Dostoevsky on Worship and Faith

Wylan Boyle

Throughout his novels, Fyodor Dostoevsky utilizes one character as a moral pillar to uphold the story and keep other central characters from sinking into the constant threat of depravity. This moral pillar becomes an object of worship, illustrating Dostoevsky’s idea that without a relationship of  worship of some kind, man cannot maintain any sort of stability, mental or physical.

A relationship of worship is one not taken lightly, but it does not simply have to be religious in nature. To be in a relationship of worship, according to Dostoevsky, one must put the object of this worship above oneself, and the object must reciprocate in some form. In the religious sense of relationships of worship, this is shown through personal relationships with the Christian God. In relationships with people, these relationships of worship are shown through characters having similarities that allow them to relate to each other and crucial differences that allow them to worship each other.

For instance, in Crime and Punishment, for the majority of the novel the central character, Rodion Raskolnikov is driving himself further and further into madness with guilt and worry that plague him after his murder. He hallucinates, cannot sleep or hold regular conversation without becoming exhausted or infuriated, he does things without the thought that went into every one of his actions before the murder. He gets physically sick with emotional instability. All this time, he has no one in his life that means anything to him. Even his sister and mother lose meaning to him when they make a choice about his sister’s marriage that he disagrees with. It is only when he meets Sonechka, the moral pillar of the novel despite her occupation, that he is able to pull himself out of depravity. He admits what he has done, relieving himself of the weight of denial, he begins to act truly human instead of monstrous, and he turns himself in to the police instead of squirrelling himself away in his apartment so as to not be caught. Even in jail, now with Sonechka, a figure described as angelic and pure, he maintains sanity and becomes religious. This worship of both Sonechka and eventually God so heavily contribute to Raskolnikov’s sanity that it can only mean that Dostoevsky intends them to be related. Without Sonechka and her angelic presence to worship, Raskolnikov was drowning in despair and depravity, it was only when he began to worship that he began to breathe.

Another example can be found in Notes From Underground. However, it exhibits how lack of worship only increases misery. The narrator of Notes is written as very unstable and unreliable, and the only time he is stable and reliable is in matters of the one woman in his life, who, were the story taking place in the narrator’s present, would be the moral pillar. However, the narrator initially worships her, creating a sense of stability and happiness, only to reject her, leading to the moral depravity that exists in him at the time of the book’s occurrence, again connecting worship with happiness, sanity, and stability.

In The Brothers Karamazov, this idea only becomes more evident. In Alyosha, Mitya, and even Fyodor Karamazov himself, there is worship in tandem with stability. Alyosha worships his God and reveres the elder Zosima, which gives him the moral stability that allows him to act as the moral pillar of the novel. Before joining the monastery, Alyosha had floated around, moving to whatever suited his fancy, but upon joining the monastery, he gained stability. This stability born of worship allows him to stand stable and lend others stability when speaking to him, as he holds them out of depravity: even this reflects the act of confession involved in worship. Madame Khokhlakov confesses to him, Fyodor confesses to him, Mitya confesses to him, even his elder confesses to him, and even Ivan, who is without worship, confesses to him. This act of confession is part of every relationship Dostoevsky’s characters have with their respective moral pillars. Mitya in his own sense worships Gruschenka- she is his angel, his figure of worship. She holds him out of depravity even more so than Alyosha, even though Alyosha heard his confession, he was not the object of worship. When Mitya feels that his object of worship has abandoned him, he sinks into despair, and reaches his moral low point fully depraved, wishing to kill himself if he cannot have what he worships. And when he is reunited and reconciled with his object of worship, he no longer wishes to die, he wishes to live, another trend common in Dostoevsky’s characters in relation to the item of their worship. Fyodor, even though he is known to have the moral low of the book, worships as well— he worships money, which brings him happiness in that he can continue to be uncontrollable; however, the fact that money is not a moral pillar of any sort, nor a person, does not bring him any stability. But he does also worship Gruschenka, although, she does not reciprocate, which is why Fyodor continues to be unstable and depraved until his death.

Through his moral pillars and their relationships to those of the lowest morals, Dostoevsky shows that without some relationship of worship, no matter what that relationship is, one cannot achieve happiness, nor can one avoid depravity.