Dostoevsky uses two characters, Kirillov and Shatov, to express a polar contrast of the need and value of God. Kirillov believes that life consists of pain and suffering. He further believes that God does not exist and, therefore, anything is possible. Consequently, without the existence of God, Kirillov suggests that suicide is the ultimate expression of man transcending into a greater form, i.e. a godlike existence. He believes happiness has no bearing on one's surroundings, but rather is a state of mind. According to Kirillov, if one believes in happiness; he will be happy and there will be nothing to deny his happiness. Kirillov's understanding of God or the lack thereof allows him to be one of Dostoevsky's most powerful characters.
Kirillov becomes a sort of Christ figure in the book. He plans to kill himself to free the other members of the group, dying for their sins. He also takes on the guise of Christ in that he wants to die so that all humans can be free, so they can realize their God-like existence.
Shatov wants to believe in God, but feels he has no faith. He values the idea of God and feels that religion is essential to the Russian identity. Shatov believes that his lifestyle and principles are in conflict with allowing him to have faith. He admits to the existence of God, but that alone can not give him complete faith. Dostoevsky places Shatov in a tragedian role. As soon as he begins to understand himself and develops a religious conviction, he is murdered. Throughout the novel he seeks faith and once he has a chance to grasp it Dostoevsky has him killed. Both Kirillov and Shatov have firm convictions, the former has faith but does not believe in God, and the latter believes in God but has no faith.
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