I don’t know about you

but I find this talk by Kirillov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed very interesting. This is towards the end of the book where Pyotr Stepanofitch has an interview with Kirillov, wants him to write a suicide note claiming responsibility for some murders that have just taken place among them. Kirillov says

I have no higher idea than disbelief in god. I have all the history of mankind on my side. Man has done nothing but invent god so as to go on living and not kill himself; that’s the whole of universal history up till now. I am the first one in the whole history of mankind who could not invent god. Let them know it once and for all.

They continue the interview then he says, as if continuing his earlier train of thought, that

I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no god and not kill himself on the spot. To recognize that there is no god and not to recognize at the same instant that one is god oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself.

Nikolay Stavrogin says in a letter to Darsha he cannot kill himself for an idea, in fact he says he can’t believe in an idea as Kirillov. At the end he kills himself and says no one is to blame.

I think everyone is possessed in this book.

What are your thoughts on the statements by Kirillov on unbelief?

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

42 thoughts on “I don’t know about you

  1. themodernidiot says:

    They’re silly.
    No higher idea than disbelief in god puts god at the top. Why would a non believer do that? Then follow it with one is god oneself? No higher idea than self? That’s as arrogant as believing in god. And if an atheist knew there was no god and killed himself because of that knowledge, then he’s not a very good atheist, is he? And having to substitute one god for another, even if that other is self, is also weak.
    And points off for being Russian and not using any exclamation marks.


    • makagutu says:

      On the second paragraph of an atheist killing himself does answer to the challenge most often put forth by theists; if there is no god, where do you get your meaning. To the person who believes belief in god gives life meaning, such a position doesn’t seem strange.
      I think it is Dante who said, if god did not exist, one had to be invented.
      On the first quote, the thought I think goes deeper. It is similar to the question I posed sometime ago, if a god were to exist, would it want to find out what would happen it it ceased to be, that is, if it committed suicide. I think this is the question in the mind of Kirillov and he alludes to it earlier in the book when they talk about suicide.
      That is my 2 cents


      • themodernidiot says:

        Silly, I say!


      • themodernidiot says:

        But to be fair, I will address your follow-ups:

        Paragraph 2–The theist can ask whatever he wants, but the atheist doesn’t care, he can’t care; the question is irrelevant. The atheist goes to lunch.

        Paragraph 1–Once a god is invented, it exists. Whoever accepts that, is therefore a believer. Nice try, Dante, but no. Stick to people.

        A god who wants to commit suicide can do so if it wants. Who is going to stop it? (In a polytheistic situation, it might encounter resistance from other gods IF that’s part of the storyline; a bit Greeky, I suppose).

        If a god is immortal then it can knock itself off all it wants. Poof! It’s back. Fantastic! However, I think the novelty would wear off pretty quickly.

        But…even if a god is dead, it doesn’t cease to exist. Same with mortals: existence is forever even when presence is terminated.

        Now, you’ve asked before about a god not existing if it doesn’t exist, or rather can it exist and not exist simultaneously? Yup, you bet. It’s a god, I made it up, I can make it do whatever I want. Gods are only limited by their creators’ imaginations.

        Finally, if a theist wants to argue about god existing independent of the human mind, then who is he going to debate with? An atheist cannot recognize the god’s existence, so he cannot take an opposing stance. A theist cannot take the other side without admitting god does not exist. The argument is impossible by its very existence…much like god, I suppose 😉

        So, whatever the Russian says is silly!
        (I am using the exclamation points as a literary tribute to our Soviet brethren.)


      • Brian M says:

        But what if all the religions invented by human beings are so…immoral. How can one find meaning in the Judeo-Christian belief system? Yahweh is vile. Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild (who really ramped up the Hell concept) is even worse. Of course, I am speaking as if these entities exist, not as if they are constructs of human cultures.

        Further, this is assuming such entities are as described by humans in bibles and the like. Mereley pompously stating that the character of the Lord is unimpleachable does not make it so.

        Their only solution is picking and choosing things to believe in. In other words, they derive meaning not from God but from family, friends, society, tradition, etc. Especially as God does not really come down from the mountain on a regular basis anymore. Just like atheists do.

        Why does life have to have some “ultimate meaning” anyway? We are pattern seeking beings, but meaning need not be ultimate. It is personally defined, culturally defined,


        • makagutu says:

          Why does life have to have some “ultimate meaning” anyway?

          Hello Brian and thank you for reading and commenting. The question you ask above is one I have asked on several occasions. Must life have ultimate meaning to be lived?
          When a person says god gives their lives meaning, most times I make the conclusion that such a person has not really taken time to think through what they are saying.


  2. Eric Alagan says:

    Patience my friends – we’ll all know soon enough – the existence or otherwise of god.

    One thing is for sure – I don’t want to go to hell – too many priests there!


  3. john zande says:

    Why cannot the highest ideal be the betterment of society? Kill god, yes, but don’t replace the concept with another, more terrestrial figure. Our objective must always be to clear the space of unnecessary noise so the best possible conversations can take place about matters that truly concern men and beasts alike.


  4. Tish Farrell says:

    I think Dostoyevsky spent a lot of time trying to create reasons for his characters to kill themselves. Many were probably desperate to leave the narrative. I seem to remember D had large gambling debts, and at the time writers published first in journals and were paid by the page (as Dickens also was though he doesn’t go in for pointless philosophising). Anyway, this might explain some of the stupefying argument. Nihilism was very ‘in’ at that time if that’s not a contradiction in terms.


    • makagutu says:

      There is one of the lectures of Twain where he talks about the payment scheme. He says he will not use a long word where a short one will do just fine.
      In this narrative, the characters are really possessed, just as the title of the book. In the end, he pushes them so hard most of them just died if they were not already murdered.


    • “I think Dostoyevsky spent a lot of time trying to create reasons for his characters to kill themselves.”

      Tish, your comment reminded me of some research I ran across a while back. First, Dostoyevsky had temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). The epilepsy research states

      “Unfortunately, with epilepsy, the rate of suicide is approximately two to five times that of the general population, and this is further elevated to a 25-fold increase among patients with TLE.

      My guess is that he battled with suicidal thoughts a lot and projected that into his characters. He projected a lot of his symptoms into his novels. He also had estatic religious/heavenly visions (hallucinations) during his seizures then later would become depressed.


      • makagutu says:

        In the Idiot and Brothers Karamazov he has epileptic characters.
        For all his faults, I find his novels quite entertaining and I don’t think there are many novels that can match Brothers Karamazov.
        Even his discussions on god and religion in general are representative of every day discussions people have.


      • Tish Farrell says:

        That’s v. interesting. Thanks for the info. I used be captivated by Dostoyevsky’s novels, but that was a long time ago. It also occurred to me that when he was writing, Russia was only just nudging towards ‘modernity’, and so much of the Russian spirit was tied up with the notion of Holy Mother Russia – this as if Nation and Nationhood was indivisible from the divine and therefore also constant and unchanging. Much of this feeling was couched in terms of obsessive superstition, which I think this crops up in the Brothers Karamazov.

        Also have a notion that D’s brother was a revolutionary. After being arrested, the Little Father/ then Tsar (also deemed divine) treated him to a mock firing squad ‘to teach him a lesson’. i.e the sort of thing that would shake anyone to the core – and on all fronts.

        Thank you, Noel, for reading The Possessed. Might have to read it myself now.


        • makagutu says:

          Tish, I have just read this short biography of Fyodor.

          I have till this moment just enjoyed reading his works, but now from this I see some of the influences and it is even possible to see him in the characters he creates and even his religious debates can now be seen in quite a different light.

          Thanks my friend for reading and commenting


        • “Much of this feeling was couched in terms of obsessive superstition”

          Indeed Tish — and then add to the fact that the majority of Russians were alcoholics — religious alcoholics. Today, the World Health Organization states that one-in-five men in the Russian Federation die due to alcohol-related causes. An article in the Atlantic states:

          “The Russian alcoholic was an enduring fixture during the Tsarist times, during the times of the Russian Revolution, the times of the Soviet Union, during the transition from socialist autocracy to capitalist democracy, and he continues to be in Russian society today. In the year 988, Prince Vladimir converted his nation to Orthodox Christianity, in part because, unlike other religions, it didn’t prohibit drinking.”

          So, in essence, Dostoyevsky’s novels are infused with utter dysfunction caused by alcoholism. Thanks for your reply.


          • makagutu says:

            I think you also must include the psychological and physical effects of his incarceration, service in the army and TLE.


            • Oh, absolutely. We also can’t rule out a possible traumatic brain injuries which may have been the cause of his TLE or it could have been alcohol or both, since they both greatly raise the risk of seizures. He could have had the crap beat out of him while incarcerated and/or sustained a TBI while in the army. I’m not sure when his seizures started.


              • makagutu says:

                He had his first seizure at the age of 9.
                I think he grew up in a peculiar environment. In the biography I linked in the response to Tish, they write

                Until Fyodor Dostoevsky was sixteen, he lived with his family in an apartment located on the property of Mariinksy Hospital. Fyodor Dostoevsky grew up amid an orphanage, an insane asylum, and a cemetery for criminals.

                I don’t think you can come out of that ok. This may also explain some of the themes he toyed with.


                • I agree. I had read the bio link you shared as well, but I missed the part that he had his first seizure at 9. But I agree that being around an orphanage with children most likely experiencing attachment disorders that can cause pons dysfunction (in brain stem) leading to severe mental illness as well as being around an insane asylum had to have affected him greatly. It’s hard to fathom.


  5. theist feel that without God there is no point – so in that, they feel that atheists have no meaning in life and may as well be dead. As Athiests/Believers in no God/Darwinists etc – wecan celebrate life purely for its humanity and magnificence, for our moment as part of it, our interactions within it and the opportunity to enjoy, bring joy and share joy. All our purpose is in the now – not in the hope of a glorious afterlife.
    My morality comes from my humanity not from fear of a higher being or eternal damnation. When I die I shall go back to earth and the cycle will continue


  6. aguywithoutboxers says:

    A terrific and engaging thread you have here, my Nairobi brother! 🙂 great job!


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