The story presents the stark choice between the increased freedom Christ offers and the "corrected work" espoused by System Christianity.
The increased freedom Christ offers pertains to the belief in the reality of the often neglected and under-discussed divine-human aspect of Christianity. The corrected work of System Christianity considers this divine-human aspect of Christianity to be unattainable for most people; hence, it sets it sights on alleviating people of the divine-human burden of freedom and offering in its place the promise of universal happiness via consented "veiled" slavery.
In the story, the Grand Inquisitor reveals the core nature of Jesus’s mission on earth – to make people aware of their innate spiritual freedom and to empower people to discern good and evil for themselves using only the image of Christ as their guide:
“Instead of taking mastery of people's freedom, you increased it and saddled the spiritual kingdom of man with it for ever. You desired that man's love should be free, that he should follow you freely, enticed and captivated by you. Henceforth, in place of the old, firm law, man was himself to decide with a free heart what is good and what is evil, with only your image before him to guide him . . .”
This mission of increasing freedom is a testament to Jesus’s knowledge of the divine potential within humanity – that He thinks highly of us, our fundamental nature, and of our spiritual potential.
On the flip side, the Grand Inquisitor believes Jesus has overestimated man’s potential; that Christ’s mission to increase spiritual freedom within individual hearts ended up spiritually burdening rather than spiritually liberating man.
In humanity, Jesus sees potential sons and daughters of God – each capable of discernment, right choice, and increased spiritual freedom. Conversely, in humanity the Grand Inquisitor sees mostly weaklings, cowards, and slaves, the bulk of whom are utterly incapable of embracing the increased spiritual freedom Christ offers:
“Upon my word, man is created weaker and more base than you supposed! Can he, can he perform the deeds of which you are capable? In respecting him so much you acted as though you had ceased to have compassion for him, because you demanded too much of him—and yet who was this? The very one you had loved more than yourself! Had you respected him less you would have demanded of him less, and that would have been closer to love, for his burden would have been lighter. He is weak and dishonourable.”
Jesus’s respect for us, the increased freedom He demands of us is a testament to His love and of His esteem for us as divine beings. However, the Grand Inquisitor counters this by claiming that Jesus’s respect for humanity is misguided – that His love for humanity and faith in the spiritual potential of humanity are not love or faith at all, but cruelty.
To the Grand Inquisitor, Jesus is like a father who dreams of seeing his obese, non-athletic, clumsy, lazy son play in big league professional sports. “Why torture the kid with such unrealistic and unattainable ambitions?” the Grand Inquisitor would surmise. “Better to have him eat pizza and play video games all day. Not only would the kid not feel burdened by unrealistic expectations, but he would also have a shot at being happy in life."
Unburdening humanity of Jesus’s high expectations of freedom while simultaneously ensuring humanity’s happiness is the mission of the Grand Inquisitor and his Church. In the story, the Grand Inquisitor even describes this mission as “correcting” Jesus’s work.
A big part of correcting Jesus’s mission is the understanding that humans can tolerate anything but freedom of choice in the face of good and evil – that the vast majority of humanity cannot bear the kind of spiritual freedom Christ offered. Moreover, the vast majority of humanity would happily relinquish this increased freedom and lay it down before some authority or other:
“Was it not you who so often used to say back then: 'I want to make you free'? Well, but now you have seen those 'free' people," the old man suddenly adds with a thoughtful and ironic smile. "Yes, this task has cost us dearly," he continues, looking at him sternly, "but we have at last accomplished it in your name. For fifteen centuries we have struggled with that freedom, but now it is all over, and over for good. You don't believe that it is over for good? You look at me meekly and do not even consider me worthy of indignation? Well, I think you ought to be aware that now, and particularly in the days we are currently living through, those people are even more certain than ever that they are completely free, and indeed they themselves have brought us their freedom and have laid it humbly at our feet. But we were the ones who did that, and was that what you desired, that kind of freedom?"
Furthermore, the vast majority of humanity also prefers to do this universally, as a collective.
“There is for man no preoccupation more constant or more nagging than, while in a condition of freedom, quickly to find someone to bow down before. But man seeks to bow down before that which is already beyond dispute, so far beyond dispute that all human beings will instantly agree to a universal bowing-down before it. For the preoccupation of these miserable creatures consists not only in finding that before which I or another may bow down, but in finding something that everyone can come to believe in and bow down before, and that it should indeed be everyone, and that they should do it all together. It is this need for a community of bowing-down that has been the principal torment of each individual person and of mankind as a whole since the earliest ages.”
Of course, the Grand Inquisitor does not tell his followers that they have chosen spiritual enslavement over freedom. On the contrary, his "corrected work" falsely claims to work under the banner of freedom:
"Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom for us and submit to us. And what does it matter whether we are right or whether, we are telling a lie? They themselves will be persuaded we are right, for they will remember to what 'horrors of slavery and confusion your freedom has brought them. Freedom, the free intellect and science will lead them into such labyrinths and bring them up against such miracles and unfathomable mysteries that some of them, the disobedient and ferocious ones, will destroy themselves; others, disobedient and feeble, will destroy one another, while a third group, those who are left, the feeble and unhappy ones, will come crawling to our feet, and will cry out to us: 'Yes, you were right, you alone were masters of his secret, and we are returning to you, save us from ourselves.'"
The Grand Inquisitor is the perfect representative of what I have termed System Christianity. Those who are members of his church believe they are attaining salvation through obedience; however, the Grand Inquisitor reveals otherwise:
“Quietly they will die, quietly they will fade away in your name and beyond the tomb will find only death. But we shall preserve the secret and for the sake of their happiness will lure them with a heavenly and eternal reward. For if there were anything in the other world, it goes without saying that it would not be for the likes of them.”
Spiritual discernment of vital importance in this time and place - and the core of spiritual discernment resides in the choice Dostoevsky presents in his The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.
Do you choose the increased freedom Christ offers or do you choose to relinquish this freedom in the name of comfort, peace, and happiness.
Do you choose to follow the divine-human aspect of Christianity via the increased freedom of spiritual discernment or settle for the human-all-too-human aspect of System Christianity via the increased enslavement of blind obedience and non-discernment.
The choice applies regardless of whether you attend a church or not because elements of Christ's increased freedom and the Grand Inquisitor's "happy" slavery exist both within and outwith churches.
Juxtaposed against the increased freedom Christ offers is the universal love of mankind, and this universal love of mankind is what fuels the contemporary global diktat of none are safe until all are safe.
We are currently embroiled in an unprecedented Satanic assault on human freedom. Any individual, group, or organization that supports any aspect of this Satanic assault, that opposes the increased freedom Christ offers is not on the side of God, as the Grand Inquisitor himself reveals toward the end of the story:
"And that was what we did. We corrected your great deed and founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And people were glad that they had once been brought together into a flock and that at last from their hearts had been removed such a terrible gift, which had brought them so much torment. Were we right, to teach and act thus, would you say? Did we not love mankind, when we so humbly admitted his helplessness, lightening his burden with love and allowing his feeble nature even sin, but with our permission? Why have you come to get in our way now? And why do you gaze at me so silently and sincerely with those meek eyes of yours? Why do you not get angry? I do not want your love, because I myself do not love you. And what is there I can conceal from you? Do you think I don't know who I'm talking to? What I have to say to you is all familiar to you already, I can read it in your eyes. And do you think I would conceal our secret from you? Perhaps it is my own lips that you want to hear it from—then listen: we are not with you, but with him, there is our secret! We have long been not with you, but with him . . ."
If Dostoevksy's Grand Inquisitor informs us of anything today, it is this - individual spiritual discernment of good and evil is no longer an option, but a duty.
Note added: I highly recommend reading or re-reading The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, which is only a chapter long (link above). I can think of few texts - especially fiction pieces - that strike so precisely and vividly at the core of what we are facing today.