-Catholics or non-Catholics who have been hoping for something truly different from this pope compared with his predecessors, if in other words you have been hoping for a reassertion of the kind of liberal attitude with which John XXIII shook up the church fifty years ago, I’d say the prospects are dim.  John XXIII was an anomaly, a tragic mistake in the view of the church itself or at least that part of it that has put into power all popes since John XXIII and before.

The cardinal didn’t indicate anything had changed doctrinally for Catholics with the ascension of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papal throne. In case you missed it, just a couple months back Pope Francis threatened the Mafiosi of southern Italy with eternal hellfire if they don’t mend their ways. As long as the church continues to keep hell (and heaven) in the picture, no amount of mercy-talk will change the fundamental use of fear and reward with which the church has always kept the faithful in line.  Justice requires a hell by this logic, but it’s the sinner who condemns her/himself to eternal torment, not God, as the church sees it.

Kasper and the pope are simply staking out the themes of the new papacy, much as candidate Obama put forth the themes of his candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign. Remember “Hope and Change”? The traditional John Paul/Benedict XVI authoritarianism (attended by the revelation of a church-wide, decades-long cover-up of priests’ sexual abuse of children) got nowhere in the developed world, however much the church’s continued harping on homosexuality, the use of condoms and an insistence on a males-only clergy appealed to the conservative mentality of the hierarchy and the faithful in Africa and Latin America where the church is doing quite well, thank you.

John XXIII’s papacy was an attempt to return the church to a more collegial governance combined with a “preferential preference for the poor” that spawned a Liberation Theology movement which the church itself, with the help of like-minded friends in the US government and its armed forces, has since been doing its best to suppress, sometimes with murder.

Two hundred years ago the papacy was a feeble office to which the rest of the church paid little attention. The Kings of France, not the pope, appointed that nation’s bishops, a shocking example of papal impotence by today’s standards. The revival of the papacy as a “unitary power,” to use the phrase favored by those who want the same kind of extremePope Francis authority for the president of the United States — a preeminent, unassailable last word in matters doctrinal and ecclesiastical — started, as best I can tell, with Napoleon’s agreement to put the pope back in the driver’s seat if he, the pope, sided with the Little Corporal in his Italian wars. The consolidation and expansion of papal power has continued under subsequent popes until today it is all but forgotten that ultimate power in the church used to reside in councils of bishops with the pope acting as first among equals. Today we assume the pope is not only the ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals but is the sole initiator of policy in those areas. No synod of bishops can do more than humbly offer advice. The pope is dictator, elected by a body of cardinals themselves appointed by, yes, previous popes. And, the last I heard, no ordinary Catholic or even ordinary priest or bishop gets to cast a ballot for anyone. The church is no more democratic than was the politburo, which also “elected” the head of the Soviet Union.

There are many good people who serve humanity in the name of Jesus — nuns who look after the most destitute cast-offs, who literally each day moping up the waste of people who have no chance of recovering from AIDS and other degenerative diseases. I know someone who has held babies who would not live out the night, would die untouched and unloved by anyone but those nuns. Those women don’t make the nightly news broadcasts.

There are others too, some of them clergy, who lead lives of dedication to the poor and who sometimes lose their lives because they do.  The popes and bishops rarely represent these Catholics. The hierarchy’s preoccupation is with the institution of the church, just as it was a thousand years ago when they had the power to execute anyone who deviated from the doctrine they laid down. Berdoglio/Pope Francis did not get elected pope to upset a two-thousand-year-old organization that is still recovering from the changes attempted by his predecessor half a century ago.

We get the leaders we are willing to settle for, whether it’s in Rome or Washington. We will get different ones when we demand them. But I have yet to hear anyone call for a democratization of the Roman Catholic Church (admitting that I don’t get around much in Catholic or any other religious circles). The idea, I suspect, is not even up for discussion, just as the idea of ordinary people taking over their own political and economic destinies is not up for discussion, the failure or Bolshevik communism having apparently proven the inevitability of corporate feudalism and top-down, money-driven politics.

At the risk of sounding like yet another pie-in-the-sky/pinko idealist living in La La Land, I suggest reading Rudolph Rocker’s Anarchosyndicalism, written (elegantly) in 1938 and as fresh and full of good, practical ideas as anything you’ll come across. All it proposes is what has already been demonstrated in other parts of the world as well as right now in many places in the US: that ordinary people are quite capable of ordering their own lives and of cooperating with their neighbors to their mutual benefit.

Meanwhile, if you’re still a Catholic, I suggest you start asking for the basic right of any human being to elect the people who claim to have the right to lay down laws by which they, the faithful, will get to spend that part of their existence called eternity. Democracy was good enough for the earliest version of Christianity. Why not now?

The Silence of the Lambs

How is it we, especially we in the modern West and especially we in the USA, look upon monarchic and other authoritative systems of government with disdain but accept unelected, hierarchical and highly authoritarian versions of governance in other areas of our lives, such as in our religions?

We wouldn’t dream of allowing politicians to appoint themselves and then appoint each other to offices we consider critical to our civic well being. True, those political officers do appoint judges and other officials, but we like to think we maintain ultimate control over our destiny by reserving the right to elect the appointers themselves. But, however much Roman Catholics complain about Rome’s intransigent policy on birth control, the Anglicans’ haggling among themselves about making homosexuals bishops or Orthodox Jews refusing to allow female rabbis…to name just a few of the issues that get decided not by popular vote but by men, mostly men in funny skirts and hats, I have rarely if ever heard any believer say, What do we need a hierarchy for anyhow? Who gave them the last word — or the first, for that matter?AntiChristus2

Well, of course, they gave it to themselves, didn’t they. The Christian churches gave themselves that authority in the name of their God (as all clergy always have), though the earliest Christians managed to do without a clergy quite nicely, thank you, and the best versions of modern Christianity (“best” in terms of their track record, not just what they preach) seem to be groups like the Quakers, who have the least ecclesiastical structure.

Rabbis gave themselves the power to decide who was in and who was out when they assumed that right for themselves after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. As a result Judaism, however much altered, survived. The church did much the same thing for Christianity after it became apparent that the Messiah was not going to return to earth any time soon. Roman adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the early fourth century sealed the deal (relegating the much more popular Jewish religion to the precarious margins).

But those were the days of kings and emperors, also divinely appointed. We don’t hold with that idea anymore. The British and Dutch seem fond of their monarchs but give them little or no say in their lives. Protestants claim to be free of Roman authoritarianism, but I note they excommunicate and defrock their own clerical miscreants and are not shy about telling their flocks what God wants them to think and do without first asking for their votes.

And, why is it we get warm and fuzzy when we hear that word “flock”? What is it a flock of? Well, the keeper of the flock is a pastor, and that’s a shepherd, so the flock must be sheep, or goats. What happens to sheep who have been tenderly cared for by caring shepherds/pastors? The last time I checked they ended up as Sunday dinner. Or are they only tended so lovingly for their wool?

So, what we have become is flocks of sheep (usually considered among the dumbest of animals) tended by unelected clerics presumably for our own good — that “good” being determined by, you guessed it, those same clerics and their superiors.sheep

Why do we not only tolerate this situation, with some agitation for the relaxation of one stricture or another but without questioning, never mind demanding, a democratic process in the very structure of our religions that includes every member, not just clergy? Is this an example of the compartmentalization that atheists accuse believers of engaging in so their rational mind does not intrude upon the precincts of their religious mind? Or do we actually like having the security of a shepherd to protect us from the wolves of this world and the next?

Dostoevsky aired this out about as well as anyone in “The Grand Inquisitor.” People don’t want freedom, is the conclusion there, not even the freedom Jesus offered them. Freedom makes them anxious. They want mystery, miracles and authority — and, of course, bread. It’s a scary piece of writing, one of the high points of Western literature, though as far as I can tell Dostoevsky himself was very much a believer, at least in his own version of Christianity.

We complain about the oppressiveness of Rome or the pre-medieval strictures of Talmudic and Sharia law, but aren’t they petty stuff compared with what organized religion combined with state power can get up to? Is there any doubt that Rome would behave with even more authoritarianism if it had the kind of power it had in the past? And, isn’t it obvious what fundamentalist Judaism and Islam are like if we look in parts of the world where those religions have significant political power?

When religions have to operate without that kind of authority they make do with what they have, enforcing their wills on the faithful within the walls, so to speak, if not in the wider community generally. They even take on a friendly aspect, try to appear reasonable, amenable to science and other modern ideas, within limits. But when not operating with limitations they revert to type — think what the church was like in Ireland until recent decades, what sort of laws the ultra-Orthodox impose in Israel or the way things are run in Saudi Arabia. To think otherwise is to put your faith in human nature in a way we would never dream of doing so if the system in question were not religious.

Of course, religions aren’t the only entities we allow to operate outside the bounds of democratic participation. Our work place is just as undemocratic, even medieval in its structure and just as cold-blooded in its punishments for flouting authority. To say, well, religion is one thing, an area we enter into voluntarily, but work, our job, is necessary to our physical survival and so another matter — we don’t have any meaningful say in whether we get a job or keep it or the conditions under which we do our work, by and large. But is that true?

We don’t work in democratic environments because we accept the system as it is, basically the way it was run back when there was a lord of the manor and his flunkies whose job it was to see that the rest of his human capital were productive for his benefit. You don’t have to be a Marxist to realize that we hold our jobs, whether as janitor or senior vice-president, at the pleasure of whoever owns the operation, and not a moment longer. We may not have to give up our brides to him on our wedding night the way serfs did back in the old days, but we do have to give up our right to determine our destiny and the quality of our lives in a critical area of our existence — critical not just to ourselves but to the wider community we live in. And we do so for the most part unthinkingly. We even prepare ourselves with lengthy and expensive schooling in order to be able to please our masters and gain favor in the form of promotion and greater compensation. Some of us dream of becoming our own bosses, some of us do, but how many of these new lords of the manor behave any less authoritatively toward their own employees?

Most people admire the rich and want to be like them, even if that means keeping in place an unfair, undemocratic system that relegates them to economic chains. It’s the same mentality that keeps some of us playing the lottery in the belief we are just as likely to win as the next guy. Few consider replacing the current system with one that allows them ownership and control of their workplace. Even fewer actually try to accomplish these goals, though there are many instances, thousands it’s said in the US alone, of companies that are run cooperatively, along with plenty in other nations, some of them as large as the largest traditionally owned corporations.

But that’s socialism, isn’t it? I have no idea what it is, nor do I care. It makes sense, and that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. Call it anything you like. For a start, though, call it democracy, what we Americans seem to think we have because we cast a ballot for a candidate who has usually been carefully vetted, approved and funded by the same people we give our sweat to every day in return for whatever they see fit to pay us.  And then on the sabbath we entrust our souls to a God also carefully vetted and approved by religions run by men we never chose who consider the very idea of such choice diabolical.

That’s not the behavior or freedom-loving human beings. That’s the behavior of sheep.

Habemus Papam, or Be Careful What You Ask For

I thought the following excerpt from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov might be interesting to revisit the day after the election of a new pope in Rome.  If nothing else, “The Grand Inquisitor” is a masterpiece of Western literature and is even published separately from the rest of the novel. It certainly expresses the enmity felt by Russian Orthodoxy toward Roman Catholicism (it was only when I read Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba that I realized how keen that enmity is). But there’s more to it than diatribe. I leave it to you to decide how much more and what it’s value, beyond great literature, may be.

Note: I abbreviated the narrator’s (Ivan Karamazov’s) introduction to the tale, a brief history of Russian religious morality writings. The narrative itself is presented as a long poem that Ivan has an idea for some day writing. He’s relating it to his rather saintly younger brother Alyosha.

The translation is by Constance Garnett. The entire novel is available for free at the Gutenberg Project.

Chapter V. The Grand Inquisitor

“Even this must have a preface—that is, a literary preface,” laughed Ivan, “and I am a poor hand at making one. You see, my action takes place in the sixteenth century, and at that time, as you probably learnt at school, it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly powers on earth….

“He [Jesus] comes on the scene in my poem, but He says nothing, only appears and passes on. Fifteen centuries have passed since He promised to come in His glory, fifteen centuries since His prophet wrote, ‘Behold, I come quickly’; ‘Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father,’ as DostoevskyHe Himself predicted on earth. But humanity awaits him with the same faith and with the same love. Oh, with greater faith, for it is fifteen centuries since man has ceased to see signs from heaven.

“And behold, He deigned to appear for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and ‘in the splendid auto da fé the wicked heretics were burnt.’ Oh, of course, this was not the coming in which He will appear according to His promise at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be sudden ‘as lightning flashing from east to west.’ No, He visited His children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the ‘hot pavements’ of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fé, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville.

“He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized Him. That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognized Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, light and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, ‘O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!’ and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. ‘It is He—it is He!’ all repeat. ‘It must be He, it can be no one but Him!’ He stops at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. ‘He will raise your child,’ the crowd shouts to the weeping mother. The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. ‘If it is Thou, raise my child!’ she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.

“There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal’s robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church—at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk’s cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the ‘holy guard.’ He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick gray brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead Him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut Him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

“ ‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once, ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost Thou know what will be to-morrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,’ he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner.”

“I don’t quite understand, Ivan. What does it mean?” Alyosha, who had been listening in silence, said with a smile. “Is it simply a wild fantasy, or a mistake on the part of the old man—some impossible quiproquo?”

“Take it as the last,” said Ivan, laughing, “if you are so corrupted by modern realism and can’t stand anything fantastic. If you like it to be a case of mistaken identity, let it be so. It is true,” he went on, laughing, “the old man was ninety, and he might well be crazy over his set idea. He might have been struck by the appearance of the Prisoner. It might, in fact, be simply his ravings, the delusion of an old man of ninety, over-excited by the auto da fé of a hundred heretics the day before. But does it matter to us after all whether it was a mistake of identity or a wild fantasy? All that matters is that the old man should speak out, should speak openly of what he has thought in silence for ninety years.”

“And the Prisoner too is silent? Does He look at him and not say a word?”

“That’s inevitable in any case,” Ivan laughed again. “The old man has told Him He hasn’t the right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. ‘All has been given by Thee to the Pope,’ they say, ‘and all, therefore, is still in the Pope’s hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time, at least.’ That’s how they speak and write too—the Jesuits, at any rate. I have read it myself in the works of their theologians. ‘Hast Thou the right to reveal to us one of the mysteries of that world from which Thou hast come?’ my old man asks Him, and answers the question for Him. ‘No, Thou hast not; that Thou mayest not add to what has been said of old, and mayest not take from men the freedom which Thou didst exalt when Thou wast on earth. Whatsoever Thou revealest anew will encroach on men’s freedom of faith; for it will be manifest as a miracle, and the freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee than anything in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often say then, “I will make you free”? But now Thou hast seen these “free” men,’ the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. ‘Yes, we’ve paid dearly for it,’ he goes on, looking sternly at Him, ‘but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it’s over for good? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?’ ”

“I don’t understand again,” Alyosha broke in. “Is he ironical, is he jesting?”

“Not a bit of it! He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy. ‘For now’ (he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course) ‘for the first time it has become possible to think of the happiness of men. Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? Thou wast warned,’ he says to Him. ‘Thou hast had no lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder us?’ ”

“And what’s the meaning of ‘no lack of admonitions and warnings’?” asked Alyosha.

“Why, that’s the chief part of what the old man must say.

“ ‘The wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,’ the old man goes on, ‘the great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told in the books that he “tempted” Thee. Is that so? And could anything truer be said than what he revealed to Thee in three questions and what Thou didst reject, and what in the books is called “the temptation”? And yet if there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations. The statement of those three questions was itself the miracle. If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had gathered together all the wise men of the earth—rulers, chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets—and had set them the task to invent three questions, such as would not only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of humanity—dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth united could have invented anything in depth and force equal to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? From those questions alone, from the miracle of their statement, we can see that we have here to do not with the fleeting human intelligence, but with the absolute and eternal. For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature. At the time it could not be so clear, since the future was unknown; but now that fifteen hundred years have passed, we see that everything in those three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them or taken from them.

“ ‘Judge Thyself who was right—Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: “Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread—for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.” But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth, if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, “Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!” Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!” that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, “Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven’t given it!” And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them—so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

“ ‘This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing “bread,” Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity—to find some one to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find something that all would believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone—the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find some one quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if some one else gains possession of his conscience—oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all—Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems.

“ ‘So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise and dread spirit set Thee on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Thee, “If Thou wouldst know whether Thou art the Son of God then cast Thyself down, for it is written: the angels shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and Thou shalt know then whether Thou art the Son of God and shalt prove then how great is Thy faith in Thy Father.” But Thou didst refuse and wouldst not cast Thyself down. Oh, of course, Thou didst proudly and well, like God; but the weak, unruly race of men, are they gods? Oh, Thou didst know then that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation? Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel, heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, “Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He.” Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him! Can he, can he do what Thou didst? By showing him so much respect, Thou didst, as it were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask far too much from him—Thou who hast loved him more than Thyself! Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him. That would have been more like love, for his burden would have been lighter. He is weak and vile. What though he is everywhere now rebelling against our power, and proud of his rebellion? It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy. They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dear. They will cast down temples and drench the earth with blood. But they will see at last, the foolish children, that, though they are rebels, they are impotent rebels, unable to keep up their own rebellion. Bathed in their foolish tears, they will recognize at last that He who created them rebels must have meant to mock at them. They will say this in despair, and their utterance will be a blasphemy which will make them more unhappy still, for man’s nature cannot bear blasphemy, and in the end always avenges it on itself. And so unrest, confusion and unhappiness—that is the present lot of man after Thou didst bear so much for their freedom! The great prophet tells in vision and in image, that he saw all those who took part in the first resurrection and that there were of each tribe twelve thousand. But if there were so many of them, they must have been not men but gods. They had borne Thy cross, they had endured scores of years in the barren, hungry wilderness, living upon locusts and roots—and Thou mayest indeed point with pride at those children of freedom, of free love, of free and splendid sacrifice for Thy name. But remember that they were only some thousands; and what of the rest? And how are the other weak ones to blame, because they could not endure what the strong have endured? How is the weak soul to blame that it is unable to receive such terrible gifts? Canst Thou have simply come to the elect and for the elect? But if so, it is a mystery and we cannot understand it. And if it is a mystery, we too have a right to preach a mystery, and to teach them that it’s not the free judgment of their hearts, not love that matters, but a mystery which they must follow blindly, even against their conscience. So we have done. We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And 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. Were we right teaching them this? Speak! Did we not love mankind, so meekly acknowledging their feebleness, lovingly lightening their burden, and permitting their weak nature even sin with our sanction? Why hast Thou come now to hinder us? And why dost Thou look silently and searchingly at me with Thy mild eyes? Be angry. I don’t want Thy love, for I love Thee not. And what use is it for me to hide anything from Thee? Don’t I know to Whom I am speaking? All that I can say is known to Thee already. And is it for me to conceal from Thee our mystery? Perhaps it is Thy will to hear it from my lips. Listen, then. We are not working with Thee, but with him—that is our mystery. It’s long—eight centuries—since we have been on his side and not on Thine. Just eight centuries ago, we took from him what Thou didst reject with scorn, that last gift he offered Thee, showing Thee all the kingdoms of the earth. We took from him Rome and the sword of Cæsar, and proclaimed ourselves sole rulers of the earth, though hitherto we have not been able to complete our work. But whose fault is that? Oh, the work is only beginning, but it has begun. It has long to await completion and the earth has yet much to suffer, but we shall triumph and shall be Cæsars, and then we shall plan the universal happiness of man. But Thou mightest have taken even then the sword of Cæsar. Why didst Thou reject that last gift? Hadst Thou accepted that last counsel of the mighty spirit, Thou wouldst have accomplished all that man seeks on earth—that is, some one to worship, some one to keep his conscience, and some means of uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap, for the craving for universal unity is the third and last anguish of men. Mankind as a whole has always striven to organize a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union. The great conquerors, Timours and Ghenghis-Khans, whirled like hurricanes over the face of the earth striving to subdue its people, and they too were but the unconscious expression of the same craving for universal unity. Hadst Thou taken the world and Cæsar’s purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Cæsar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, “Mystery.” But then, and only then, the reign of peace and happiness will come for men. Thou art proud of Thine elect, but Thou hast only the elect, while we give rest to all. And besides, how many of those elect, those mighty ones who could become elect, have grown weary waiting for Thee, and have transferred and will transfer the powers of their spirit and the warmth of their heart to the other camp, and end by raising their free banner against Thee. Thou didst Thyself lift up that banner. But with us all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. 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, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: “Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!”

“ ‘Receiving bread from us, they will see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from them, to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see that we do not change the stones to bread, but in truth they will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for the bread itself! For they will remember only too well that in old days, without our help, even the bread they made turned to stones in their hands, while since they have come back to us, the very stones have turned to bread in their hands. Too, too well will they know the value of complete submission! And until men know that, they will be unhappy. Who is most to blame for their not knowing it?—speak! Who scattered the flock and sent it astray on unknown paths? But the flock will come together again and will submit once more, and then it will be once for all. Then we shall give them the quiet humble happiness of weak creatures such as they are by nature. Oh, we shall persuade them at last not to be proud, for Thou didst lift them up and thereby taught them to be proud. We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever, that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions. They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child’s game, with children’s songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviors who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children—according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient—and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: “Judge us if Thou canst and darest.” Know that I fear Thee not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting “to make up the number.” But I awakened and would not serve madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if any one has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.’ ”

Ivan stopped. He was carried away as he talked, and spoke with excitement; when he had finished, he suddenly smiled.

Alyosha had listened in silence; towards the end he was greatly moved and seemed several times on the point of interrupting, but restrained himself. Now his words came with a rush.

“But … that’s absurd!” he cried, flushing. “Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him—as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That’s not the idea of it in the Orthodox Church…. That’s Rome, and not even the whole of Rome, it’s false—those are the worst of the Catholics, the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!… And there could not be such a fantastic creature as your Inquisitor. What are these sins of mankind they take on themselves? Who are these keepers of the mystery who have taken some curse upon themselves for the happiness of mankind? When have they been seen? We know the Jesuits, they are spoken ill of, but surely they are not what you describe? They are not that at all, not at all…. They are simply the Romish army for the earthly sovereignty of the world in the future, with the Pontiff of Rome for Emperor … that’s their ideal, but there’s no sort of mystery or lofty melancholy about it…. It’s simple lust of power, of filthy earthly gain, of domination—something like a universal serfdom with them as masters—that’s all they stand for. They don’t even believe in God perhaps. Your suffering Inquisitor is a mere fantasy.”

“Stay, stay,” laughed Ivan, “how hot you are! A fantasy you say, let it be so! Of course it’s a fantasy. But allow me to say: do you really think that the Roman Catholic movement of the last centuries is actually nothing but the lust of power, of filthy earthly gain? Is that Father Païssy’s teaching?”

“No, no, on the contrary, Father Païssy did once say something rather the same as you … but of course it’s not the same, not a bit the same,” Alyosha hastily corrected himself.

“A precious admission, in spite of your ‘not a bit the same.’ I ask you why your Jesuits and Inquisitors have united simply for vile material gain? Why can there not be among them one martyr oppressed by great sorrow and loving humanity? You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain—if there’s only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God’s creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined—the clever people. Surely that could have happened?”

“Joined whom, what clever people?” cried Alyosha, completely carried away. “They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets…. Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that’s all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that’s his secret!”

“What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It’s perfectly true, it’s true that that’s the whole secret, but isn’t that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, ‘incomplete, empirical creatures created in jest.’ And so, convinced of this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefore accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy. And note, the deception is in the name of Him in Whose ideal the old man had so fervently believed all his life long. Is not that tragic? And if only one such stood at the head of the whole army ‘filled with the lust of power only for the sake of filthy gain’—would not one such be enough to make a tragedy? More than that, one such standing at the head is enough to create the actual leading idea of the Roman Church with all its armies and Jesuits, its highest idea. I tell you frankly that I firmly believe that there has always been such a man among those who stood at the head of the movement. Who knows, there may have been some such even among the Roman Popes. Who knows, perhaps the spirit of that accursed old man who loves mankind so obstinately in his own way, is to be found even now in a whole multitude of such old men, existing not by chance but by agreement, as a secret league formed long ago for the guarding of the mystery, to guard it from the weak and the unhappy, so as to make them happy. No doubt it is so, and so it must be indeed. I fancy that even among the Masons there’s something of the same mystery at the bottom, and that that’s why the Catholics so detest the Masons as their rivals breaking up the unity of the idea, while it is so essential that there should be one flock and one shepherd…. But from the way I defend my idea I might be an author impatient of your criticism. Enough of it.”

“You are perhaps a Mason yourself!” broke suddenly from Alyosha. “You don’t believe in God,” he added, speaking this time very sorrowfully. He fancied besides that his brother was looking at him ironically. “How does your poem end?” he asked, suddenly looking down. “Or was it the end?”

“I meant to end it like this. When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for Him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all His answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: ‘Go, and come no more … come not at all, never, never!’ And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away.”

“And the old man?”

“The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”

“And you with him, you too?” cried Alyosha, mournfully.

Ivan laughed.

“Why, it’s all nonsense, Alyosha. It’s only a senseless poem of a senseless student, who could never write two lines of verse. Why do you take it so seriously? Surely you don’t suppose I am going straight off to the Jesuits, to join the men who are correcting His work? Good Lord, it’s no business of mine. I told you, all I want is to live on to thirty, and then … dash the cup to the ground!”

“But the little sticky leaves, and the precious tombs, and the blue sky, and the woman you love! How will you live, how will you love them?” Alyosha cried sorrowfully. “With such a hell in your heart and your head, how can you? No, that’s just what you are going away for, to join them … if not, you will kill yourself, you can’t endure it!”

“There is a strength to endure everything,” Ivan said with a cold smile.

“What strength?”

“The strength of the Karamazovs—the strength of the Karamazov baseness.”

“To sink into debauchery, to stifle your soul with corruption, yes?”

“Possibly even that … only perhaps till I am thirty I shall escape it, and then—”

“How will you escape it? By what will you escape it? That’s impossible with your ideas.”

“In the Karamazov way, again.”

“ ‘Everything is lawful,’ you mean? Everything is lawful, is that it?”

Ivan scowled, and all at once turned strangely pale.

“Ah, you’ve caught up yesterday’s phrase, which so offended Miüsov—and which Dmitri pounced upon so naïvely, and paraphrased!” he smiled queerly. “Yes, if you like, ‘everything is lawful’ since the word has been said. I won’t deny it. And Mitya’s version isn’t bad.”

Alyosha looked at him in silence.

“I thought that going away from here I have you at least,” Ivan said suddenly, with unexpected feeling; “but now I see that there is no place for me even in your heart, my dear hermit. The formula, ‘all is lawful,’ I won’t renounce—will you renounce me for that, yes?”

Alyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.

“That’s plagiarism,” cried Ivan, highly delighted. “You stole that from my poem. Thank you though. Get up, Alyosha, it’s time we were going, both of us.”

They went out, but stopped when they reached the entrance of the restaurant.

“Listen, Alyosha,” Ivan began in a resolute voice, “if I am really able to care for the sticky little leaves I shall only love them, remembering you. It’s enough for me that you are somewhere here, and I shan’t lose my desire for life yet. Is that enough for you? Take it as a declaration of love if you like. And now you go to the right and I to the left. And it’s enough, do you hear, enough. I mean even if I don’t go away to-morrow (I think I certainly shall go) and we meet again, don’t say a word more on these subjects. I beg that particularly. And about Dmitri too, I ask you specially, never speak to me again,” he added, with sudden irritation; “it’s all exhausted, it has all been said over and over again, hasn’t it? And I’ll make you one promise in return for it. When at thirty, I want to ‘dash the cup to the ground,’ wherever I may be I’ll come to have one more talk with you, even though it were from America, you may be sure of that. I’ll come on purpose. It will be very interesting to have a look at you, to see what you’ll be by that time. It’s rather a solemn promise, you see. And we really may be parting for seven years or ten. Come, go now to your Pater Seraphicus, he is dying. If he dies without you, you will be angry with me for having kept you. Good-by, kiss me once more; that’s right, now go.”

Ivan turned suddenly and went his way without looking back. It was just as Dmitri had left Alyosha the day before, though the parting had been very different. The strange resemblance flashed like an arrow through Alyosha’s mind in the distress and dejection of that moment. He waited a little, looking after his brother. He suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never noticed it before. But all at once he turned too, and almost ran to the monastery. It was nearly dark, and he felt almost frightened; something new was growing up in him for which he could not account. The wind had risen again as on the previous evening, and the ancient pines murmured gloomily about him when he entered the hermitage copse. He almost ran. “Pater Seraphicus—he got that name from somewhere—where from?” Alyosha wondered. “Ivan, poor Ivan, and when shall I see you again?… Here is the hermitage. Yes, yes, that he is, Pater Seraphicus, he will save me—from him and for ever!”

Several times afterwards he wondered how he could on leaving Ivan so completely forget his brother Dmitri, though he had that morning, only a few hours before, so firmly resolved to find him and not to give up doing so, even should he be unable to return to the monastery that night.