Dostoevsky's Religion

Dostoevsky's Religion

Dostoevsky's Religion

Dostoevsky's Religion

Synopsis

Any reader of Dostoevsky is immediately struck by the importance of religion within the world of his fiction. That said, it is very difficult to locate a coherent set of religious beliefs within Dostoevsky's works, and to argue that the writer embraced these beliefs. This book provides a trenchant reassessment of his religion by showing how Dostoevsky used his writings as the vehicle for an intense probing of the nature of Christianity, of the individual meaning of belief and doubt, and of the problems of ethical behavior that arise from these questions. The author argues that religion represented for Dostoevsky a welter of conflicting views and stances, from philosophical idealism to nationalist messianism. The strength of this study lies in its recognition of the absence of a single religious prescription in Dostoevsky's works, as well as in its success in tracing the background of the ideas animating Dostoevsky's religious probing.

Excerpt

To judge from the past, there is a natural and powerful impulse to characterize the “religion” in Dostoevsky's writings as a set of beliefs (which we may list and describe) and then to attribute them all to the author, or to identify a subset that we may attribute to the author, or to state that the author repudiated all the beliefs we've listed. in any case, it always seems to boil down to the question, “What did Dostoevsky himself really believe?”

That's where the trouble begins. People who pose this question don't expect an answer like “Dostoevsky believed that all religion is essentially a product of our tendency to produce myths” or “Dostoevsky believed that religion serves a socializing function in human civilization.” They expect an answer like “Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and believed in personal immortality, ” or the opposite, “Dostoevsky was a tried-and-true atheist and did not believe in much of anything at all.” If they decide that he was a religious (specifically Christian) person and not an atheist, they expect further details about what, in his view, good Christians should believe and how they should behave. They expect, in short, a kind of theology and corresponding guide to living that represents “what Dostoevsky believed.”

There are two problems with this approach. the first is that even if we do wish to know (and think it's important to know) what Dostoevsky believed when it came to religion, we'll quickly be disappointed to find he “believed” a welter of diverse ideas that, taken as a whole, are shot through with flagrant contradictions and inconsistencies. Readers of Dostoevsky who declare, for example, that their novelist embraced and promoted a kind of nationalist Russian Orthodox Christianity are telling the truth—it's easy to find passages to support this claim—but they're overlooking the passages where he ridicules this type of belief. Those who declare that Dostoevsky was a sworn enemy of socialism, seen as the antithesis of “his” Christianity, are telling the truth, too—it's easy to find passages to support this claim—but they forget the . . .

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