The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God.The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

The Grand Inquisitor

by Bill Meyer

I've been intrigued by the argument, often whispered confidentially, by authoritarian religious leaders that their followers are really just too childish and therefore must have Christian freedom withheld from them -- lest they abuse it and things get badly out of hand. Some of the lieutenants even get a bit misty-eyed when explaining this truth to lower level followers, after the lieutenants have been graced by a recent audience with the supreme leadership. Indeed, having to maintain absolute control over other human beings -- lest they hurt themselves with freedom -- has even been portrayed as a supreme sacrifice for authoritarian leaders.

Without pushing too far afield, this seems very similar to the argument of the Grand Inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov."

After a splendid auto-da-fe where 100 heretics had been burned, as Dostoevsky's story goes, Jesus himself makes an appearance in Seville. He is immediately recognized by both the crowd and by the 90-year-old Cardinal and Grand Inquisitor.

As the crowd flocks around Jesus, the blind receive their sight again, the sick are healed and a dead girl is even raised from her coffin. Predictably, the Grand Inquisitor arrests Jesus. He visits Jesus in his cell and explains how Jesus was really mistaken to have exercised divine restraint when he appeared in Palestine centuries earlier. Jesus should have embraced the power of miracle, mystery and authority, as the devil was suggesting in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Indeed, the Inquisitor explains, the church has been forced to "correct Your work" and remove the freedom that Jesus so foolishly bestowed upon the unworthy masses.

" 'Why did You come here, to interfere and make things difficult for us? For You came to interfere -- You know it. But shall I tell You what will happen tomorrow? ... I shall pronounce You the wickedest of all heretics and sentence You to be burned at the stake, and the very people who today were kissing Your feet will tomorrow, at a sign of my hand, hasten to Your stake to rake the coals. Don't you know it? ...

" 'Fifteen centuries ago ... didn't You often tell them then that You wanted to make them free? Well, then,' the old man adds with a grin, 'so now You have seen free men. ...

" 'I want You to know, though, that on this very day men are convinced that they are freer than they have ever been, although they themselves brought us their freedom and put it meekly at our feet.' "

Jesus was then told he had responded foolishly to the devil's questions in the desert.

" 'Judge for Yourself, then: who was right, You or the one who questioned You? Do You remember the first question. It was worded differently, but this is its purport: "You wanted to come into the world, and You came empty-handed, with nothing but some vague promise of freedom, which, in their simple-mindedness and innate irresponsibility, men cannot even conceive and which they fear and dread. For there has never been anything more difficult for man and for human society to bear than freedom! And now, do You see those stones in this parched and barren desert? Turn them into loaves of bread, and men will follow You like cattle, grateful and docile" ...

" 'And we shall give them bread in Your name and lie, telling them that it is in Your name. ... We are concerned with the weak too! They are corrupt and undisciplined, but in the end they will be the obedient ones! They will marvel at us and worship us like gods, because, by becoming their masters, we have accepted the burden of freedom that they were too frightened to face, just because we have agreed to rule over them -- that is how terrifying freedom will have become to them finally! We shall tell them, though, that we are loyal to You and that we rule over them in Your name. We shall be lying, because we do not intend to allow You to come back. ...

" 'I tell You once more that man has no more pressing, agonizing need than the need to find someone to whom he can hand over as quickly as possible the gift of freedom with which the poor wretch comes into the world. ...

" 'Instead of seizing men's freedom, You gave them even more of it! ... You came to them with words that were unfamiliar, vague, and indefinite. You offered them something that was quite beyond them. It even looked as if You didn't love them, You who came to give them Your life! Instead of ridding men of their freedom, You increased their freedom, and You imposed everlasting torment on man's soul. You wanted to gain man's love so that he would follow You of his own freewill, fascinated and captivated by You. In place of the clear and rigid ancient law, You made man decide about good and evil for himself, with no other guidance than Your example. ...

" 'There are three forces, only three, on this earth that can overcome and capture once and for all the conscience of these feeble, undisciplined creatures, so as to give them happiness. These forces are miracle, mystery, and authority.

" 'But You rejected the first, the second, and the third of these forces and set up Your rejection as an example to men. ...

" 'We have the right to preach to man that what matters is not freedom of choice or love, but a mystery that he must worship blindly, even at the expense of his conscience. And that is exactly what we have done. We have corrected Your work and have now founded it on miracle, mystery, and authority. And men rejoice at being led like cattle again, with the terrible gift of freedom that brought them so much suffering removed from them. ...

" 'Why have you come to interfere with our work? ...

" 'Our work is only beginning, but at least it has begun. ... In the end we shall prevail. We will be Caesar's, and then we shall devise a plan for universal happiness. But You, You could have taken Caesar's sword when You came the first time. Why did You reject that last gift? Had You accepted the third offering of the mighty spirit, You would have fulfilled man's greatest need on earth. That is the need to find someone to worship, someone who can relieve him of the burden of his conscience, thus enable him finally to unite into a harmonious ant-hill where there are no dissenting voices. ...

" 'So we took Caesar's sword and, by taking it, we rejected You and followed "him." ...

" 'We will convince them that they will only be free when they have surrendered their freedom and submitted to us. And that will be the truth, will it not? ...

" 'Freedom, free-thinking, and science will lead men into such confusion and confront them with such dilemmas and insoluble riddles that the fierce and rebellious will destroy one another ... while the weakest and most miserable will crawl to our feet and cry out to us: "Yes, you were right, You alone possessed His secret, and we have come back to you. Save us from ourselves!" And when they receive bread from us, they will be clearly aware that it is bread they have earned with their own hands, the same bread we took away from them, that we perform no miracles by turning stones into bread, and yet the fact that they receive it from our hands will make them happier than the bread itself. ...

" 'They will grow timid and cling to us in fear, like chicks to a hen. They will admire us, be terrified of us, and be proud of the strength and wisdom that enabled us to subdue a turbulent herd ... Their eyes will fill with tears as readily as those of women and children ...

" 'They will tell us the secrets that most torment their consciences. They will tell us everything, and we shall solve all their problems, and they will trust to our solutions completely, because they will be rid of the terrible worry and the frightening torment they know today when they have to decide for themselves how to act. ...

" 'I came to my senses and refused to serve a mad cause. I turned away and joined those who were endeavoring to correct Your work. ...

" 'I shall have you burned, because, by coming here, You have made our task more difficult. For if anyone has ever deserved our fire, it is You. And I shall have You burned tomorrow. "Dixi." [I have spoken.]' "

But oddly enough, the Grand Inquisitor then had second thoughts. Instead of burning Jesus at the stake, he just expelled him with the strict warning:

" 'Go now, and do not ever come back -- ever. You must never, never come again!' "

So too, today, would many correct his work, removing the unacceptable risks of Christian freedom and substituting some mixture of the much more reliable and sturdy standbys of miracle, mystery and authority.

Jesus, after all, really just gets in the way of the work they are doing in his name. He interferes much too much. And this very risky Christian freedom must certainly be withheld -- or at the very least, be put off for more certain and stable times in the distant future.

So too today, they would try to force Jesus to stand aside -- and never, never come again.

Thoughtfully, and with best wishes,

Bill Meyer

 

 

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