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The Master and Margarita
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Group Reads Discussions 2012 > "Master & Margarita" Religion (spoilers)

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 72 comments There's been a serious ongoing debate in Russia about the spiritual nature of the book. Do you find this book pro-Christian, pro-Satanical, anti-dogmatic, or secular?


message 2: by Everitt (last edited Jan 06, 2012 07:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Everitt I think the religious aspect of the book centers around the question asked by Woland in chapter 1 (pg 8 of Burgin and O'Connor paperback):

"'But this is what disturbs me: if there is no God, then the question is, who is in control of man's life and the whole order of things on earth?'

'Man himself is in control,' was Bezdomny's quick and angry reply to what was, admittedly, a not very clear question."


I'm not going to transcribe the entire section, mostly because we've all hopefully read it, but the way in which Bulgakov brings up predestination is fascinating. I don't think the Orthodox Church experienced the philosophical impact of the Reformation in the same way the Catholic Church did, and I think that Bulgakov was attempting, in some highly symbolic way, to integrate Western and especially German (Woland is supposed to be a German Professor) ideas into the traditional Russian worldview. But because of the repressive nature of the Soviet regime he could not simply come out and ask the questions he wanted too. He needed to dress "the Will of God" in comedy and what we call today "magical realism".

I find him returning to the paradigm of free will over and over in the book until Chapter 29 when Bulgakov stages the meeting between Levi Matvei (I believe this is supposed to be the Apostle Matthew) and Woland:

"I won't argue with you, old sophist," replied Levi Matvei.

"You can't argue with me because of what I just said--you're stupid," replied Woland, and asked, "well, tell me briefly, without tiring me, why have you appeared?"

"He sent me."

"What did he order you to tell me, slave?"

"I"m not a slave," replied Levi Matvei, becoming more enraged, "I am his disciple."

"We are speaking different languages, as always," rejoined Woland, 'but that doesn't change the things we talk about. So?..."

"He has read the Master's work," began Levi Matvei, "and asks that you take the Master with you and grant him peace. Is that so difficult for you to do, Spirit of Evil?"

"Nothing is difficult for me to do, " replied Woland, "as you well know." He was silent for a moment and then added, "But why aren't you taking him with you to the light?"

"He has not earned light, he has earned peace," said Levi in a sad voice.


This finality, to me, especially the implication that in the afterlife one is given what one has earned seems to be Bulgakov resolving his question of free will with a return to something akin to the traditional Orthodox doctrine of Theosis.

So I think the book was Bulgakov's way of attempting to talk about ideas that he was not free to talk about in the USSR, but which he needed to address if only for himself. And having concluded his examination of free will and predestination, he seems to conclude that predestination is a doctrine emerging (as it does at the beginning with Woland's questions to Berlioz; and who at the end cannot understand why God simply does not give the Master light) from evil, from the temptation to know everything about everyone. And that is a very authoritarian impulse. The open ended questioning of authority is most likely one of the issues the Soviet censors objected too most. Authoritarianism cannot abide ambiguity.

EDIT: regarding the notion of secularism. I do not think the book is particularly secular, though I know a lot of people attempt to read it that way. It is important to remember that since the Reformation the Latin West has had a tradition of questioning religious institutions that led to the Enlightenment and thousands of different branches of modern Christianity. Perhaps Bulgakov was questioning the dogma of the Russian Orthodox Church without attempting to move away from traditional beliefs too quickly? Reformations don't happen overnight. So not secular but certainly anti-dogmatic, (to me anyway).


-- Hopefully that made sense and I'm not simply rambling. The book has so many great questions and can be read so many ways. That is probably why it's my favorite book.


message 3: by Zulfiya (last edited Jan 06, 2012 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 72 comments It was a sheer, absolute, and unadulterated pleasure to read your post.
Concerning the last point - Bulgakov did question the authority and dogma of the Russian Orthodox Church and any other Christian Church as well as the Communist Regime. He was (paraphrasing the proverb)between the frying pan and the fire all his life, and he was also tormented by his own demons.

The ideas of Divide Guidance and Divine Providence in this novel are miraculously transformed into Satanical Guidance and Satanical Providence. In general, the God with the capital G is kind of there (sorry for a deliberate down-to-earth vernacular)- he is alluded, but he is not the one who acts.
The idea and concept of Master can be traced to the similar ideas, proposed by James Joyce in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when an artist of any type can bravely declare, 'Non Serviam' and using his professional hubris turn himself into a Creator, Master, Divinity.


AnaΣtaΣia | 13 comments I read this book back in November and this was my review:
It took me quite a while to read this book because I wanted to delve into it, but it was absolutely worth it...
It is about the eternal battle between good and evil and the fact that one cannot exist without the other. There are also claims, which are very logical taking into consideration that it was written in the 1920's, that the book depicts the reality and occurrences in Russia at the time, under the Stalinist regime and that in fact the devil was Stalin himself.
I think that it is a book definitely worth reading, not only by people who enjoy Russian literature but especially by people who like discovering meanings and different layers in a book and this one, believe me, has a lot of both.


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