Crime and Punishment

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Religion

1

What’s the use of talking of forgiveness! I have forgiven enough has it is!

While Marmeladov lies dying, his wife Katerina disagrees with the priest called to give the last rites. The priest talks about God’s mercy, and Katerina cries out, saying God is merciful, but not to her family. The priest condemns her words as sinful and orders her to ask God for forgiveness. Unfazed, Katerina continues to argue with the priest, calling him and his ideas worthless. Katerina’s character introduces readers to the idea that religious beliefs can fall flat for people worn thin by life’s hardships.

2

“And...and do you believe in God? Excuse my curiosity.” “I do,” repeated Raskolnikov, raising his eyes to Porfiry.”

When asked the question point blank by the magistrate Porfiry, Raskolnikov answers that he believes in God. Of course, this answer becomes complicated by the many instances throughout the novel where Raskolnikov’s faith seems tested, and where he expresses nihilistic views and repudiates belief in a soul or an afterlife. As a product of his time, Raskolnikov lives immersed in Russian Orthodox faith, but as a young intellectual, his religious beliefs are tested.

3

God would not allow anything so awful!

Sonia insists that God will protect her family even though their outlook looks dire. Raskolnikov, somewhat maliciously, suggests that her sister Polenka will have to resort to prostitution to survive just like she did. Sonia’s faith in God seems childish against Raskolnikov’s cold rationalism. Raskolnikov goes so far to even taunt Sonia with the question that there might not be a God at all. But in the end, Sonia’s faith leads the way to Raskolnikov’s redemption.

4

“I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity,” he said wildly and walked away to the window.

Raskolnikov replies to Sonia’s demand for an explanation as to why he kissed her foot. He makes this gesture of bowing down to Sonia—who to him symbolizes the suffering of humanity—as a way to achieve a kind of renewal of spirit. He sees suffering as a way to access divine love, a common religious idea. Notably, Raskolnikov shows a level of ambivalence in this gesture, as he walks away soon after he completes the action. Similarly, when Raskolnikov bows down in the city square, onlookers laugh at his behavior. Readers may note the idea being expressed: Religion plays an effective role in some cases, while in others, religion amounts to empty rituals.

5

So I suspect now that Nikolay wants to take his suffering or something of the sort.

Porfiry, ever the keen observer of the human mind, knows that Nikolay did not commit the murders. He rightly intuits that Nikolay confessed to the murders as a way to achieve a sort of suffering touted in Nikolay’s religion as a way to purify the soul. Many of the characters in the novel hold a similar view, including Marmeladov, who makes a grand display of suffering at his death. Through Nikolay and Marmeladov, the readers witness a kind of psychological distortion that can result from religious orthodoxy, which throws a shadow on religious belief.