As was the case with many 19th century thinkers (e.g., Nietzsche), Dostoevsky, in his masterpiece, The Brother’s Karamazov, offers his own critique of rationalism and related forms of reductionism. Though accused by many scholars of advocating a (so-called) Kierkegaardian irrationalism and extreme voluntarism, as Rowan Williams has convincingly argued, such a conclusion (among other things) fails to take into account (1) what Mikhail Bakhtin coined as the “polyphonic” mode of Dostoevsky’s text—a mode creating both dissonant and consonant extended harmonies—and (2) the way in which Dostoevsky allows Alyosha’s faith to grow and mature, thus exhibiting a picture that reflects more authentically the complexity and struggle involved in living a life of faith in this world. Many critics point to an early statement (Feb. 1854) found in a letter written by Dostoevsky to Natalya Fonvizina, a woman who had gifted him with a copy of the New Testament that he had read avidly while in prison. The content of the letter is frequently cited as evidence that Dostoevsky’s religious faith is based on irrationalism and exhibits something closely resembling Nietzsche’s will to power (extreme voluntarism). Dostoevsky’s admittedly difficult statement reads as follows: “if someone were to prove to me that Christ was outside [вне] the truth, and it was really the case that the truth lay outside Christ, then I should choose to stay with Christ rather than the truth.” Williams, having examined and analyzed several of Dosteovsky’s texts and characters—from the Underground Man (Notes from the Underground), to Shatov and Stavrogin (Devils), to Alyosha and Ivan (Brothers Karamazov), offers a plausible (and to this author convincing) way to approach and interpret Dostoevsky’s statement that resonates with Dostoevsky’s own complex understanding of faith as that which “moves and adapts, matures and reshapes itself.” On Williams’s read, even if Dostoevsky’s 1854 confession expresses his own doubts and struggles about how exactly to harmonize faith and reason, belief in the supernatural and the often anti-supernaturalistic bias of science, his confession comes to mean something like the following:
“Truth,” as the ensemble of sustainable propositions about the world, does not compel adherence to any one policy of living rather than another; if faith’s claims about Christ do not stand within that ensemble of propositions, that is not a problem. It means that they cannot be confused with any worldly power that might assume the right to dictate a policy for living or impose a reconciliation upon unwilling humanity.
Williams goes on to stress that Dostoevsky’s position need not be interpreted as advocating that the claims of faith are contradictory or “arbitrarily willed” and hence, irrational. Rather,
they represent something that can make possible new motions of moral awareness precisely because they are not generated by the will. But these new motions generated by the recognition of the claims of faith are a response that moves “with the grain” of things, at least to the extent that it does not lead to literal and spiritual self-destruction. At this level, response to Christ connects with a “truth” that is more comprehensive than any given ensemble of facts. The truth of faith is thus something that cannot be reduced to an observable matter of fact: it is discernable when a certain response is made which creates the possibility of “reconciliation,” and is fleshed out by way of the specific engagements of loving attention.
Even if one became convinced of this interpretation, as Williams points out, it still leaves us with the nagging question of how exactly the claims of faith connect with the “ensemble of facts” of this world? In other words, do Christ’s claim (the claims of faith) merely have the power to transform a person’s individual, moral “inner space” while leaving the world at large—whether the claims of science, the “facts” of history or the moral chaos and injustice so prevalent in the world—untouched? Questions like these take us immediately to the famous “Grand Inquisitor,” section of Brothers Karamazov, to which we now turn.
 As Williams explains, “What he [Dostoevsky] does in Karamazov is not to demonstrate that it is possible to imagine a life so integrated and transparent that the credibility of faith becomes unassailable; it is simply to show that faith moves and adapts, matures and reshapes itself, not by adjusting its doctrinal content (the error of theological liberalism, with which Dostoevsky had no patience) but by the relentless stripping away from faith of egotistical or triumphalistic expectations. The credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow. In the nature of the case, there will be no unanswerable demonstrations and no final unimprovable biographical form apart from Christ, who can only be and is only represented in fiction through the oblique reflection of his face in those who are moving toward him” (Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, p. 10).
 Williams, Dostoevsky, p. 15.
 From Dostoevsky’s 1854 letter to Natalya Fonvizina (full text in Pol’noe sobranie sochinenii, 30 vols. [Leningrad: Nauka, 1972-1990] 28.2: 176), as found in Williams, Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction, p. 15.
 Williams, Dostoevsky, pp. 25-6.
 Williams, Dostoevsky, p. 26.
The first thing to note about the “Grand Inquisitor” story is that it is Ivan’s tale, which he decides to share with Alyosha. Thus, the content of the story communicates Ivan’s understanding of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church, the nature of human beings, and the “problem” of freedom. In other words, we must make a sharp distinction between Dostoevsky’s views and Ivan’s in this section or we run the risk of completely misinterpreting what Dostoevsky wants to convey. In contrast with what Ivan portrays about freedom in his “poem,” Dostoevsky highly valued freedom, considering it one of humankind’s most precious gifts. Ivan’s Inquisitor, a Roman Catholic cardinal, who has Christ arrested during a surprise visit to Spain in the years of the Inquisition, accuses Jesus of having too high a view of human beings and their ability to rightly employ their freedom. According the Inquisitor, humans are “weak, vicious, worthless and rebellious,” and Jesus, in allowing them to freely choose to follow Him, only increased their sufferings—sufferings which came about in the first place because of this so-called gift of freedom.
Since the Inquisitor is absolutely convinced that Jesus’ way is impossible given the weak and base nature of human beings, he and his comrades have stepped in to finish Christ’s incomplete work. That is, they will provide people with a relatively stable, comfortable life in which the necessities of life are met (e.g., food, protection, presumably shelter)—and all in Christ’s name of course; however, a price is required: freedom. Unveiling his plan and what he considers the true state of human beings to none other than Christ Himself, the Inquisitor proclaims:
we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.”
Here we see the “noble lie” of the Republic transposed into a modern key. The Inquisitor-kings, the elite few who have come to realize that Christ’s way is impossible for the wretched masses, will take the sufferings of the masses upon themselves. Just what is this suffering that the rulers so willingly propose to endure? The suffering consists in the fact that these elite few knowingly deceive the people in the name of Christ—something they deem a necessary evil, genuinely believing it to be for the good of the people (народ) in light of their inability to properly exercise their freedom.
As the Inquisitor continues his account of the plight of humankind or at least the plight of the masses, he explains that human beings in their freedom long to worship someone, and that they experience “no greater anxiety” than to find someone to whom they can “hand over that gift of freedom” with which they were created. Had Jesus, according to the Inquisitor, followed Satan’s advice in the wilderness and in effect agreed that humans do live by bread alone, the masses would have willingly handed over their freedom and worshipped Him alone. “In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship Thee, for nothing is more certain than bread.” In other words, had Jesus taken on the role of a provider and protector who meets the material needs of the people, not only would they have willingly worshiped Him, but they would have at last found a common object of worship over whom no particular group or culture would divide; hence, a “certain” object of worship would have been established. For who, suggests the Inquisitor, could possibly argue and go to war over a God who offered the possibility of a life wherein one’s basic material needs are met? However, Jesus did not offer the people a kingdom of bread in exchange for their freedom and dutiful, if not mechanical, devotion. Instead, quips the Inquisitor,
Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic [неопределенного]; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men [не по силам людей], acting as though Thou didst not love them at all—Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings forever. Thou didst desire man’s free love [свободной любви человека], that he should follow Thee freely, enticed [прельщенный] and taken captive by Thee [плененный тобою]. In place of the rigid ancient law [твердого древнего закона], man must hereafter with free heart [свободным сердцем] decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image [образ] before him as his guide.
In light of the Inquisitor’s reductionistic and pessimistic view of human beings and what he believes constitutes “happiness” for the so-called masses, he charges Jesus with failing to show the people genuine love and compassion. In his estimation, Jesus’s high view of humans will in the end destroy them. Of this, the Inquisitor claims certainty, for he had come to believe that the masses had been created a “mockery” and that they would “never be capable of using their freedom.” Having become convinced of these things and yet still remaining a lover of humanity, the Inquisitor chose what seemed to him the only genuinely compassionate course of action: he must engage in a “noble lie” under the banner of a God in whom he no longer believed, all the while leading “men consciously to death and destruction,” keeping them distracted, fed, and thinking themselves happy in via “so that they may not notice where they are being led.”
Here, as Williams points out, the Inquisitor is “caught in a peculiarly paradoxical stance: the alienation between Christ and the truth leads to a defense of the truth through pretending that there is no such alienation.” As the Inquisitor re-moulds Christ in his image, He
becomes part of the unquestionable and unchangeable system of the world, a sanction for benevolent power which can manifest itself in “miracle, mystery, and authority,” in the successful management of the social and material environment. He is the source of rewards and punishments in the context of a sacralized society which can persuade its members that they are in fact truly free because the conditions under which they live and act are secure.
Thus, the Grand Inquisitor becomes the Grand Illusionist, engaging in the very thing that Fr. Zosima so strongly advised against: lying to oneself and others, for in coming to believe one’s lies, one loses the ability to discern truth from falsehood. Though a somewhat lengthy passage, Williams’ summary of this section of the novel is worth quoting in full:
in the Inquisitor’s great monologue, we see that a “truth” which seeks the definitive exclusion of Christ for the sake of compassionate management of human affairs can only be maintained by deliberate falsehood: by the denial that freedom is anything more than the choices enabled for reasonable beings in a state of security, by the persuasion that these choices are the same as real freedom, by the appeal to a clear system of rewards and punishments, so that moral choices are constrained by imagined consequences, and finally by the appropriation of religious rhetoric to sanction the static and controlled society that all this implies. From the Underground Man to the Inquisitor, the persistent theme is that truth “outside” of Christ requires lying about the human condition.
Lastly, I mention briefly the climax of Ivan’s poem, in which, Christ, having listened in silence to the Inquisitor’s lengthy and virulent monologue, responds by kissing the Inquisitor. We then see the same act of love and restraint carried out by Alyosha, who, having listened to and been emotionally disturbed by Ivan’s story, kisses Ivan before the two depart. In harmony with Williams’ stress on the dialogical mode of the novel, and his claim that the Grand Inquisitor section is not meant as Dostoevsky’s final word on the God topic, perhaps we might interpret both Christ’s and Alyosha’s kiss as a kind of overturning of Judas’s kiss. That is, just as Judas’s betrayal by a kiss was not the last word on Christ, neither is Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor the last word on Christ.
Though much more could be said, hopefully I’ve managed (among other things) to spur your interest both in Dostoevsky’s text and Williams’ recent book (Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction: The Making of a Christian Imagination).
 As Williams brings to the surface, we see Dostoevsky’s high view of freedom in Notes from the Underground via the Underground Man’s ardent protest against “the assumption that we can be ordered to surrender our liberty, even when it is liberty for perverse contradiction” (Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, p. 27).
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 234.
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 234.
 Describing the plight of the weak, the Inquisitor states, “[t]hey are weak and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them—so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie” (Brothers Karamazov, p. 234).
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 234.
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 235.
 I do not take Dostoevsky’s critique in the Grand Inquisitor section to suggest that Christians ought not be concerned with social justice, feeding and clothing the poor, or helping insofar as they can to improve social conditions such that the basic needs of individuals are met. How could he given Christ’s words in Matthew 25? “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46, English Standard Version). Rather, his critique is focused on religious and political leaders who, having set themselves up for all practical purposes as God, knowingly pursue a “noble lie” for the purpose of providing the basic material needs of the masses. Such a program begins with a reductionistic, materialistic view of human beings, deliberately pursues its goals apart from Christ, and builds its entire edifice on falsehood, which is somehow supposed to bring about the best state of affairs for all humankind.
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 235. The full Russian text reads , “ты взял все, что есть необычайного, гадательного и неопределенного, взял все, что было не по силам людей, а потому поступил как бы и не любя их вовсе, - и это кто же: тот, который пришел отдать за них жизнь свою! Вместо того, чтоб овладеть людскою свободой, ты умножил ее и обременил ее мучениями душевное царство человека вовеки. Ты возжелал свободной любви человека, чтобы свободно пошел он за тобою, прельщенный и плененный тобою. Вместо твердого древнего закона, - свободным сердцем должен был человек решать впредь сам, что добро и что зло, имея лишь в руководстве твой образ пред собою” [2.5.5].
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 242.
 Brothers Karamazov, p. 242. One should note that at this point in the narrative, Alyosha, with great emotion, interjects the following concerning the Inquisitor and his elite few: “They have no such cleverness and no mysteries and secrets…Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that’s all their secret. Your inquisitor does not believe in God, that’s his secret!” To which Ivan replies, “What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It’s perfectly true that that’s the whole secret, but isn’t that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity?” (Brothers Karamazov, p. 242).
 Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, p. 27.
 Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, pp. 27-8. Williams continues his thought, adding, “[f]aith is thus no longer a response jolted out of the self by the irruption of something that makes possible what had seemed impossible; it is assent to religious power as simply another face of the power that manages and secures the world” (Ibid., p. 28).
 One might point out that the Inquisitor knows that he is engaging in deception and therefore still has the ability to discern truth from falsity. Fair enough. However, he has firmly come to believe that through explicit deception, he is doing what is best for the masses and can some how feel good about leading them to their destruction so long as they think themselves happy.
 Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, p. 30.