Since there was not sufficient student interest to have him teach Polish literature exclusively [at the University of California at Berkeley], he was assigned one of his department's most popular courses, that on Dostoyevski. In teaching this course he found that he was faced with rhetorical problems not dissimilar to Dostoyevski's own.Arthur Quinn, book review of Czeslaw Milosz's Visions from San Francisco Bay.
“Among my students very few think of themselves as Christians. The majority are indifferent toward Christianity, so that in teaching Dostoyevski I have always been aware of a paradox: for some, that course was a first encounter with matters of religion, yet nearly all shared something with those Russian intellectuals whose attitudes Dostoyevski abhorred.” So he “openly acknowledged the existence of good and evil, a stance they dismissed as irredeemably reactionary.” Each year, then, irredeemably reactionary Professor Milosz would have to guide as many as one hundred California students through the major novels of Dostoyevski, and in the process would try to teach them something of Christianity, and of their own freedom, and consequently their responsibility, at least in part, for the good and evil in their lives.
Each year, for instance, he would explain to them the moral intricacies of Crime and Punishment. He would explain to his students that Raskolnikov could kill the old pawnbroker only because he thought of her abstractly, as a pawnbroker, not as a person. He would explain too that Raskolnikov was saved only because Sophia persisted in loving him, persisted in responding to him not as a type, a criminal, but as a unique person, a person to her of infinite worth. Milosz would have to explain to these students that Dostoyevski had not invented this theme of rebirth himself, but had found it in the New Testament during his prison years, specifically in the writings attributed to the apostle John. Crime and Punishment was a novelistic meditation on John's gospel, especially on the episode of the raising of Lazarus. Milosz would tell them the story of Lazarus: how Martha had come out to meet Jesus after Lazarus had died, how she had gotten all the right answers to his questions (Jesus was the Son of God, the dead will rise again at the end of time, and so on), and yet he had remained largely unmoved; then Mary came, and she too got her catechism right, but she did something more, she fell to the ground and wept—then Jesus wept, too. Abstract answers in John were not enough.