[Click here for part I]
We see the manifestations of Nietzsche’s pessimism in contrast with Dostoevsky’s optimism in their widely divergent views of love, compassion and pity. Operating out of a hermeneutic of suspicion, Zarathustra views the Christian teaching of love thy neighbor as inauthentic-a mere mask for self-aggrandizement due to a lack of self-love. In criticism of the teaching, Zarathustra proclaims:
You crowd around your neighbor and have fine words for it. But I say unto you: your love of the neighbor is your bad love of yourselves. You flee to your neighbor from yourselves and would like to make a virtue out of that: but I see through your “selflessness.”
From one perspective, Zarathustra can be seen as challenging Christians to examine their motives and to question themselves as to why they serve, help and spend time with others. On this read, Zarathustra shares common ground with Fr. Zosima, as the latter regularly warned of the dangers of lying to oneself and how this practice eventually results in a person’s inability to discern truth from falsehood. For example, in Fr. Zosima’s conversation Fyodor Pavlovich, Zosima exhorts Fyodor Pavlovich with the following:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own life comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.
As Zosima explains, self-deception is a manifestation of self-hatred, which in turn affects one’s ability to genuinely love others. A person overcome with self-hatred has nothing to give others. Operating out of emptiness and lack, he ends up using others in an attempt to fill an inner void. Thus, on Fr. Zosima’s account, truth and love are intertwined. If one loses the ability to discern truth from falsehood, one loses the ability to love both oneself and others. On this point, both Zarathustra and Zosima agree-a person must genuinely be “at home with himself” before he can authentically love and serve others. Zarathustra, however, takes this insight and concludes, given his negative interaction with Christian “actors,” that the Christian doctrine of love thy neighbor is nothing more than a mask of hypocrisy. Zosima, in contrast, aware of the tendencies in both Christians and non-Christians to deceive themselves through rationalizations, encourages individuals to seek Christ’s forgiveness and to allow His transforming grace to re-structure their habits so that they might learn to love and serve authentically, out of gratitude. The faith-stance of Zosima and Alyosha allow each to offer critiques of the human situation without falling into a morass of despair. As despair or something strongly resembling it seems inevitable or at least highly likely, when, like Zarathustra and Nietzsche, suspicion and doubt become the primary lenses through which the world and others are interpreted.
Throughout Nietzsche’s narrative Zarathustra engages in a polemic against any worldview or system of thought that he deems dualistic, that is, one which sets an other-worldly world over against this world. In his critique, Zarathustra rails against both Platonism and Christianity, claiming that both exalt a realm completely separate from our present world, a realm in which all things embodied have no place. The Christian, of course, would want to stress the differences between Platonism traditionally understood and the historic Christian faith. For example, in Orthodox Christianity, given the centrality of the Incarnation and its emphasis on sacramental life and reality, one could establish a strong argument to the contrary, viz., that embodied living is essential to the Christian in this life. Even so, the Christian ought to pay close attention to Zarathustra’s (and Nietzsche’s) critique of Platonic dualism, being alert to the ways in which such dualistic, dis-emobodied thinking has infected or has the potential to infect its own teachings. Though we find common ground between Zarathustra and the Christian faith on the importance of valuing physical creation in all its manifestations, or as Zarathustra puts it, remaining “faithful to the earth,” each arrives at this conclusion from completely different motivations. For the Christian, creation itself is a both gift of God and is something that God Himself not only sustains but “becomes” through the Incarnation. For in the Incarnation, the Word becomes flesh and dwells as a human with humans, opening the way for intimate fellowship between creature and Creator, human and divine, infinite and finite. Given the Christian understanding of God as the source of all creation, as well as God’s own choice to unite himself to flesh in the Incarnation-not simply during his earthly sojourn but for all eternity-to denigrate creation is to denigrate God. Here we have both a reverence for that which is Other than creation (God) and an appreciation for the work of that Other (creation). For Zarathustra, however, there is no transcendent Other-there is this world and this world only, and we must embrace it in all of its joys and sufferings. Moreover, given Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal recurrence, which, on the one hand, encourages us to make our choices count and live fully in this world, one the other hand, produces a nagging fear that the wide-spread mediocrity so frequently encountered in the here and now and best epitomized in the nihilistic “last men” so despised by Zarathustra, is destined to be our recurring fate.
Returning to Zosima and Alyosha, the narrator portrays both men as possessing an uncanny ability to ascertain much about individual through conversation and attentive listening. As a result of his friendship with Zosima, Alyosha learned how to put into practice the elder’s habit of restraining himself from judging a person in an excessively critical or self-righteous way; yet, neither men hesitated to offer advice, correction, strong exhortation, or to express offense at evil and injustice. We see this restraint in Alyosha’s interactions with the peasant boy Ilyusha. Alyosha’s first encounter with Ilyusha and his schoolmates occurs in book IV, chapter 3. Alyosha, who in many ways manifested the innocence, purity and wonder so common to children, found himself drawn to children and was in no way disinclined or reluctant to engage them. As our narrator informs us, “Alyosha had never from his Moscow days been able to pass children without taking notice of them.” Even with his great admiration of children, Alyosha was also keenly aware of the ways in which young schoolboys tormented one another and often quite mercilessly. Indeed, when Alyosha is introduction to Ilyusha, he finds the young boy of ten facing a group of six of his schoolmates, all armed with rocks in hand and poised to hurl them in his direction. Realizing what was taking place, Alyosha immediately approached the group of boys and engaged them as peers. While talking with the boys, Ilyusha, standing on the other side of the ditch, flung a stone into the group. This set off an exchange of stone-throwing between the boys and Ilyusha, which resulted in both Alyosha and the peasant-boy Ilyusha receiving direct hits, the former in the shoulder and the latter in the head. Though Alyosha, an innocent bystander, had been struck with a stone from Ilyusha’s hand, he expressed no anger toward the boy but was clearly outraged at the group of six for attacking the younger boy. Shocked at the group’s behavior, Alyosha cried, “‘What are you about! Aren’t you ashamed, gentlemen? Six against one! Why, you’ll kill him!” Then Alyosha, ran to protect the boy, using his own body as a screen to shield him from the onslaught of stones. In the midst of a few more stone-throwing exchanges, Alyosha found out that the boys had been teasing Ilyusha for some time and that their teasing had been associated with the (at present) enigmatic phrase, “wisp of tow.” Instead of immediately declaring the boy to be a disturbed, violent, trouble-making youth, Alyosha wonders what might have caused a young boy to act so aggressively.
Some time later while conversing with Katerina Ivanova, Alyosha is informed that his brother, Dmitri, in a fit of rage had recently attacked Ilyusha’s father, Snegiryov, a peasant captain, publicly humiliating him as he dragged him by the beard from a local tavern and beat him. To make things worse, Ilyusha as well as a group of his classmates, had been walking home just at that moment and had witnessed the event. After hearing Katerina’s retelling of the story, Alyosha at once put the pieces together and understood why Ilyusha had attacked him-he was after all a Karamazov, the brother of his father’s assailant. Katerina also told Alyosha of the desperate situation of the peasant captain and his family and asked Alyosha to take two hundred rubles to the captain as a gift to help the family. Alyosha, of course, happy to comply, took the money, thanked Katerina, and departed to the captain’s home. At every stage Alyosha is willing to be involved-he doesn’t remain emotionally detached from people and their sufferings. Rather, he, in Christ-like fashion, meets them in their suffering, choosing to be physically present with them, thus affirming and living out an embodied, incarnational way of being.
As mentioned earlier, Alyosha possessed a rather remarkable ability to discern the complex inner life of his fellow human beings. For instance, in a subsequent section (IV.7) while conversing with Snegiryov, Alyosha remarked, “[s]choolboys are a merciless race, individually they are angels of God, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless (безжалостны).” The Russian word, безжалостны, translated in English as “merciless,” might be better translated as “pitiless,” as the noun from which it derives “жалость” has no active connotation but speaks of a feeling of pity for someone with no suggestion of external action toward that individual implied. In contrast, the Russian word, “милость,” which is translated in English as “mercy,” expresses a more active meaning that goes beyond an internal feeling. Though a feeling of pity may indeed be present, mercy contains the additional active aspect that moves a person to act on behalf of another. Applying this distinction in meaning to Alyosha’s comment about the schoolboys, the idea is when banded together and bowing down to negative peer pressure, they adopt the spirit of the group and become so hardened that they lack even a feeling of pity for those whom they have determined are unacceptable to the group. Lastly, it is also of interest to note that the adjective, милосердный [from the aforementioned noun, милость], translated “merciful” in English, is the word used in the Russian Bible to describe God’s mercy toward human beings. Thus, if we consider the active aspect of милость when predicated of God as in common biblical phrase, “God is merciful” (Бог милосердный), we are struck with the wonder of God’s act on our behalf. In other words, beyond feeling pity (analogically speaking), God actively demonstrates his mercy for us in and through the gift of his Son, who became flesh in order to unite us to Himself and bring us into intimate inter-trinitarian life.
 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 172.
 The Brothers Karamazov, p. 36.
 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 125.
 The Brothers Karamazov, pp. 160-64.
 The Brothers Karamazov, p. 161.
 The Brothers Karamazov, p. 163.
 The Brothers Karamazov, p. 162. Later, we find out that “wisp of tow” refers to the captain’s beard.
 The Brothers Karamazov, p. 188. The Russian text reads, “Дети в школах народ безжалостный: порознь ангелы божии, а вместе, особенно в школах, весьма часто безжалостны.”
 Many thanks to my friend, Kostya Petrenko, lecturer at Baylor University, for sharing this insight.