In a recent conversation with a parishioner, I was exhorted to read “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This is one of the Russian tomes that makes you wonder if it’s easier to walk across Siberia or get through the novel.
Last night I read the chapter entitled, “The Grand Inquisitor.” This particular chapter is famous for its critique of Christianity and the Church. After reading this chapter, without knowing the rest of the book, many have labeled Dostoevsky as an atheist. That’s not the case, but I’m not going to dwell on literary criticism.
But I do want to address some of the points made in this chapter; points made by many critics of Christianity and the Church.
In my reading of modern day atheism (most especially “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins), I have found a curious non sequitur. Dawkins, with others, attempts to disprove the existence of the Christian God of love by critiquing the transgressions and errors of God’s followers.
It goes like this: “If God was so good and loving and powerful, how could his followers have produced such evil, despicable events as the Crusades? Or how could it be that white slaveholders in the South used the Bible as their means of keeping shackles on their slaves? This clearly shows that Christians are deluded in their faith and beliefs.”
You can see the problem. When we start at how awful humanity it, it doesn’t take us very long to get to a place of despair.
But that’s why Christianity starts with Christ. God is not defined by who we are, what we do, or what we say. Personally, I believe that the convicted murderer on death row can proclaim “Jesus is Lord” just as truthfully as Mother Teresa can. True, the criminal has sinned, and sinned terribly, but his crimes don’t disprove God.
We don’t define God – God defines us.