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Now is the Time






The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Separation of Religion or Belief and State


By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Issue: Dostoevsky – The Fearful Burden of Free Choice and Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Perspective: Dostoevsky writes on the psychological depth, sensitivity, complexity, and intellectual challenge presented in trying to understand human nature.  These are the roots of human culture. The Tandem Project presents multi-disciplinary perspectives on the underlying causes of conflict based on religion or belief. They are not meant to defame any one or any religion or belief. They are presented with high respect for the dignity and rights of followers of all religions or beliefs by scholars and writers to convey the depth of conflicts based on religion or belief. 

The Russian novel “The Brothers Karamazov,” by Fyodor Dostoevsky,reflects on the mystery of human nature, reason, free choice and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The extracts from an introduction to the novel by Marie Jaanus are relevant to international human rights, freedom of religion or belief and an expression of the right to inner freedom of conscience and thought - individual vs. collective power.

Introduction and Notes by Marie Jaanus, Professor of English, Barnard College, Columbia University. This is from the paperback edition of “The Brothers Karamazov” Barnes & Nobel Classics, New York, 2004.

Dostoevsky belongs both to the Enlightenment and to Romanticism. What stand out about his work are, on the one hand, an intensity, ferocity, and agony of thinking unequaled in literature. It is thinking beyond the limits of reason, into madness. This is the Enlightenment stretched to extremity. On the other hand, there is in his work a domain of the passions that operates without conscious thinking and judging, a more romantic region of fear and of love, a domain of the feminine that point to the future, to new and different ways of dying and living

The Brothers Karamazovis an encounter with passion. For Dostoevsky the passions are the most mysterious dimension of the human being, and, therefore, this is the dimension that obsesses and compels him. It is the source of his art. Against any Enlightenment trust in reason, against any Hegelian faith in consciousness and its development, against any demand for a final meaning, Dostoevsky persists in pointing to an impassible joy as well as a blocked darkness and muteness at the core of our being. Consciousness tries to be deterministic, to predict and to control; but the passions are unpredictable, random, and accidental. Thus in Dostoevsky’s novels sudden, grand epiphanies of rapture and despair arise out of a narrative that is classical, linear, and realistic, with a plot that is one of the most logical ever constructed.

At moments these flashings of bliss and anxiety seem, in their intensity, to destroy the narrative and to stop its motion. They are instances of Dostoevsky’s desire to grasp something beyond the limits of reason, knowledge, and language. They are his reaching beyond realism or what we ordinarily acknowledge as reality into infinitude and silence.

At these moments, Dostoevsky attempts to answer what he calls the eternal questions: What is heaven and what is hell? What pleasure or pain do these grand original metaphors represent within the psychic human domain” He is not only interested in the theological answer to these questions, but in an existential and psychological answer. What conditions make for a psychic heaven or hell in the here and now?

The main question of the novel – it was perhaps the most passionate question of the nineteenth century – is: What can bind and constrain or what can guide these passions? Is it love or law? Not law because, for one, humans transgress it, and, for another, it is not commensurate with human and inter-human complexity or the mystery of human nature.

The Brothers Karamazov: from the chapter Grand Inquisitor

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Excerpts from the introduction to this version of the famous novel The Brothers Karamazov claimed that “Christ was a figure of tremendous importance to Dostoevsky. He wrote that even if it was proven that Christ is outside the truth, he ‘would prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.” In his chapter The Grand Inquisitor, a great struggle takes place in Dostoevsky between Christ as love and the power of the Catholic Church as ideology.  

“And behold, He deigned to appear from a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the Glory of God, and ‘in the splendid auto da fe’ the wicked heretics were burnt.”

“He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized Him. That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognized Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, and they flock about Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion.”

“There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance…And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately make way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead Him away.”

“The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison in the ancient place of the Holy Inquisition and shut Him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning ‘breathless’ night of Seville…In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.”

“Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, 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 that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice?” 

“Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.”

“Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. But didst Thou not know he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice?” 

“This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down before Thee alone – the banner of earthly bread; and Thou has rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven.”

“When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for Him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it and said to him: ‘Go and come no more…Come not at all, never, never!’ And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away, “And the old man? The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”


The Tandem Project

The First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.

There is an increase in dialogue today between religions and other beliefs to embrace diversity, but few persons, less than one percent of any population, ever participate. This is a challenge. The value of such dialogues is proportionate to the level of participation. For civil society increased participation would create opportunities for education on inclusive and genuine approaches to human rights and freedom of religion or belief. 

In 1968 the United Nations deferred passage of a legally-binding convention on religious intolerance saying it was too complicated and sensitive. Instead, they adopted a non-binding declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief. While very worthwhile, the declaration does not carry the force and commitment of a legally-binding international human rights convention on freedom of religion or belief.

Religions and other beliefs historically have been used to justify wars and settle disputes. This is more dangerous today as the possible use of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to consider whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs or neither trumps the other. Can international human rights law help to stop the advance and use of such weapons in the face of this historic truth?

  • QUESTION: Weapons of mass destruction as history teaches are often legitimized for national security and justified by cultural, ethnic, religious or political ideology. The U.N. Review Conference on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and studies on biological and cyber weapons demonstrate advances in science and technology is being used to increase their potential for mass destruction. The question is whether an International Convention on Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief, elevated and supported equally by the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N. Security Council, would help offset the risk of weapons of mass destruction. Recognition of the need for synergy to balance rights and security is a foundation for solving this issue.

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” - Robert Oppenheimer, quote from the Bhagavad Gita after exploding the first atomic bomb, Trinity 1945.

The Tandem Project believes until a core legally-binding human rights Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief  is adopted international human rights law will be incomplete. It may be time to begin to consider reinstating the 1968 Working Group to bring all matters relating to freedom of religion or belief under one banner, a core international human rights legally-binding treaty.

The Tandem Project a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference material and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Documents Attached: Background - Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief; The Pope's Address on Human Rights at the United Nations