The Idiot

I am reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Of course, I cannot read, write or speak Russian, so I am reading a newer translation by Alan Myers.

The main character, Prince Myshkin, get’s into an interesting conversation about capital punishment with a “lackey.” (I infer that this is a butler…) The lackey listen’s intently as “The Idiot”, Prince Myshkin explains his expereince in witnessing an execution while travleing abroad in France.

The lackey is obviously intrigued and respond’s to Myshkin’s horror with this comment: “Still, it’s a good thing the agony’s not prolonged… when the head comes off” (Myshkin’s executionee was the victim of a guillotine) Myshkin replied with the following discourse – that is still (150 years later, and in another country) worth thinking about.

Do you know everybody makes the same point that you have, that’s why the machine, the guillotine was invented. But something occurred to me when I was there: what if that’s actually worse? You may think that’s silly, ludicrous even, but with a little imagination even an idea like that can flash into your mind. Just think: if there was torture, for instance; there’d be suffering and wounds, bodily agony, all of which would distract you from the mental suffering, you would only have the torment of your physical injuries right up to the point of death. After all, the greatest, the most intense pain lies not so much in the injuries perhaps, so much as the fact that you know for certain that in an hour’s time, then in ten minutes, then thirty seconds, then now, at this moment, the soul will take wing from the body and you will cease to be a man, and that this is certain to happen; the main thing being that it is certain. You put your head under the blade and you hear it sliding towards you, it’s that quarter of a second which is the most terrible of all… I am so convinced of this that I will tell you straight out what I think. To kill for murder is an immeasurably greater evil than the actual crime itself. Judicial murder is immeasurably more horrible than one committed by a robber. Someone killed by a robber, knifed at night in a forest somewhere, certainly keeps hoping for rescue right up to the last second. There have been instances of people whose throat’s have been cut still hoping, or running away, or pleading for their lives. But all this final hope, which makes dying ten times easier, is taken away by that certain.… Why this disgusting, pointless, unneccessary mockery? Perhaps there exists a man who has had his sentence read out to him and been allowed to suffer before being told: “Be off, you’ve been pardoned.” That man could tell you perhaps. Christ himself spoke of such agony and terror. No, a man should not be treated so! It is written: “Thou shalt not kill”; because he killed, should he be killed as well? No, that’s wrong.

Well, what do you think?


  1. We must not confuse personal acts of revenge (as with the Sermon on the Mount) with the Law of the governments. In some cases Capital punishment should be used, like in the case of murder.

  2. Tim –

    OOOOHHHH! That brings up an interesting topic… one I am not sure I can engage intellectually! That is are we to be in support of a governmental law that is contrary to the law of love? I don’t know the answer!

    Thanks again for the comment!

  3. I don’t know…it doesn’t get much more personal than dying. I mean, capital punishment might not be personal to me, but it sure is to the accused.

    I just don’t get the idea of “deserving” to die by execution. Some people say a murderer “deserves” to die. Deserves what? To be in hell (which my actions deserve as well) or to be with the Lord (which is no comfort to someone who says that murderer deserved punishment).

    I can’t go on I have work to do. Maybe more later

  4. I think as far as NT passages go, Romans 13 would answer most of thoes type questions. Simply because of the brutality [at that time] of the Roman government itself.

  5. Good thoughts, both of you – and good passage Tim… I think we do have to understand the role of local, state, national, and international law and government. God has ordained this… I’m not sure what He has ordained exactly, though…

  6. Ok, I’m back. Yes, Romans 13, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2 teach us to submit to the authorities; Acts 4:19 & 5:29 teach us to defy them… This is an ancient argument. It’s irrelevant to the case at hand. Thanks be to God, I don’t live in a society where I have to make that choice regarding capital punishment. For example, I can legally vote to abolish it without defying the authorities. How does Romans 13 have anything to do with that? Shall I accept whatever the authorities throw at me when part of my civic duty to the state is to cast my vote? In fact, I believe a good case exists that Romans 13 makes it imperative that I vote as part of my submission to the authorities. How, therefore, shall I vote? I shall vote as one voting for the Lord.

    NOW we’re in the whitewater. Submission to authority doesn’t make this a controversy–I AM the authority in the USA because I have a vote. The controversy is, how do I vote on behalf of Jesus?

  7. OR… would Jesus vote? David Lipscomb??????? “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Does the attitude Christ brought to this situation have any bearing on this? Seriously, I don’t know!

  8. Joe (My brother),
    I challenge you to find a topic that does not stereotype you as a Liberal. I know that you follow the Law of Christ first and foremost, as do I, but for the sake of argument, let us say that you are acting like a Liberal Democrat. I know that you don’t want to be categorized in that manner, but you are painting yourself into that corner. I myself have voted Republican exclusively through the 2004 Elections and I voted about half and half in the 2006 State and Local Elections. I must admit that I am struggling with which side to take. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to NOT take a side. I want to support the poor and help the helpless (Democrats), but I hate the idea of Big Government (Republican). That’s just me, and I’m not writing a Blog everyday, so it’s just something to think about. Is there anything on the Conservative side that you feel passionate about? If so, I think we would all like to read about it, you know, so you can move out of the corner and toward the middle of the room (where you can shine God’s glory of course).

  9. HA HA HA hahahaHAHA!!! Gee, guys, is this a conversation you’ve had before? ‘Cause I just can’t tell. HahahaHA! or lol if you prefer

    I have one. I think voluntary unnecessary abortion should be illegal. Poof! I’m a Republican. (hey, for that matter, I think involuntary unnecessary abortion should be illegal too! What does that make me?)

    Also Joe, good point, I don’t know offhand if Jesus would go vote; I personally think he would cast a silent ballot, but I sure don’t have anything to back that up. But I vote, so I’ll try to do it in his name just like doing everything else in his name.

  10. Lance (and to all) –

    If you look closely at the original post I did not take a side on this issue. Simply noted that Prince Myshkin had a very unusual and interesting approach to it.

    Also, I didn’t really have in mind the political and polemic side of the issue, mainly I just wondered what people thought about what Myshkin said.

    As for being democrat or republican – I am neither. Society (America) has a serious need to label people so they can categorize and dismiss them while feeling safe and secure in their beliefs – for example – a staunch democrat might say “Aha! They are republican because they answered my question this way or that. Now I can dismiss them, because Republican’s don’t have good views and valid opinions” That is societies problem – not mine. I have no need to either label myself nor free myself from societies labels… I prefer to be like Prince Myshkin and just be an “idiot”

    However, if people need to know about one political value (although I don’t think this should be so much political) it is exactly what Greg said… Abortion. I really don’t see how that helps matters any though…

    “Don’t teach me about truth and beauty – just label my music…” Derek Webb.

  11. “How does Romans 13 have anything to do with that? Shall I accept whatever the authorities throw at me when part of my civic duty to the state is to cast my vote?”

    I think it has everything to do with that. If God, who has established this great country and the freedom that she promotes, calls me to vote on laws, and to vote for men and women who uphold those laws, then I’m being disobedient to God’s call. If an unjust law is passed,it’s not just our right, it’s our duty to challenge it for the betterment of society. “If one part of the body suffers, we all suffer” is as true for a nation as it is for the Church. We are called to be our brothers keeper, even if our brother doesn’t like it, yet to do it in a loving and caring way.
    If Jesus was a voting man, what a dilemma He would face next year! 🙂

  12. Greg –

    The book is amazing… it is very, very long – a four part book, and I am just about finished with part one.

    He is called an idiot, because early in his life he struggled daily with epilepsy. He could not function as a normal child or adolescent. This is in the 1800’s mind you, and in Russia, so society didn’t recieve him warmly. The book begins with this “idiot” returning home from traveling abroad (really he wasn’t traveling – his family deprted him to Switzerland because of the illness). By the time this book begins, he has overcome the epileptic fits, and has very well educated himself – a big irony in the book is that society still stigmitizes him as an “idiot” but his intellect is superior to almost everyone he meets. He, however, perfers to remain unassuming as an “idiot” – The idiot, Prince Myshkin.

    Great Book!!!!

  13. dude, joe, your rebuke of lance for his “challenge” was fantastic. i think it could have been its own blog post. the one thing that gets me going more than any other in politics is polarity between parties, especially as it pertains to getting a president elected.

    also, you might want to check out andrew osenga’s blog for today:

  14. Well, I didn’t see it so much as a rebuke as I did just clarifying my stance on the issue… I probably wasn’t clear from the outset – and that is my fault – NOT Lances!!!

    I think Lance had a really good point, that is if you identify yourself (sadly) with this camp or that camp then the oposing side will not hear you out. But if you maintain a balanced approach then you will be heard by more people.

    Still, though, I hold society accountable for this and I refuse to label myself… all the while refusing to battle their labels of me.

    It was more of a clarification for Lances sake – then a rebuke on society. Lance – i think – had a valid point.

    But I agree – Polarity on issues divides us and prohibits healthy debate and conversation. Really it is idealism – if you have your mind made up before hearing someone out, then why even hear them out? To pick them apart and try to “expose” them?

  15. Dear Everyone except for Joe,
    I am not a Label Maker. Those are those awesome little contraptions that make sticky words to put on stuff. My goal, in my response, before said rebuking, was to challenge Joe to get himself out of the corner so he can expand his sphere of influence. Joe knows this. Apparently, you other folks were unclear. Not that it matters to me what anyone thinks of my political opinions, I just think Joe is very helpful and important to many people and I don’t want that to be stifled. BTW, if you can stand some cussing, watch “Knocked Up” if you haven’t. Paul Rudd is brilliant just like he was in “Anchorman.”

  16. BTW>>> If anyone really wants to read about a crazy poltical view – go to David’s Blog and read “Another Call” – Dave has a job where he often get’s crazy phone calls – but this one has to top them all!

    David’s Blog is on my blogroll.

  17. i just didn’t see how this topic stereotypes him as a liberal, and what your point was on challenging him like that. and even if it is in “a corner” (and i didn’t take it like that), who cares? it’s something that will challenge those in the other corner, and that can’t be a bad thing.

    and i probably shouldn’t have said “rebuke,” cause that always has a super-strong connotation. i meant it more as “correction,” but not in a condescending way, i guess. and i know it was directed more at society than just lance in particular.

  18. I’m not gonna press on anymore. Joe knows why I said what I said. If David would have been around to witness our many conversations he would see my point as well. This is why I can’t have a Blog, the only facts presented are the ones in “post” form, and I have a much larger field of material that I’m referring to with my brother than just these posts.

  19. Clam down Lance and David – I am buying the two of you a box of popcorn and renting Knocked Up so you can go on a date and make up…

  20. On to another blog post, Joe. Think about happy things. Write about happy things. No more blog arguing, please, or I am going back to my little world where only happy thoughts and Republicans live….just kidding,guys. Really, I was just kidding.



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