Acton Institute Powerblog

Colson and Dostoevsky: Ideas Have Consequences

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The late, great Chuck Colson had impeccable taste in literature. By that I mean that he liked all of the same books that I like. Or I suppose that I should say, I like all of the same books he liked.

I especially loved the BreakPoint commentaries he’d do that focused on a great author. It always inspired me to hear Mr. Colson speak so eloquently and passionately about great novels that didn’t need Kirk Cameron starring in the movie version of them for Christians to praise.

While commenting on Fyodor Dostoevsky and his classic work Crime and Punishment, Colson said the following:

The novel tells the story of Raskalnikov, a student in St. Petersburg, Russia. Burdened by the poverty, oppression, and decadence that he sees all around him, Raskolnikov isolates himself from most other human beings. In his self-alienation, he begins to see himself as a superior being, a kind of “superman,” who transcends the moral laws that bind other people. He looks for a way to “validate” himself and his feelings of superiority—a process that has been termed “suicide by self-affirmation.”

Dostoevsky had lived in Western Europe, and as a Christian, he saw the dangers of its fashionable intellectual ideas like nihilism and utilitarianism. A “pattern in his work,” Boa says, is the conflict of Christianity with utopian worldviews. Dostoevsky wanted to make it clear that “ideas have consequences.”

Dostoevsky began as a socialist co-conspirator, only to be sentenced by the Czarist regime to four years of hard labor in Siberia. The man who returned from prison was not the same man. He dedicated himself to the study and exploration of ideas. He traveled Europe to hear first-hand the great secular/progressive thinkers of the day. And what eventually emerged was a man hell-bent on undermining the ruinous ideologies of his time.

He had his demons and personal tragedies. But Fyodor Dostoevsky was a man, as Colson put it, who understood that behavior follows belief. The way we live as individuals, the choices national leaders make, are the most recent results of a battle of ideas that did not start yesterday and will not end tomorrow.

You cannot confront every bad idea in the culture at-large. There isn’t enough time in your day. But are you confronting any bad ideas that pop up around you or in your spheres of influence?

If you’re a parent or youth pastor, please remember that the messages in raunchy PG-13 comedies and rap music aren’t the only ideas that can rot your kids’ brains. Ask the students in your life what they’re learning and be prepared to give an answer for the things you believe.


“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” -G.K. Chesterton

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R.J. Moeller R.J. Moeller is a writer and podcast host for the American Enterprise Institute's "Values & Capitalism" project. He's also a regular contributor at and Originally from Chicago, he currently resides in Los Angeles, CA where he serves as a media consultant to nationally syndicated columnist and talk show host, Dennis Prager.


  • Omar Jaramillo

    This man’s bibliography os one I am beginning to be interested on. Since he lived what common men don’t live, and in an special sphere of influence, there are many things we can learn from him, and many ideas to share.