In “Retrograde dependency,” I looked at how the Nurse Ratched character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest smothered her patients’ freedom by keeping them dependent on her. I originally intended to juxtapose her with the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov, but decided to save the material for a later post. Here it is:
Nurse Ratched needs her patients to need her. There is something twisted about how she seduces them into dependency. All of them are at the psych ward by choice. None of them begs to controlled. She provides as if she is obligated to provide, and the patients accept out of a sense of guilt, out of fear of offending her. This pattern holds true for most of the book, before she has McMurphy lobotomized.
On the other hand, the Grand Inquisitor’s motivation is compassion. Because people suffer from the choice between living like Jesus and living for themselves, the Inquisitor deliberately bastardizes Jesus’ teachings of what it means to love God and to love thy neighbor. He takes the choice from them, buying their complacency with bread, order, and kingdom (Matthew 4:3-10), the same bribe that the devil tempted Jesus with and that He rejected.
“Nothing has ever been more insufferable for man and for human society than freedom!” the Inquisitor declares. He justifies the end, human happiness, by the means, enslavement. He argues for compassion, contra Jesus’ “ambivalence.” He says: “Respecting [man] so much, you behaved as if you had ceased to be compassionate, because you demanded too much of him.” Jesus expected people to choose Him for themselves and to reap the consequences, good or ill. According to the Inquisitor’s tragic view of human nature, that is too much to expect from the masses. Rather than stand by and allow people to flounder between salvation and idolatry, he seeks to “correct [Christ’s] deed.” This phrase is important, because it establishes the Inquisitor’s justification for burning Jesus reincarnate with the other heretics; to him, salvation through Christ is the real idolatry.
Woe unto the man who preaches the truth, for the truth of salvation contains the unbearable uncertainty of worldly suffering. Should he try sincerely to worship God, should he rebel against the Inquisitor’s monopoly on salvation, the Inquisitor will execute him.
C.S. Lewis had people like the Grand Inquisitor in mind when he wrote:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.